The sunny, string-drenched rhythms of the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar are celebrated in their own right by artists such as Rossy, Justin Vali, and Tarika Sammy. But Tarika (the splinter group of this last-mentioned roots ensemble) alone has envisioned Malagasy pop as a vehicle for the world stage. Led by the sisters Hanitra and Noro Razaonialmiarina, Tarika employs the signature string instruments -- marovany, valiha, and kabosy -- over upbeat percussion. Vocalist Hanitra comes into her own on SON EGAL, a unique album of layered musical, lyrical, and political overtones. Dealing overtly with a legacy of colonial racism fostered by French overlords, SON EGAL confronts deep-seated Malagasy prejudices against black Africans and Europeans alike. As its title invokes both the word for "Senegal" and the phrase "equal sound," the album strives for a reconciliation between mainland and island Africans. And it succeeds with a vigor unmatched in Malagasy music as Tarika is joined by West African percussionists and instrumentalists. Brilliant and important.