IndieBerlin talks to Jordanian-born multitalented Zazuka

by | indieBerlin

Based in Berlin, Zazuka sings in both Arabic and English. She describes her music as “intercultural chamber pop”. Besides being a singer/songwriter/pianist, she also composes film music.

indieBerlin: Tell us a little bit about your musical background.

zazuka: I am classically trained but since tearing of those classical trainers I have run barefoot through vast musical landscapes. I’ve played in folk, pop, rock, sufi, neo-classical, reggae, gnawa bands/ensembles and all those styles influence my music-making approach. Based out of Jordan in the 2000s, touring the Middle East, I picked up a lot of heritage from Egyptian and Lebanese musicians who taught me their songs. In Germany, I started film scoring and slowly came back to playing original music live in the past couple of years. Here in Berlin, there are so many amazing jazz and world-fusion musicians to collaborate with so that’s what I am doing now: opening up to even more styles.

indieBerlin: How did you come up with the name?

zazuka: It’s a name my friends used to store my contact details on their phones. Basically, a simplified version of my first initial and last name combined. Apparently, it is also a boy’s nickname in Georgia and my artist page keeps getting tagged in Georgian baby photos. Now whenever I am playing in a duo, trio or quartet, I just add a “Z” to everything so we become “Zazuka Zuo”, “Zazuka Quarzett” etc…


indieBerlin: How does the songwriting process work for you/in your band?

zazuka: with songwriting, it can go two ways for me. The first is, I have a motif that I play on loop on the piano and start singing on top of, then I refine the lyrics. The second is, I have a text expressing something I want to say and I repeat it spoken-word style, then I figure out a rhythmic cycle to suit it. That forms the skeleton of the song. The chords and melody come later – like the skin and dress that give it a final shape and color. In the band context, I arrange the song according to who is playing it with me as I play in different combos. The musicians also add so much through their interpretation.

You could describe the subject matter of the lyrics, but the music has to be felt.

indieBerlin: If you had to describe your music to a deaf person, what would you say?

zazuka: I would say a hearing-impaired person needs to feel the vibrations because it is hard enough to describe my music to a person of hearing in words. You could describe the subject matter of the lyrics, but the music has to be felt. It may make them sway their hips or it may make their head spin.

indieBerlin: If your music was a movie, which genre would it be in?

zazuka: psycho-thriller. I would love to score a science-fiction or a horror movie, too.

real people’s life stories, my own experiences and human relations in general

indieBerlin: Where do you get your inspiration from?

zazuka: for my songs: real people’s life stories, my own experiences and human relations in general – especially what goes on underneath the surface. If I’m writing for a film, obviously, the images will influence me and I ask the director for a playlist/moodboards that we can draw inspiration from.


indieBerlin: What was the last concert you went to?

zazuka: Shine. An Italian duo who are releasing their debut next year. They were on their warm-up tour and stopped in Berlin and I was luckily in the venue that night, for another reason, and I decided to stay. I was blown away by the musicality, the layers of sound textures and the beauty of the simply sung yet profound lyrics. Highly recommended.

indieBerlin: What was the nicest compliment you once got?

zazuka: That I made someone see how beautiful Arabic and Turkish can sound. I really loved that compliment because I think there is a certain picture in the mass media of Arabs/Turks and I think it’s so cool that in my own way, through using the beauty of the languages, I can fight the lying media conglomerates who want to divide people.

I think there are enough “Despacito” versions in the world already

indieBerlin: How do you feel about covering a song?

zazuka: my sister keeps telling me I should cover songs for more exposure as a songwriter. I definitely do interpret other people’s material and enjoy that, but I usually either take a piece that a bandmate has written or an obscure piece no one has heard of because I think there are enough “Despacito” versions in the world already. I am toying with the idea of playing some more well-known jazz standards and trip-hop pieces.

indieBerlin: Do you prefer to play big festivals/stages or smaller club gigs?

zazuka: Both are cool in their own way. In the Middle East, I played bigger theatres and outdoor venues as a pianist/keyboardist. I especially miss playing in a Roman amphitheater under the summer night sky in my hometown, Amman. In Germany, I’ve been trying to establish a very unique style so I’ve been playing lots of smaller, more intimate venues, and there is more personal contact when I am singing in my mother tongue and people who understand it or not are both listening very intently. It’s very focused, and also fun because people approach me after the show and we have interesting conversations.

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