25 April 2011

Monday's mp3: Malika Zarra

If you think North Africa is all about revolts, revolutions, and retrenching dictators, you may need the balm of Malika Zarra's music. When I heard Zarra's previous album On the Ebony Road, I mentioned Susheela Raman and Natacha Atlas for comparison.

The new CD Berber Taxi retains some similar elements, blending jazz with elements of rhythm and melody from Zarra's native Morocco. Yet I'm now reminded more of Cameroonian Richard Bona's sophisticated ethno-jazz, or the cross-pollinated depth of Comoros Islands singer Nawal. Like them, Zarra crosses musical, cultural, and linguistic boundaries with ease, creating a delicious sound centered in but not bounded by her ethnicity. Her time living in Paris and New York has only enriched her sound. As Zarra says in the liner notes:

When it came time to make this recording, I chose to continue to explore my Moroccan musical heritage in more depth, and especially my Berber (Amazigh) roots. The themes of travel and tradition inspired me to call the CD Berber Taxi. It's also the title of a traditional song that my mother taught me, on e that spoke about the hope of finding love in distant places. Berber Taxi perfectly ties together my experiences in Morocco, France, and New York City.

On the title track, Zarra sings in Berber about trying to find her lover. On other tracks she sings in French, Arabic, English, and Moroccan dialects. "[T]his is how I speak with friends," Zarra explains. "We go back and forth between French, English, Arabic, and Moroccan dialects -- everything at the same time. Sometimes this happens in one sentence!"

The language may be keyed to the lyrical content, but it's not critical to understand it since Zarra uses her voice as an instrument (just check out the wordless "Houaira"), conveying meaning through sound more than lyrics. She's joined by a half dozen stellar musicians; the excellent bass work of Mamadou Ba and the piano of Michael Cain (no, not Sir Michael Caine) shine particularly brightly.

[mp3] Malika Zarra: No Borders

from the album Berber Taxi

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