Moroccan-Berber Musician Malika Zarra travels with her “Berber Taxi” to Baltimore. In this journey, a virtuous pianist from Switzerland (Manu Kochd), a Berkley graduate drummer (Harvey Wirht) from Suriname and a gentle bass player from Senegal (Mamadou Ba) accompany her Vocals to offer us a world of sensations and powerful energy in a Jazz key that is a treat to our soul all the way through.
Host to this event was the An die Musik Store on 409 North Charles Street, Baltimore. The staff composed of Radio Host George Manning “Doc”, Henry, Sean and up coming Jazz singer Rhonda Robinson, organized the event at their upstairs venue with great ease, like every week.
Like the Chleuh Berber Musicians of Morocco, Malika’s band travels in a group of four musicians or Imdyazn (Music Members). In this traditional music group a leader- Amydaz- performs poems and improvises these poems accompanied by a drum. In Malika’s case, the musicians followed her when she sang. Though improvisation was present, their expertise and their knowledge of each song was intricately coordinated and they were all accomplices of Malika’s stories and poems. She writes most of her songs, although some compositions are personalized versions of existing artists. Her warm, sweet, glossy, sensual and convoluted sounds from her “On the Ebony Road” album, wrapped the audience. It is fair to mention that her use of different languages put together in one song, and alien words to the non Arab, French or Tamazight (generic name for all Berber languages) speakers, were perfectly understood by the audience. It was the emotions that the sounds evoked that sent chills to our spine. As an audience member put it “When I let go and try not to analyze the music, my experience of it is more pleasurable and I understand it better.” It was certainly the general feeling in the audience. This concert was at times foreign to them, because they had never heard sounds as far as those from Senegal, North Africa and Suriname combined. However the mixture of sounds created a unique, melodic and danceable Jazz composition.
Before each song, Zarra introduced each song with its origin. In “Leela” (The Night) from her “Berber Taxi” album, Zarra explains that the song tells the story of a woman that will for the last night in her life look in to her lover’s dark brown eyes. The piano keys that follow, support the voice of this ballad that gradually reaches crescendo with momentum.
In this concert the ebbs and flows of the music are evident, controlled, constant and keeping the audience and musicians on edge. The element of surprise was present at all times and evident when the author used the voice-altering device. They added chorus and echoes to her voice that enlarged the music. Malika Zarra’s use of the microphone is also evident. Knowing when a certain key will require her to distance her microphone less or more from her lips.
This examiner felt that the seating arrangement limited the movement of the audience. In these concerts, it is important to feel the effect that the sounds are having on one’s body. Although the large, individual, cushioned armchairs were comfortable, one would have explored more of this event if they had been standing up. Perhaps, cushions on the floor and chairs on the edges would have been the more Tuareg (Another Berber Nomadic Tribe) traditional way of doing things.
The Berber language dates back to 200 BC and the history of this culture are rich, ancient and full of religious alterations. Their antiquity has seen Berber turn from Christians to Muslim and merge to the Arabic language in North Africa. It is to the Berber people that we owe Moroccan food such as Couscous or Tajine. It’s antiquity merges with the modern world to offer the world, personalities such as footballer Zinedine Zidan or Edith Piaf’s Grandmother. Other personalities such as inventor and Aviation Pioneer Abbas Ibn Frinas or Saint Augustine, compose the richness of this culture. The Berber call themselves Imazighen (Free People or Noble). This is suggested by their prevalence through history. They have merged with different cultures, expanded across South Sahara and created the Numidia Kingdom, where now lies Algeria and part of Tunisia. Finally settling in different parts of the world such as the Netherlands, France and the Highlands of Kabylie and Morocco. Their freedom to move and offer so much to the world makes them free and noble and perhaps more peaceful. As Malika mentions “Through Art I find Peace. Sharing Culture crumbles the walls of Misunderstanding”. She mentioned this as she explained that in her years living in Paris since her and her family moved there when she was only 4 years of age, she understood that the only way that racism in France at the time, was reduced, was when cultural events took place. She described that she wants to continue on that path of Peace process. She has been doing so, for the past 20 years with her singing. In her song “Mossameeha” (Forgiveness), she sings to the universal phenomenon of forgiving someone for their ill doings, but not forgetting the actual incident. The universality in her songs made the audience relate to all of her work and thus “crumble the walls of misunderstanding”.
Zarra’s first arrival in New York in 1996 opened her mind. She stated “ For the first time in my life, I was encouraged to use my Heritage in my work”. Ever since, she has made New York her destination and she has been living there for the past 6 years. It is there where she met the phenomenal musicians that accompany her.
Adorned in Berber silver wear and wearing a necklace designed by a Parisian friend, Zarra moves her hands like the soft version of a Flamenco Dancer and uses her hands to play with her necklace or clap in a manner that is resounding and stark. When she mentioned that she has integrated all her cultural influences and that her summers in Morocco as a child helped her understand her own Berber culture, it is evident, that she has a lot to offer. She grew up listening to traditional Arabic Music and also to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday and that richness of cultural influence along with her classical training in the Paris Conservatory of Music allow her to compose and arrange her own music. It is this Examiner’s opinion, that the Berber sounds were unique and a precious treat to the listener that should not be missed at the Bohemian Cavern in DC on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th of April.