Last month, I saw a set by the Moroccan singer Malika Zarra at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I was immediately taken not just by the power and subtlety of her vocal delivery, but by her overall concept, which incorporates elements of Moroccan music and American R&B. Zarra cut her teeth in the Paris World Music scene when she was younger, and its strands of American Jazz and African popular music are evident in her music as well. Now based in the New York area, Zarra has shared the stage with a number of notable musicians. Since her concert, I have been listening to her latest release, Berber Taxi (2011 on the Motema Music label), and am enjoying it immensely.
Fusion albums, no matter if by design or happenstance, are always a difficult balancing act. In my experience, mixing musical styles can often seem forced and artificial. On Berber Taxi, Zarra has challenged herself by mixing not just two, but several musical styles. She manages to pull off the tightrope act by making sure her personality comes through no matter what genres she is diving into at any one time. She also has the advantage of being so deeply rooted in many of these genres. Her band is also quite exceptional, bringing in a wide range of influences itself.
Shifting from contemplative and delicate to rambunctious and exuberant, Zarra demonstrates tremendous versatility on her album. Similarly, she sings in French, English, Arabic, and Tamazight (Berber). One of my favorite tracks is the opening number, entitled Tamazight. An afro-pop tour-de-force, Zarra demonstrates both a sultry punch in her lower register and a playfulness at the top of her vocal range.
In contrast to that, Houaria is slower and more groove oriented with a stronger jazz influence. This track also allows her to stretch out a bit more harmonically as she plays with dissonance and tension against the accompaniment of her band.
For tour dates and news check out Malika’s Facebook page.