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French Version

Dictatorship and anarchy at once - Interview flautist Malik Mezzadri

Virtuoso flautist Malik Mezzadri's jazz 'orchestra' performs with notes to follow - or not

Interview

Five musicians and a sound engineer are tumbling into the lobby of a quaint Gemmayzeh hotel, piling up stacks of luggage, cumbersome equipment and a slew of instrument cases. Among them, Malik Mezzadri, otherwise known as Magic Malik, is rubbing his eyes, wiping away the morning flight from Paris and the de riguer delay at Beirut's international airport.

Saxophonist Denis Guivarc'h is running around, taking pictures with a digital camera. Percussionist Maxime Zampieri is checking out the disheveled view of the port from the hotel balcony. Keyboard player Jozef Dumoulin is sitting politely still. And Sarah Murcia, the tiniest member of the ensemble who plays the largest instrument (double bass) seems very much ready for an espresso.

Mezzadri and his band, the Magic Malik Orchestra, are in Lebanon for the second of Liban Jazz's MusicHallogies series, a loose schedule of concerts at Music Hall that began in January with a double bill by French-Beninese singer Mina Agossi and Cuban pianist Omar Sosa. It continues with Magic Malik tonight and concludes with pianist Bojan Z and saxophonist Julien Lourau come September.

MusicHallogies is a co-production of Liban Jazz and Michel Elefteriades, whose old-school cabaret-style venue lends an air of intimacy, unpredictability and fine acoustics to the concerts that are more difficult to achieve at Liban Jazz's usual venue at the outdoor amphitheater in Zouk Mikhael, where the open air can sometimes swallow the sound.

Although this series is malleable in terms of musical styles and genres, jazz constitutes its core, and as such, Magic Malik is in many ways a perfect anchor for the project.

A virtuoso flautist and vocalist, Mezzadri says he considers himself strictly a jazz musician more and more, though he began studying classical music in Guadalupe, where he grew up, continued his training at a conservatory in Marseilles and then, veering off that formal course, joined a reggae band in Paris.

On albums such as "69 96," "00-237 XP1," "13 XP Song Books" and "XP 2" ("XP" is Mezzadri's shorthand for "experience" - not Microsoft, he quips, but rather the notion that every piece of music is an adventure to dive into), the Magic Malik Orchestra expands and contracts its influences to take in such elements as African rhythms, Caribbean melodies, electronic tweaks, pop song structures or a DJ on the decks. Among the long line of collaborators who have come into the equation are alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz, French electro-fusion outfit the Troublemakers and DJ Rebel.

So how did a Paris-based reggae band called Human Spirit give rise to such a rich mix of music?

"It was original reggae music," says Mezzadri, "but we were mixing African, Jamaican and jazz influences. It was nice to practice improvisation in this context. The basis of the music is really clear. You can go with a melody or a rhythm. But it's all about sharing a hot moment with someone. If you wanted to go deeper into the language of improvisation, it was open."

Mezzadri, now 37, was born in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan, but his mother took him, on her own, to the small French Caribbean island of Guadalupe when he was young enough to now have no memory whatsoever of his birthplace.

Most likely due to his name, he is often mistaken to be of North African origin, which is curious, in that Middle Eastern music is one subgenre notably absent from his band's cocktail of influences. (That could change at Music Hall tonight, as the Magic Malik Orchestra is tentatively scheduled to collaborate onstage with two Lebanese oud players, Ziad Ahmadieh and Fahed Riachi, and one derbakeh player, Khalid Yassine).

"Behind every culture there is something we all share as part of humanity" says Mezzadri, shrugging off the idea that there's any added significance about playing in the Arab world. "I focus on this and as long as I'm welcomed it's okay."

As for the potential of local jam sessions, he adds, "I would never say no. It depends on who, on the feeling. When we were in Nigeria, in the West Indies, it worked. We have a lot of different approaches to music. If someone can fit into this, then yes. It's not like we're only doing bebop."

Of course, fitting into that isn't necessary easy. Mezzadri describes the Magic Malik Orchestra as a dictatorship and total anarchy at once.

"Because it's jazz music, everything is written. But considering that everyone has to express themselves, whatever I write, it's open for everyone to find their own way. They can play [a piece] as it's written or they can investigate the material."

In terms of recorded albums, the Magic Malik repertoire yields a number of standouts, from the drum n' bass-layered track "Madness" on "69 96" to the remarkable tenth track on "XP 2," which begins like mellow, jazz-inflected hip hop and then goes off in about six different directions, some up, some down, some heavy, some nimble. You can pick out each instrument or sound and follow it, as if listening to multiple compositions at once.

"I don't believe music is just expression," Mezzadri says. "I like to have the balance we have in ourselves. We are cold and hot. We have instincts and feelings and at the same time we have thinking and meditating. In the music I want a prolongation of this."

Prefacing the remark with a disclaimer, he adds, "I try to make people happy in some way. I don't want to lose this connection with people. In a way, this is black culture. You have this thing, you want to be together. This is pop music, too."

As for the band's plans for Music Hall tonight, Mezzadri keeps mum. "No plans," he says. "We'll see what happens."

Magic Malik performs at Music Hall tonight. For more information, please call +961 1 361 236

Beirut,04 18 2006
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
The Daily Star
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