Maloya was long banned by the Réunion authorities. Times change. Now it lives out in the open thanks to warriors in the shadows who did everything to keep it from dying. Among those who chose to fight in its favour and for recognition of the Creole language, not long ago completely denied by the local elites, the group Ziskakan was at the forefront. Created in 1979 in the form of a cultural association having as its aim “the promotion and propagation of Réunion culture,” Ziskakan initially served as a laboratory for the Creole language with creation of a Creole studies and research group joining intellectuals, researchers and historians, and with the launch of Sobat-koz magazine and of Radio Ziskakan. But Ziskakan is above all a true arts group, an activist ensemble using theatre, poetry, dance, song, storytelling and music to perpetuate a bundle of values representative of Réunion culture.
The group recorded three self-financed albums in the 1980s and soon began operating outside Réunion island (in Mauritius and the Seychelles). In late 1988 and early 1989, Ziskakan hoisted the maloya standard for the first time in France. Other albums followed, in the course of which Ziskakan, with its charismatic leader of Tamil descent, Gilbert Pounia, continuing to develop a modern conception of maloya though without going back on its roots. Noted during a visit to the Olympia in Paris in 1992 on the occasion of the “Réunion des Musiques” event, the group was spotted by Philippe Constantin, then a director at Polygram. The result was not long in coming: Ziskakan recorded its seventh album, Kaskasnikola, in Dakar, and the first one with a major (on Mango, a satellite label of Island). In 1994, the group participated at key festivals in Europe and in the “Africa Fêtes” tour in the United States.
Two years later, Soley glasé, recorded in London and Brussels, was released. The album ended with a repeat of “Bato fou,” a track dating from 1981, one of the most caustic written by Gilbert Pounia (“They ordered us to whiten our skin, to learn French in a hurry so that French bosses don’t have too many problems….”) In 1998, Ziskakan broke up briefly, but Pounia got back in the saddle and put together a new, fully acoustic group. Recorded in 1999 in Réunion and mixed in Paris, the album 4 ti mo came out in 2001 at Créon Music. Pounia returned at this time to the land of his ancestors. He went to Mumbai to record pieces he had prepared in Réunion. He worked on the sounds of instruments such as the sarod, shennai and flute, with the latter entrusted to Rupark Kulkarnik, a student of the famous musician Hari Trasad-Chaorasia. In December 2001, Rimayer was released, an album with Indian sounds. A few years later, again under Indian influence, the group recorded the album Banjara, which refers to Gypsies who were come across here or elsewhere.
In 2009, marking its 30th anniversary, Ziskakan returned with the album Madagascar. The group this time went to explore the lands near Île Rouge, inspired by lyrics by Serge Urlentin, a friend of Pounia, who spent his youth there. The entire album is imbued with a gentle nostalgia evoking childhood, immersed in a maloya with a purified sound. On May 30, Ziskakan celebrated its 30th anniversary on stage, at the Tampon in Réunion. In 2010, the group was the closing act at the Sakifo festival in Réunion, accompanied on stage by musician Matthieu Chédid and Réunion rapper Alex Sorres. Then back to India for the group to record its 11th album, 32 Desanm, released in November 2012. Inspired by the poets of his island and its blended culture, Pounia devised this album imagining a dreamed-of day, “32 desanm” (December 32), when the world would be free and at peace.
Their most recent album was released in 2015. Titled Romans pou Rico, it goes back over the 35 years of the group’s career and refocuses on the essential, highlighting the lyrics with acoustics. In 2016, Ziskakan first performed in Montréal as part of Nuits d’Afrique alongside Maya Kamaty, the daughter of Gilbert Pounia, who also had become an important musician. As Ziskakan gradually approaches its 40th year, an unusual degree of longevity, one can only rejoice at finding them on stage against this year!