Donné Roberts is feeling neighbourly in his latest single Seheno — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
A key track from the award-winning Madagascar singer-songwriter’s Juno-nominated third solo album Oya, Seheno is a celebration of urban life and community, flowing to a multi-cultural rhythm. Written and sung in Roberts’ first language, Malagasy, it’s world music with universal appeal.
“Seheno is about regular life in the big city, where some people may find it stressful, and that can create a feeling of being lost in the daily rush,” explains Roberts, who has won two Junos and been nomined for three more. “However, there is always a way and nice people around who are supportive to others everywhere you go. It’s all good, and life is beautiful.”
Much as Madagascar music is infused with African, Austronesian, Arabic and European influences, Roberts’ sound is a delicious mélange of international sonic flavours — an innate feat certainly evident in Seheno, with its beautiful interplay between marimba, Latin acoustic guitar and layered vocal harmonies.
Roberts’ own life has certainly been globally influenced. Born in Madagascar but raised and educated in Russia, he speaks Malagasy, Russian, French and English. Roberts’ resumé includes touring as a backup vocalist for Swedish pop titans Ace of Base and becoming the first black VJ for MTV Russia.
Since emigrating to Canada, he has recorded and released three albums: Rhythm Was Born (2006), Internation (2011) and Oya (2021) and has collaborated on recordings with African Guitar Summit, Okavango African Orchestra, Amanda Martinez and Sultans of String.
Variety is the spice of Roberts’ music, with experimentation and collaboration two of the major hallmarks of his compositions. He loves to hear how other musicians might interpret his songs and add their own personalities to them. “I like to experiment with the sound of my guitar, make it sound like a mandolin, a kora, or like an organ in reggae,” he says, adding, “I love to collaborate with my bandmates and learn different things from them. I like to hear different approaches to my songs.”
Above everything else, Roberts aims for his musical concoctions to be a source of hope and joy. “Different situations such as happiness, sadness, unfairness, and many everyday life experiences inspire me to write songs,” he explains, “But nowadays, my principle is to make sure to have a happy ending to a song, or at least have them full of hope or both because I want everyone to have hope and be happy.”