The comparative isolation enjoyed by the people of Madagascar, which sits several hundred miles off the southeastern coast of Mozambique, has produced some of Africa's most original and exuberant music. And the singer-songwriter sisters who founded Tarika--Rasoanaivo Hanitraivo and Raharimalala Tina Norosoa, better known for obvious reasons as Hanitra and Noro--have made the most of it, concocting a powerhouse modern mix yet avoiding "world beat" homogenization. Tarika should not be confused with another Madagascan band, Tarika Sammy, though Hanitra and Noro were in fact founding members of that group. (The word tarika means "performing group" in Malagasy.) Both bands started with the roots music of Madagascar, which sails along on the bright staccato rhythms of the island's native zithers. But while Tarika Sammy has returned to a heavily roots-oriented sound, Hanitra and Noro have taken a far bolder tack, using traditional music as a trampoline: each bounce takes them a little farther afield, as they incorporate a variety of musical devices from Africa, Europe, and even the Americas, including such instruments as the west African kora (gourd harp), guitars, and accordion. Meanwhile, principal composer Hanitra has turned for subject matter to matters of politics and history. Tarika's new album, Son Egal (Xenophile), commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Malagasy revolt against the colonial French, who used African troops trained in Senegal against the island's rebels. The title means "equal sound" in French, but it's awfully close to Sonegaly, the Malagasy word for the hated Senegalese, and several of the songs offer a compelling call to bury the hatchet. With all that, Tarika retains the ability to coax vibrant colors and exhilarating grooves from ancient harmonies--so you can dance while you think. Friday, 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494. Neil Tesser
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Tarika photo by Andrew Cleal.