Malika Zarra has announced the release of her first solo CD, On the Ebony Road. Zarra, who sings in French, English and her native Moroccan Arabic, draws upon the Chabi, Berber and Gnawa sounds and rhythms she heard growing up in an immigrant household in the Paris suburbs, plus gleanings from French chanson and especially, American jazz and R&B. Her sound is a synthesis of North African and Western idioms that frequently embarks upon the intricate, extended and richly varied flights of improvisation typical of both traditions.
Each of the eight tunes reveal a different facet of the songwriters’ descriptive talent. On Run, she employs a darkly evocative melody and uneven time signatures to depict somebody always on the move because he lacks confidence, while Free is about strong, determined women who fight for freedom, whatever the situation.
Pouvoir, with its darbuka and bass break, is all too timely, dealing with the sicknesses inherent in political power. Fayne, with its breathless repetitive motifs and Arab-Andalusian handclaps, celebrates the one and only love, and quotes from sultry Nigerian AfroBeat underpin All the Same, which speaks of the universality of the human state. Wreathed in mysterious ud riffs. Joky Heart describes how emotions make us all so fragile.
Meanwhile, on Mchina, mobile bass lines imitate a person driven to pursue an illusion of happiness but the final track. Your Jewel, with its soaring vocals and mellow guitar solos, shares the life-affirming bliss of finally finding the real thing.
The album reveals Ms. Zarra as a singer, composer and bandleader in her early prime, graced by the participation of first-rate international jazz players.
Mamadou Ba (bass) hails from Dakar, Senegal, and has played with Archie Shepp, Ismael Lo, Harry Belafonte, Richard Bona, the Barrio Boys, and the African Blue Note Band.
Moroccan-born Brahim Fribgane (ud, darbuka and percussion, arrangements) is deeply steeped in folkloric styles, but also draws upon everything from reggae and samba to Indian ragas.
Francis Jacob (acoustic and electric guitars) was born in Geneva, Switzerland and honed his craft at the Berklee School and in Brazil; today, he is a noted expert in West African guitar styles.
Harvey Wirth (drums) is a native of Suriname, South America and has played with Maria Schneider, Billy Pierce, Fareed Haque and many others.
Buy On the Ebony Road.