Monday, November 1, 2010

About Music - Hindi Zahra

Of Berber origin, Hindi Zahra was born in 1979 in Khouribga, a mining town in southern Morocco. Her father was in the army and her mother a housewife, occasional actress and singer of village repute. Among her uncles were musicians, into the post-psychedelic Moroccan scene of the time. She grew up to the sound of divas, raï and châabi, like Cheikha Rimitti, and the great Egyptian Oum Khalsoum, between traditional Berber music and desert rock’n’roll, with the blues of the great Malian Ali Farka Touré and the sensual folk music of Ismaël Lo in the wings. All this before she set out across the Mediterranean to join her father in Paris. She left school and got her first job at 18 in the Louvre. She passed her baccalaureate and worked in a series of small-time jobs with the sole ambition of developing her song writing skills.

”A fan of “the Afro-American groove”, she singles out Aretha Franklin, James Brown, 2Pac, and Tribe Called Quest, she learned her chops doing backing vocals on hip-hop flavored soul before embarking on her solo career. Starting in 2005, the self-taught composer was soon etching in the contours of the music that would reflect her personality, turning out some fifty songs in just one year. From these, two gems emerge. The first, Oursoul, is a tantalizingly ambiguous word play: what looks like English is in fact a Berber word meaning “bygones”. Against an arrangement evocative of American folk, the song tells the unfulfilled dreams of a young girl destined for marriage. Then came Beautiful Tango, a ballad rich in timeless nostalgia, a hymn to love, a sad thought with the power to pull tender heartstrings. “I had no doubts about the tune, so it was a relief when the words came naturally”, she admits. Beautiful Tango got serious kudos from The Wire, the reference in Britain’s “adventurous music” press, which heralded her as a worthy successor to Billie Holiday, no less. “Jazz is the only place where I can hear notes from my homeland. Jazz equals freedom to create.

She has a tenacious, free-spirited character, allowing her to create her own world through the sheer force of her convictions and intuitions. The result is Hand Made, with its handful of themes, one of which is herself as a "self-made-workin’-woman.” Hence the album title, which she justifies with a touch of humor: “handcrafted, made in Morocco!” Before adding on a more serious note: “The musicians play with their hands, and I play percussion and mess about on bass.” She demonstrates a fine-tuned sense of melody, with a touch of melancholy, but with some swing to it as well. The music serves as a perfect foil for her lyrics. The album reflects her personality: eminently seductive on first listen, and yet subtly fragile under the surface. This born wanderer has an imagination that is solidly anchored in real world, blending a variety of styles: there are jazzy tracks, dashes of Middle Eastern blues, tips of the hat to trip hop, tango, gnaoua rhythms, gypsy guitars. It is adored with her art work, which includes miniature portraits of colorful eccentric characters, part-surreal, part-naïve. Find out more at:

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