Synopsis by Mark Deming
The Malagasy people are the dominant ethnic group in Madagascar, but for many years they lived as second-class citizens in their own nation, which was under colonial rule by Portugal. In 1972, as Portuguese control of Madagascar was slowly grinding to a halt, seven Malagasy musicians came together to perform their nation's native music with a eye toward its message of independence and an ear toward its joy and beauty. The group called themselves Mahaleo, from the Malagasy word for freedom, and they became a grassroots phenomenon, but while they were popular with the people, the nation's unstable political landscape made it difficult for the group to stay together. But while the band eventually splintered and its members took up other occupations, they periodically reunited to continue bringing their sound and message to their fans, and made clear they were more interested in speaking out on behalf of the people of Madagascar than in pop stardom. The documentary Mahaleo examines the history of the group as well as the Malagasy people, and follows the seven musicians as they reunite for a concert tour. Mahaleo received its North American premiere at the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival.