Malika Zarra: On the Ebony Road (self-released)
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Malika Zarra's debut release, On the Ebony Road, digs deep into jazz idioms, but the Morrocan-born Zarra still conveys a strong sense of her North African roots through the vocals and arrangements. The instrumentation is simple: guitar, bass, drums, and percussion (including dumbek and cajon). Percussionist Brahim Fribgane also adds oud on some tracks.
All this is support for Zarra's slinky vocals, which weave in and out of the music, her voice another instrument rather than something bobbing atop them like a cork on water. After hearing Zarra's strong contribution to Richard Khuzami's recent album Fused, it's a delight to hear her immersed in her own musical atmosphere. Fans of Susheela Raman and Natacha Atlas, or those looking for something like them but leaning a bit more toward jazz, should be sure to check out this strong debut.