A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
There's an old Gypsy saying: "Our caravan is our family, and the world is our family"; and if ever there was a band to emerge from Brisbane whose music reflects this generous and cosmopolitan outlook, it is the outrageously-talented six-piece Mzaza. When this dazzling Gypsy caravan arrives at the Brisbane Powerhouse's Visy Theatre on Friday 27th January, it is certain that the local branch of their global family will turn out in force to greet them. However, in the spirit of the above proverb, there will always be room for many more. Within Mzaza's soulful and exquisitely-crafted sounds—a unique fusion of influences from Mediterranean Europe, the Near East, and North Africa—dedicated World Fusion aficionados and eclectic music-lovers alike will hear an open invitation to a borderless realm where tradition joyfully greets innovation, and where passion and precision unite in sweet harmony.
Formed in 2004 in the multicultural hothouse of Brisbane's West End, for years Mzaza followed the way of the hard-working Bris-band. They gigged relentlessly throughout the City and the South-East Corner, pursued high-quality collaborations whenever possible, and steadily built a reputation for dynamic live performances anchored by smouldering French-Moroccan front-woman Pauline Maudy. With a vocal range capable of delivering the sweet tones of French chanson or an ecstatic Gypsy shout with equal ease, Maudy's stage presence was at once seductive and electrifying; however, the versatility and virtuosity of Mzaza's instrumentalists ensured that this was never going to be simply a one-woman show. Through the combined talents of Bill Anderson on oud and traditional woodwind, Greta Kelly on violin and kemanche tarhu, Miranda Deutsch on guitar, Steven Cuttriss on piano accordion, and Jordan Stamos on darabuka, cajon and bendir, listeners were guaranteed a complete and captivating musical experience, word of which quickly spread through Brisbane's colourful and diverse cultural scene.
Borne on the elegant wings of this true ensemble sound, audiences across South-East Queensland found themselves transported from rollicking Parisian cafes to burning North African shores, from bustling Turkish bazaars to remote Macedonian hillsides, with a dizzying itinerary of stopovers in between. They fell to their knees and yearned for home with exiled Spanish Sephardim, only to whirl back to their feet again minutes later and dance the Rachenitsa with joyful Bulgarian peasants. They were romanced, entranced and delighted—and brought their friends when they came back for more.
By 2009 the underground momentum for which Mzaza had laboured so tirelessly reached breakthrough velocity. The launch of their debut EP Parliament of the Birds packed Fortitude Valley's Press Club to the rafters and cemented Mzaza's position at the forefront of Brisbane's ever-growing World Fusion scene. From this enviable platform, the now-seasoned ensemble dived into a performance and touring schedule which saw them win the acclaim of audiences and critics alike at such high-profile events as the Brisbane Festival, the Q150 Shed Tour, the Woodford Folk Festival and the National Folk Festival.
Far from lapsing into complacency as a result of this success, however, Mzaza continued to push ever further into hitherto-unexplored World Fusion territory, expanding their repertoire to incorporate a wider range of traditional influences and collaborating with some true heavyweights of World Music. In 2010, as part of the Planet program—a joint initiative of the Brisbane Powerhouse and BEMAC Multicultural Arts Centre—Mzaza was invited to support the legendary Grigoryan and Tawadros brothers during the Brisbane leg of their national Band of Brothers Tour, while their 2011 eight-track mini-album Journey Over Skin was significantly influenced by the band's collaboration with Flamenco legend Andrew Veivers. A full day before the Journey Over Skin album launch last April, the Powerhouse's Visy Theatre had completely sold out—an achievement which led to Mzaza's billing as a stand-alone act for the up-coming January 27th show.
For those already enthralled by the World Fusion phenomenon that is Mzaza, this first Brisbane performance for 2012 will feature many of your familiar favourites, along with the tantalising promise of new material and special guests to help usher in what is sure to be this unique ensemble's biggest year yet. To those yet to join the merry Mzaza caravan, this writer wishes to offer some gentle encouragement to hurry up and book your seats. Not only do their gigs have a tendency to sell out quickly, but if the profile which Mzaza has gained in recent times is any indication, the eminently affordable ticket price of $25 / $20 for a Mzaza performance--especially in a high-quality venue such as the Visy--may soon be the stuff of memory.