releases Motéma Music debut
Moroccan singer’s world-jazz innovations bring her to
GRAMMY®-nominated Harlem-based label
Zarra’s music shows intersection of Morocco, France and U.S.
New CD is NPR All Things Considered “World Jazz Pick”
DC Jazz Festival debut June 8
“MOROCCO’S JAZZ JEWEL. Singing in Berber, Moroccan Arabic and French [Malika Zarra] is redefining the term fusion and adding her unique sound to the world.” - CNN INTERNATIONAL “African Voices”
MALIKA ZARRA performs “Berber Taxi” LIVE
SAT APRIL 14 Brooklyn, NY
Roulette co-bill with Hassan Hakmoun
FRI JUNE 8 Washington, DC
DC Jazz Fest
Jazz has been called one of America’s greatest contributions to the world’s culture, but it’s important to remember it’s an art form that has grown from countless cultural exchanges with artists and styles outside the U.S. An inspiring new international voice, who is both influenced by jazz and is bringing her own culture and creativity to the melting pot, is MALIKA ZARRA. Born in Morocco, raised in France, and now thriving in the polyglot metropolis of New York City, this gifted composer, producer and singer has invented a new Moroccan urban-world-jazz by tastefully using traditional North African chaâbi, Berber and Gnawa polyrhythms to underpin her distinctly contemporary urban compositions, all the while maintaining a sophisticated improvisational modern jazz approach.
Joining other fresh New York faces of the international jazz scene, such as Afro-Latin bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, Zarra’s sultry multi-lingual vocals move effortlessly between Berber, Moroccan Arabic, French, and English.
With the release of Berber Taxi on May 10, 2011 by Motéma Music (home to legendary innovators Randy Weston and Geri Allen, and powerhouse newcomers such as Gregory Porter (GRAMMY®-nominated for Best Jazz CD on his debut release), Zarra takes her rightful place as an important world-jazz artist on New York’s multicultural music scene. Berber Taxi takes up its journey following Zarra’s self-released 2006 debut, On the Ebony Road, which has sold over 2,000 copies, largely from her gigs and by word of mouth reputation. Whereas that first album was recorded jazz-style, mixed and mastered in two days, Zarra has, in her words, “fought” long and hard to make this one sound exactly the way she wanted it to.
Born in the southern Morocco village of Ouled Teima, near Agadir, Zarra left at age three when her parents immigrated to France, where her father first worked as a coal miner and then later at the Renault car manufacturing plant. Like many immigrants, the family held on to its culture at home, speaking their native language while their daughter faced the complicated mix of difficulties and expectations surrounding the assimilation into French culture of young persons of North African origin.
“It was a long process,” Zarra says of her journey to become a singer. “Because I’m the eldest of five, my mother really counted on me to help out. Plus, even though music was important in our home, like it is for people from many countries, it is so hard to become a professional musician. In the mind of my parents it just wasn’t a very realistic job.”
As the westernmost nation in the Arab world, Morocco’s culture is a vibrant mix of influences from the U.S., Africa and Europe. Moroccans are proud of their broad-minded and active music scene -- one that has already begun to embrace their new urban-world-jazz star.
“For them it isn’t strange to hear Moroccan music mixed with other styles because the country is really a crossroads between different cultures,” the singer explains. “So what I do isn’t all that mysterious – also, there’s been jazz musicians like Randy Weston who have been doing this kind of thing for a long time, collaborating with Moroccan musicians.”
Already considered a rising star in Africa, Zarra and her multi-national band recently appeared at Dakar’s prestigious International Black Arts Festival, where heads of state mingled with major African musicians like Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo. Now with Berber Taxi, it is time for the rest of the world to catch on.
The CD’s title comes from a traditional Berber folk song that Zarra’s mother taught her. According to the song, the only way for young people to find love in their isolated village was for a mythical taxi to deliver someone to them.
“I really wanted to have a Berber song in this album and especially a traditional one,” she explains. “Plus, I liked the fact that it is a song that young people used to sing about love in a very isolated place.”
Malika Zarra brings her own experiences to bear as a composer as well, touching on such themes as one’s place in society as a woman and as an immigrant. There are also other more personal and romantic thoughts, too. She names influences like Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby McFerrin, Stevie Wonder, and Thelonius Monk, and yet Zarra’s sensuous vocal instrument, which has the musicality and flexibility of an accomplished jazz improviser, also has an intimate and emotional dynamism, as she moves from language to language, that puts her in league with her pop and singer/songwriter contemporaries. It all comes off as completely natural because that’s exactly what it is.
“My songs sometimes change between two or three languages, but this is how I speak with friends,” the singer explains with a laugh. “We go back and forth between French, English, Arabic, and Moroccan dialects – everything at the same time. Sometimes this happens in one sentence!” It’s no wonder that she also transitions so effortlessly between musical styles.
She first came to New York in 1996 and stayed three months, meeting many of the friends and musicians that she now works with. It was then, thanks to the encouragement of Arnie Lawrence (founder of The New School’s jazz department) that she had her creative breakthrough while sitting in with his student band.
“He was the first person to encourage me to explore more of my Moroccan heritage and to sing only in Arabic and French in that ensemble. I was surprised that an American person would be interested in knowing more about this culture that I grew up wanting to downplay.”
Relocating to New York in 2004, Zarra worked hard to establish herself on the crowded jazz scene, and now plays festivals including the London Jazz Festival and Montreal International Jazz Festival and such leading clubs as The Blue Note, The Jazz Standard, and BAM Café. Zarra has even opened for Bobby McFerrin at Carnegie Hall.
Malika Zarra’s music is a postcard from the places she’s been, but more importantly it’s a vehicle to exciting new destinations, and Berber Taxi will take you to all of them.
“MOROCCO’S JAZZ JEWEL. Singing in Berber, Moroccan Arabic and French [Malika Zarra] is redefining the term fusion and adding her unique sound to the world” - CNN INTERNATIONAL African Voices
"I'd never heard of Malika Zarra before I got her CD a few weeks ago, but it wasn't long before I was really taken with it. How different it sounds is exactly what attracted me to it -- she's using Moroccan music with jazz." -
NPR ALL THINGS CONSIDERED / WORLD JAZZ CD PICK (March 2011)
“Zarra’s timing is sharp, her command irrefutable and her instincts, among them the knowledge of when to lie back, the mark of a leader.” -
JAZZ TIMES (June 2011)
“Zarra is captivating, with a soft voice and a hushed style of scat-singing that makes it sound like she is casting spells” -
Sanjoy Roy – THE GUARDIAN (UK)
“Soothing and sultry rhythms buoyed by modal, Eastern grooves” -
Troy Collins – CADENCE
“Malika Zarra is a rare and special voice, a natural-born musician who sings as easily as we breathe. Her newest CD Berber Taxi is a masterpiece, every track a gem.” -
“Morocco’s gift to the international jazz scene” -
“Malika Zarra, a Moroccan living in the United States, makes her own jazz,
a jazz where the darbouka and ‘ud are happily integrated.
Zarra promises to be a pioneer in the advent of an authentic Maghreb jazz.” -
LE MATIN, MOROCCO
“A really sensuous voice” -
MARCO WERMAN / PRI’s THE WORLD