Mothers In Jazz (60): Malika Zarra

Mothers In Jazz” is a new series, started by vocalist Nicky Schrire. The initiative aims to create an online resource for working jazz musicians with children, those contemplating parenthood, and jazz industry figures who work with and hire musicians who are parents. The insight of the musicians interviewed for this series provides valuable emotional, philosophical and logistical information and support that is easily accessible to all. “Mothers In Jazz” shines a light on the very specific role of being both a mother and a performing jazz musician.

Malika Zarra is an award-winning vocalist who moves effortlessly between languages and traditions. Her journey began in her southern Moroccan birthplace of Ouled Teima and continued with her immigrant upbringing in France. After establishing her musical career on the scene in Paris, she relocated to New York in 2004. Malika has demonstrated a rare ability to communicate both powerful and subtle musical ideas in Berber, Moroccan Arabic, French and English. She has collaborated with musicians like Makoto Ozone and Gretchen Parlato, and became a member of John Zorn’s innovative vocal quartet project Mycale. She also appeared as a featured artist with Arturo O’Farrill’s GRAMMY Award-winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. In 2019, after a transitional period spent in Casablanca, Malika made the move back to France, where she lives with her nine year-old daughter.

Malika Zarra. Photo © Gabriela Cais Burdmann

London Jazz News: What is the best advice you received about balancing/juggling motherhood and career?

Malika Zarra: I honestly can’t remember being given any advice!

LJN: What information or advice do you wish you’d received but didn’t (and had to learn through trial and error or on the go)?

MZ: To make sure to make some time for myself and protect my work. I truly understand through my own experience that I really have to treasure that space because life is not a long calm river. You never know how it’s going to be. My daughter had a health issue so it took me quite a while to get back to my music. And it felt almost that I had to start over from scratch. 

LJN:Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz:

MZ: Rest and try to go back to your to-do work list. It’s not always easy but it’s a new chapter and you have to train yourself in this new life, and do it without worrying about other people’s judgment.

LJN: Baby/child gear tips for travel/touring/gigging:

MZ: My first tour in South America with my daughter and my partner was a disaster. No specific gear would have made a difference. But I had to try! And I discovered that it wasn’t working for me. Because I had to rehearse, travel, and organize and in order to do that I had to sleep, and be completely focused, which was impossible for me. Instead, I was always distracted and concerned and worried for my child and partner. Some people can do it and some people can’t, and that’s OK.

LJN: Best general travel/gigging/tour-with-child advice:

MZ: Whenever possible, get somebody to babysit your child while you are gone. But that’s my very personal point of view. Maybe you can work out an exchange with some other mother musicians or band leaders.

LJN: What has surprised you about becoming a parent and remaining engaged with your professional activities and ambitions?

MZ: I knew that I would be tired but the fatigue didn’t go away like I thought it would. My daughter is 9 now and I still feel that I don’t have enough time.

LJN: What boundaries have you set for yourself as a mother in jazz (could be related to travel/touring, riders, personal parameters, child care decisions, etc.)?

MZ: Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about your decisions. I just try to live fully in the moment, whether I am with my daughter, working on songs or going on tour. Each time I am touring, I still have to find the best solution for my daughter when I’m away, but I feel that we grow together to find more freedom and happiness in our life. And we do. I feel I have more power!

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Malika’s new album “Rwa (The Essence)” was released in February 2023.

LINKS: Artist website
The complete archive of Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz series

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