Moroccan singer/composer/producer, MALIKA ZARRA is a multi-cultural shape-shifter, an enchantress who leaps effortlessly between seemingly unconnected languages and traditions, uniting them while utilizing each to further enrich the others. The exotically beautiful artist with the velvety, sinuous mezzo-soprano voice has demonstrated a rare ability to communicate both powerful and subtle ideas and feelings in Berber, Moroccan Arabic, French and English now a much-in-demand headliner at concert halls and festivals the world over.

Malika was born in Southern Morocco, in a little village called Ouled Teima. Her father’s family was originally from Tata, a city on the Sahara plain, while her mother was a Berber from the High Atlas. During her early childhood, there was always music and dancing in the house. After her family emigrated to a suburb of Paris, she found herself straddling two very different societies. I had to be French at school yet retain my Moroccan cultural heritage at home, she recalls, Like many immigrant children, I learned to switch quickly between the two. It was hard but brought me a lot of good things too.

Malika’s interest in music led her to take up the clarinet in grade school. Meanwhile, she was being exposed to a wide variety of musical styles, she cites fellow Moroccan Hajja Hamdaouia, Rais Mohand, the Lebanese-born, Egyptian-based ud virtuoso/composer Farid el Atrache, Um Kalthoum and Algerian singer Warda (Al-Jazairia) as major influences. She also absorbed albums by Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby McFerrin, Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. When I decided to learn singing, I started with jazz because I was attracted by the improvisation, which is also important in Arabic music, she says. Although her family was not in favour of her pursuing a musical career, Malika nonetheless attended classes at conservatories and jazz academies at Tours and Marseille and studied privately with Sarah Lazarus and Francoise Galais.

During her apprentice phase, during which she became a fixture in France and on the Paris scene, Malika performed at a variety of well-known clubs and events, including Festival L’esprit Jazz de St Germain, Sunside/Sunset and Cite de la Musique. In the beginning, she interpreted classic material strictly in the original languages — then a breakthrough occurred. When I started to sing in Arabic, writing new lyrics for jazz standards, I found that people reacted really strongly. There is always more emotion when you sing in your own language because your feelings are more intense. As a composer, the process was similar; asked why and when she began writing her own songs, she says impishly, After getting tired of forgetting English lyrics!

An early visit to New York made a strong impression on her, I came the first time in 1996. It was an amazing experience. I felt that I could be more myself and learn a lot of things, musically and as a human being. In 2004, Malika decided to relocate to New York City. Having crafted a repertoire that incorporated her native Berber, Gnawa (a percussive form of religious trance music) and Chaabi (Arabic working-class blues) heritages, the intellectual elegance of French pop, plus freewheeling jazz rhythms and techniques, her reputation as a solo act began to grow.

With the release of Berber Taxi on April 12th, 2011 by Motéma Music (home to legendary innovators Randy Weston and Geri Allen), Zarra takes her rightful place as an important world-jazz artist on New York’s multicultural music scene. Berber Taxi takes up its journey following Zarra’s self-released 2006 debut, On the Ebony Road, which has sold over 2,000 copies, largely from her gigs and by word of mouth reputation. Whereas that first album was recorded jazz-style, mixed and mastered in two days, Zarra has, in her words, “fought” long and hard to make this one sound exactly the way she wanted it to.

Malika Zarra - North African Singing Holiday

Malika eventually recorded and/or sat in with Makoto Ozone, John Zorn, Tommy Campbell (Dizzy Gillespie), Will Calhoun (Living Color), Lonnie Plaxico (Cassandra Wilson), Michael Cain (Jack Dejohnette), Brad Jones (Ornette Coleman), Jacques Schwarz-Bart (Roy Hargrove), David Gilmore, Gretchen Parlato and many others. She has recently recorded a vocal quartet album for John Zorn’s released on Tzadik Records in January 2010.

Among the venues she has graced are the Carnegie Hall (opening for Bobby McFerrin) (NYC), the Opera House Lincoln Center (NYC), the Apollo Theater (NYC), the London Jazz Festival (UK), the Montreal Jazz Festival (Canada), the International Black Arts Festival (Senegal), Teatro Colsubsidio Bogota (Colombia), Teatro Ateneo (Panama), the Chicago World Music Festival, the Festival du Monde Arabe Montreal (Canada), the Salzburg Jazz Festival (Austria), the Festival Nuits d’Afrique Montreal (Canada), Toronto Festival (Canada), the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Arab American National Museum (USA), the Banlieues Bleues Festival, (France), WDR Funkhaus Cologne (Germany), Salzburg Jazz Festival (Austria), Vienna Konzerthaus (Austria), Wels Festival (Austria), Porgy & Bess Jazz Club Vienna (Austria), Timitar Festival (Morocco), the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival (DC), the Kennedy Center (DC), Brooklyn Maqam festival (NYC), The Blue Note (NYC), The Jazz Standard (NYC), North Sea Jazz Club Amsterdam (Netherland), Divadlo U Hasičů Prague(Czech Republic), Chorus Jazz Club, Lausane (Switzerland), Africa Festival Wurzburg (Germany), Theatro Manzoni Milan (Italy), Klub Cankarjevega doma Ljubljana Slovenia, Berlin Museum Germany, Jazz Middelheim Festival (Brussels), Porgy & Bess Jazz Club Vienna (Austria), Paper Museum Steyrermuhl (Austria), Hanover Jazz Club (Germany), Haltern am see (Germany), Munster Jazz Club (Germany), Domicil Jazz Club (Germany), WDR Funkhaus Cologne (Germany), Joe’s Pub (NYC), Sob’s (opening for Sara Tavares) (NYC), Smoke Jazz Club (NYC), Brooklyn Academy of Music (NYC), NYC Winter Jazzfest, Birdland Jazz club, (NYC), Outpost Performance Space (New Mexico), Baruch Performing Arts Center (NYC), Skirball Center Performing Arts (NYC), MET Museum (NYC), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom, (NYC)