Zara McFarlane Interview

Zara McFarlane has recently released her third album for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label and been nominated for Vocalist of the Year at the 2018 Jazz FM awards. We asked her a few questions ahead of her Brighton Komedia show.

You played the first Love Supreme Festival in 2013 and are back for this year’s. How did you find the experience?
I camped out for the weekend when I last did it and had a fabulous time enjoying the music. I remember it being a very hot day (which is always a surprise at a UK festival!) so it almost felt like we were abroad.

You have opened shows for Dianne Reeves and, just recently, Carleen Anderson. Were they an influence on you when you were starting out and who would be your dream act to work with?
From jazz I would love to do a song with Gregory Porter and from reggae I would love to collaborate with Chronixx. Singing with Carleen would be fantastic. (Zara supported Anderson at The Barbican in January).

You are still signed to Brownswood Recordings. What’s it like working with Gilles Peterson?
Yes, I am still signed with the Brownswood crew. They are a really strong team. I very rarely see GP as he is a very busy man but when we do catch up we talk all things music. He is always enthusiastic and upbeat.

Your latest album is called ‘Arise’. That’s quite a strong title, what does it represent?
I liked the sentiment of “To move upward… get up or stand up… to come into being”.

What is your writing and recording process like? Do you write collaboratively and when you record do you have the finished product ready or is there studio improvisation involved?
It completely varies. I mostly write alone but I have done a little bit of collaborating over the years, writing songs with individuals in my band such as Peter Edwards, Moses Boyd as well as working with producers such as Louie Vega and songwriters such as Paul Simm.

You’ve previously said that you’d like to get more into the production side of things. Is that something you’ve been able to achieve yet?
I self-produced my last two albums and worked with Moses Boyd on the production of this new record. I really enjoy the mixing process and would like to be more well-versed on the technical aspects of this.

You worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors, which must have been a great learning experience, and have also been a teacher – do you have any thoughts on how to get young people to embrace jazz to ensure the music can continue with new blood?
Exploration is key. I am a lover of many musical styles and experience music in different ways as a performer and listener. I would encourage young people to explore many eclectic musical styles. I never really saw much live music performances as a child. I think it is a great thing to do as it is often totally different to listening to records and you get a different perspective. With regards to jazz specifically, allowing yourself to experiment with improvisation, tone and timbre is what is most fun for me but having an understanding of the tradition gives you a firm grounding. Jazz music has created such amazing records, it is so vast so there is lots to learn and explore. The learning never ends.

You recently appeared in the RSC production of Antony & Cleopatra performing music by Laura Mvula. How did that come about and what did you enjoy most about this experience?
My name was put forward to audition for it and it was such a special thing to do – something which I never imagined I would ever do. I really enjoyed seeing the process of how the show was put together and of course performing on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Barbican Theatre was magical.

Are you a regular visitor to Brighton?
Brighton is one of the top places on my list for a weekend getaway as I like the quirky shops and I love being near the water.

What are your hopes and plans for the year ahead?
I am looking forward to bringing the music further afield touring and continuing to work on my musical idea. There are also a few performance projects in UK / Europe that may develop with some other music outfits. And who knows…

You can read our review of Zara’s Komedia show here and she returns to perform at the Love Supreme Festival this Summer.

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Steve Clements

Steve has been a SOURCE contributor since Summer 2010 and also writes for Latest 7 magazine. He moved to Brighton in 2006 after working in London at the Royal Albert Hall, Our Price Music and Teletext. Favourite quote - "There's no such thing as a sold out gig".

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