2022 Juno nominee Donné Roberts celebrates community with ‘Seheno’
It’s a big, diverse world out there, and living in any supportive and caring community can help us thrive. Multi-award-winning Madagascar singer-songwriter Donné Roberts has experienced that nurturing feeling of community in his adoptive home of Toronto, and he represents it in his joyful new global music single, “Seheno.”
A key track from Donné’s third solo album, Oya, released last August, “Seheno” is a celebration of life and neighbourly love flowing along to a multi-cultural rhythm. Written and sung in Donné’s first language, Malagasy, there’s a global, but widely shared human experience that he is conveying.
“‘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,” said Donné, who is the winner of two Juno awards and a nominee 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.”
Donné is a natural optimist and a natural musician.
Madagascar music is infused with African, Austronesian, Arabic and European influences, and Donné Roberts’ music is a delicious mélange of international sonic flavours — an innate feat certainly evident in “Seheno” and its beautiful interplay between marimba, Latin acoustic guitar and layered vocal harmonies.
Jonny Dovercourt of Toronto’s Wavelength Music Series called Donné’s music Dubbed “Malagasy soul” and said it “fluidly fuses folk, funk, blues and rock into irresistibly danceable forms that reflect his roots in Madagascar, Russia and Canada.”
Johnny added that Donné is “likely the only Wavelength alumnus to have performed at Live 8 and won a Juno.” Live 8 was Bob Geldof’s massive 2005 international concert event to support the UK’s Make Poverty History movement to raise awareness of issues in Africa such as AIDS, poverty, hunger and government debt.
Donné Roberts’ own life and artistry has certainly been globally-influenced. Born in Madagascar and raised and educated in the former USSR, he speaks Malagasy, Russian, French and English. His varied artistic background includes touring as a backup vocalist for Swedish pop titans Ace of Base and becoming the first black VJ for MTV Russia. After emigrating to Canada, he recorded and released three albums: Rhythm Was Born (2006), Internation (2011) and Oya (2021) and collaborated on recordings with African Guitar Summit, Okavango African Orchestra, Amanda Martinez and Sultans of String, leading to his two Juno wins and three nominations. His growing success caught the attention of CBC Radio, who asked him to compose the theme song for their popular morning show Fresh Air.
Variety is the spice of Donné’s music, with experimentation and collaboration being two of the 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 said, adding, “I love to collaborate with my bandmates and learn different things from them. I like to hear different approaches to my songs.”
Above all, Donné 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 explained, “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.”
Considering what we’ve been through as a human race over the past few years, that’s an extra admirable wish for an artist and his music.