After an hour of silky-yet-powerful singing that fires up a Five Points venue, Viannason asks the crowd to wave their phone flashlights. She launches into “Love on the Brain,” a sultry, Joplin-esque slow-burner that gets everyone moving.
Rousing a crowd and commanding the spotlight – or, in this case, a bunch of tiny ones – is clearly Vianney Randrianarison’s talent. Viannason – as she’s known as an artist – has found her groove in the Mile High City. She is gigging around town and growing her songbook as a student in the Music & Entertainment Industry Studies program of the College of Arts & Media at CU Denver.
Her musical journey, however, began across the globe – on an island in the Indian Ocean, to be exact. Viannason is a native of Madagascar, and came to Colorado after a three-year stint in Senegal. At age 17, Viannason followed her mother to the land-locked Rockies, where they have a few relatives.
Asked about her homeland, Viannason’s expression softens. “It’s beautiful there, it’s very humid and tropical,” she says. “There’s a strong culture of music. It’s really fast and up-tempo.”
Viannason started singing and writing music at age 9. Although only an uncle in her family is musical, she says, “I was literally just born with music – it’s my passion.”
She spent a year at a Denver high school, then another at Metropolitan State University of Denver before transferring to CU Denver last fall. Viannason’s parents have always tried to steer their daughter toward a more stable career, such as law or medicine. “When I went to Metro I declared biology as a major, but it took only one class and I told my parents, ‘I can’t do this; just let me do my thing,’” she says. “They were in denial that music was my thing.”
‘She’s very unique’
Now, with a slew of original songs in her repertoire, an EP in the wings, and the undeniable electricity of her live shows, “V” – as she is known by fans – is vaulting higher into the spotlight.
Her musical collaborator, Christian Mangóo, a Tanzanian who met the fellow East African in Denver, goes by the producer name of Leprochain, which means “the next” in French. Mangóo, a student at Community College of Denver, produces Viannason’s music, DJs and plays drums at her shows, and co-writes many of her songs. “She’s very unique. She doesn’t sound like any artist I’ve heard, even though I’ve tried to make her sound like some artists from here,” he says with a chuckle. “She always rejects me.”
While Viannason’s sound can’t be easily pegged – she sings in Malagasy (her native language), French and English, and gravitates to a reggae subgenre that blends pop and R&B – there is one aspect of her style that Mangóo can predict. “She’s more of a C-note alto person,” he says. Viannason agrees, saying, “It has to be major keys all the time. I like happy stuff, not sad stuff.”
“A CU Denver audio-engineering student produced one of my songs,” Viannason says. “It’s called ‘Til the End,’ and it’s everyone’s favorite song.”
‘Going for an island vibe’
Many listeners notice that the sultry singer has an unusual accent, one they can’t place. “Some artists, when they sing you can’t tell where they’re from,” she says. “There is a Madagascar accent, and I’m going for an island vibe. Because I’m from an island I’m trying to represent that.”
Viannason is yet another in a long line of talented performers to emerge from CAM. She made her local concert debut in the Tivoli Turnhalle, and she’s enjoying the “really cool” professors and well-rounded education she’s getting in CAM. “When you go into the music business, you need to know what you’re doing,” she says. “People respect you more when you are educated.”
The Barbadian singer Rihanna is the performer Viannason often gets compared to – and she’s fine with that. “I look up to Rihanna because of her work ethic,” she says. “Music is a lot of investment in time and money.”
In Denver, Viannason has performed at Epernay Lounge and the Gothic Theatre, where she performed a Youth on Record show with international act Twenty One Pilots. Her Five Points gig at The Other Side started with “Team V” dancers and DJ (Mangóo), then transitioned to Viannason fronting her band. Before long, the dancers returned and the stage pulsed with even more infectious energy, sound and color (see video above).
Joining the crowd was Viannason’s mother, who, despite early reservations, has embraced her daughter’s musical ambition. The elder Randrianarison sold her restaurant business in Madagascar to help pay for Viannason’s college education.
“I need to succeed – I have no other choice,” the young artist says with a laugh. “I can’t disappoint my mom at this point.”