Hindi Zahra and the psychedelic Berber jazz connection
She’s been described as a new Billie Holiday. But her electrifying stage performance owes something to Jimi Hendrix. Moroccan-born Hindi Zahra has released her long-awaited debut album Handmade - and it's entirely her own work, as the title suggests.
Hindi compares making music to cooking up a good dish or painting.
“Like for spices, it’s the same for colours, it’s like adding some colours and some light and it takes time,” she says.
You can’t hurry Hindi. Handmade has been years in the making, and yet all the songs have already been performed live.
“For me, if you want to defend your music … it isn’t natural to make an album in the studio and then do it live. The right sense is to do the songs and record afterwards.”
On stage is where Hindi feels most comfortable, and she’s been playing live since the age of 14. She grew up in southern Morocco in a home filled with music.
Her mother is a singer and her uncles musicians, who introduced her to reggae, rock and folk as well as Ali Farka Touré et Ismael Lo.
Hindi says the family gave her a sense that music was there to be shared and given - and much of it was Anglophone.
“People forget that in 1968 the Rolling Stones came [to Morocco] to record an album, also Blur. And Hendrix lived in Essaouira. They left a trace: this English music sounds good.”
So singing in English came naturally. Of the eleven tracks on her album, nine are in English, two in her native Berber.
Our soul sings of arranged marriage, but this is no protest song. “Nothing is black and white” Hindi explains. She wrote it in homage to her parents, who “gave us life and they still give us love”.
Imik Si Mik, meanwhile, was inspired by a guy she met in London and tells of leaving the sun for the rain, all in the name of love.
It has an easy jazz feel, but uses Moroccan percussion. “This is the spice” Hindi says. “I wanted to use African percussion instruments (like big castagnettes known as karkabou) in a Western way.”
And sometimes the jazz-inspired folk takes on an altogether psychedelic feel. In Set Me Free and Music, Hindi turns up the electricity and volume.
“Please set me free, let the fire burn in me,” she chants, throwing back her long black hair and swaying in a near trance-like state.
Hindi is inspired by gnawa music and the way it rhythmically reproduces your heartbeat.
In the past she played support to bands like Gnawa Diffusion and cites Malian electric blues band Tinarawen as one of the groups she’d most like to record with.
Definitely one to watch out for.