Sunday, 6 March 2016

Maison Morange music museum

Inaugurated in Hell-bourg, Salazie, in November 2015, Maison Morange is a museum about Indian Ocean music and musical instruments. Located in a traditional Creole house (built in the 1920s by the former mayor of Bras Panon, Henri Morange), it displays over 400 instruments (from a selection of almost 2,000 collected over forty years by François Menard and Robert Fonlupt), it is France's third richest music collection. The museum itself took four years to see the light of day, and covers 450m2.

Reunion is of course remarkable by the diversity of its people, and this is reflected in the music and instruments displayed, which - like the Reunionese people - come from Africa, Madagascar, India (both Tamil and Gujarati) and China.

A small audioguide allows you to listen to the sound made by various instruments without disturbing other visitors, and all written texts have been translated into English, German and Spanish.

Indian processional handcart, on display in the entrance

The local music genres that have been born of the mix of this diversity, principally maloya and sega, has not been forgotten either. For information, in 2009 maloya was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Some maloya musical instruments on display: three drums, a piker at
the back, a kayamb at the front, and a bobre musical bow at the far left.

a selection of sega and brass band instruments

Each region has a room or rooms devoted to it. For China drums, gongs and cymbals are on display, amongst other instruments, and there is also a section on Tibetan music (religious and profane).

Part of the Chinese display

bronze Bianzhong? bells, Chinese display

In ancient China music was believed to be of divine origin, and it was thus granted great importance. It was a discipline that every gentleman, educated according to the Confucian tradition, would practice.

recreation of the boudoir of a Chinese man of letters

In the corridor the four divisions of musical instruments are shown: membranophones, chordophones, idiophones and aerophones. Even if instruments were made in different geographical regions by people of different cultures they are all based on the common principles of sound production, and can thus be classed into one of the above groups. 

This Chinese gong belongs to the idiophone group

Drums are part of the membranophone family
The festive aspect of African music in Reunion often overshadows its ritualistic origins.

part of the African display

Hindu Indian indentured workers arrived in Reunion to work on plantations after the abolition of slavery in 1848. Like the Chinese, Indians also attribute a mythical and divine origin to their music, and many deities of the Hindu pantheon are represented playing instruments. From the 16th century onwards Mughal princes in Hindustan developed a refined courtly lifestyle, and until the early 20th century princes and Maharajahs maintained groups of musicians and had music rooms where the latter performed.

Private music room of a Maharajah

Due to its size India has a wide diversity of cultures, and the musical instruments created by its people reflect various social and religious traditions. Animals and family life feature strongly amongst these themes.

Tribal Indian instruments

In the museum a small Indian luthier's workshop has been recreated. He and his assistants would have worked sitting on the floor, surrounded by tools and half-made instruments.

part of the workshop of an Indian luthier

Madagascar is itself an island that has been influenced by East Africa, the Arab world, Indonesia and Europe, but its music is nevertheless original. Malagasy have local versions of lutes, zithers, and brass bands, but it is the valiha - a bamboo tube zither - which has become the 'king' of Madagascar's instruments. Maybe that explains why I found the display of valihas one of the most beautiful exhibits in the whole museum.

display of valihas

Practical info:
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (closed Mondays).
  • Price €7, free for children aged 8 and under.
  • Website: (French only)

© Maison Morange

© Maison Morange

© Maison Morange

© Maison Morange

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