Hindi Zahra has an Olympus voice recorder too. “It’s good,” she remarks, right before I begin my interview, adding she uses it to record bits of melodies.
Daily News Egypt spoke to the French-Moroccan on the morning of her performance at the Fête de la Musique on Wednesday.
The best bits of conversation take place when the recorder is turned off, when the artist explains her model in life. Hindi aspires to be like a tree, deeply rooted, and turning the toxic into the useful.
“Music is really a life experience that brings you towards something essential in life,” she says, “For me, all through life it was my guide.”
Hindi — who puts her family name first, as per Moroccan tradition — is strongly connected to her roots. With a mother that was a well-known singer in her village, and uncles that were musicians, she was born into a house abound with musical influences.
Yet “Berber in music stays in Morocco or stays in Algeria, it doesn’t go too far.” With her album “Handmade” released in January this year, Hindi took these sounds West, and even to other parts of Africa.
Hindi does not sing in French. English provides a wider audience, and her sense of home comes from Morocco. She feels equally comfortable in jazz — easily composing English lyrics into Tuareg rhythms. Her blends are easy on the ear — soul, jazz, and reggae, her unwavering vocals to the soft beat of bendir drums.
Featured at the French Culture Center-sponsored Fête de la Musique, “Sawah” was another experiment in fusion Hindi and her band undertook, this time with the rustic sounds of Port Said band “El Tanbura.”
“Egyptian Project” opened the night, again with a fusion of local Egyptian sounds with French electronic music. The atmosphere was already one of trance and some had warmed up to dancing.
As “Sawah” began, the audience, previously spread out, ballooned near the stage. The green edifice of the Citadel watched El Tannbura break into “Ya la Lalli.” Hindi surprised, joining them in singing with her mastery of Arabic, also adding English lyrics of “You Give me Fever,” to the song. Her voice displayed maturity and her onstage presence carried magnetism.
Singing “Imik Simik” (Little by Little), Hindi begins with Berber lyrics, going without pause into typical jazz lyrics “I will take the train / Leave the sun for the rain.”
As another of her Berber song ends, the audience repeats her lyrics till they have lured her back on to center-stage into singing. Soon, Tanbura join in with their music and an improv belly-dance begins on stage, as singer from Tanbura and Hindi shake and shimmy to audience prompts and cheers.
Being onstage is an exercise in reciprocity, according to Hindi, “When you’re on stage, you have to search inside of yourself to give, and then also to receive.”
The exercise of give-and-take also takes place between collaborating artists. “It’s like a lesson of Tao,” Zahra said. “You give a part, you let it be, let it go to mix with the other, and you also keep something really rooted.”
At the Citadel, “Orsoul” (Bygones) blues vocals float, rise, and dance over reggae percussions. When there is a pause, El Tanbura perks the song up with the jangles and cymbals of “El Dunya Helwa” (Life is Sweet), and suddenly all on the stage (and off) break from swaying into a full-hearted dance. Each band gives fully to the other.
Hindi is not afraid of losing herself in another’s music. “It’s not something dangerous; in fact, it’s really good. It’s nurturing each other through our music.”
Extemporaneous to the core, like with belly-dancing, she is equally keen on going into a trance onstage if it calls her. “There are new things that are happening to you because you push your limits.”
Hindi’s final song for the night “Stand Up” is a mix of reggae style and Oriental Egyptian rhythm. The lyrics come off as simple, but the music is catchy.
“Soul and jazz is always straight to the point, and reggae music, also,” says Hindi when asked about her choice of lyrics. “So I had this idea of writing, to talk with the simplest words, and also to most of people, not only those who’d understand poetry.”
True enough, her messages are simple and direct. On Wednesday, she gets the audience into repeating “Stand Up” after her. Once she has them under her spell, she says twice with eyes open wide and full of significance, “Stand up — for your rights.”
Well-rooted in her music, Zahra had audiences at the Citadel standing up for her, and while there, tried to make something fruitful of it.
For more information on Hindi Zahra, visit www.hindi-zahra.com.
Originally published online at Daily News Egypt on January 24, 2010.