Malika Zarra was born in Southern Morocco, in a little village called Oulad 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. She was French at school, yet she retained her Moroccan heritage at home. Like many immigrant children, she learned to switch quickly between two cultures.
Malika was being exposed to a wide variety of musical styles, including Moroccan Haja Hamdaouia, Rais Mohand, the Lebanese-born, Egyptian-based virtuoso/composer Farid el Atrache, Um Kalthoum and Algerian singer Warda (Al-Jazairia) all of whom were a significant influence.
She also absorbed the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby McFerrin, Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. When she decided to learn singing, she was initially drawn to jazz and improvisation – an extemporisation style that is also an inherent part of Arabic music. Although her family didn’t want her to pursue a musical career, Malika nonetheless attended classes at conservatories in Tours and Marseille, as well as studying privately with Sarah Lazarus and Francoise Galais.
An early visit to the USA in 1996 made a strong impression on her, and 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.
Malika has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall (opening for Bobby McFerrin), the Opera House Lincoln Center (NYC), the Apollo Theater (NYC), the Montreal Jazz Festival (Canada), the International Black Arts Festival (Senegal), the Chicago World Music Festival, the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Timitar Festival (Morocco), the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival (DC), the Kennedy Center (DC) and the Brooklyn Maqam Festival.
In addition, she has also performed in Europe at the Salzburg Jazz Festival (Austria), the London Jazz Festival (UK), the Banlieues Bleues Festival, (France), WDR Funkhaus Cologne (Germany), Vienna Konzerthaus, Wels Festival (Austria) and the Porgy & Bess Jazz Club Vienna.