Brigitte Zarie’s mother died in 2012, but the Toronto-born jazz singer of Jewish Moroccan heritage said it might as well have been yesterday.
The acute pain of losing her mom, herself a singer, inspired a number of the songs featured on Zarie’s upcoming third album, including the title track, Marie, sung in French, after which the record is named.
Though her mother often asked Zarie to write a song for her, she said, “I never wrote a song about her when she was alive, I think because she was there, and I was happy. But when she left me, my heart was broken, and it’s started speaking to me in melodies,” said Zarie, for whom raw emotion, or impulse, has always underpinned her music.
Marie, which is set to be released this winter, is distinct from Zarie’s two previous records partly in that it’s a duets album. Of the 13 original tracks, six feature her singing one of her songs with another artist, though Zarie said she’s been sworn to secrecy about the latter.
The only name she was willing to leak was Enrico Macias, the Jewish, French Pied-noir singer who accompanies her on Marie and who Zarie described as “the Tony Bennett of Europe.”
His music resonates deeply with the Moroccan Jewish community in Canada, Zarie said, as, “he’s from Algeria; his music is the music we grew up with.”
Zarie’s own parents were Moroccan Jews who met in the music scene in Casablanca – her father a self-taught composer, pianist and horn player who was also a strong inspiration to Zarie and her mother a singer – and Zarie’s music is inflected with Moroccan sensibility, with what she called “that unique guitar sound,” making it “not so Frank Sinatra, but a little hipper.”
Having Macias record with her in her studio in New York, where Zarie has been based for about 20 years, was surreal, as the singer was a staple in her house growing up.
“For the girls I grew up with, he was our Michael Bublé. We all had his CDs and went to his concerts,” she said.
Marie, which Zarie recorded over the course of a year or so, is, she said, less “schmaltzy” than her first two albums.
“It’s more intimate, less tongue in cheek. The first two were more jazz; this one is more a crossover with a Michael Bublé sound.”
Zarie’s upbringing makes her an atypical jazz singer: She was raised in a religious home in Toronto and attended the Orthodox school Eitz Chaim.
While Zarie said she may not “look the part,” her religious background has had a significant influence on her life and she continues to “do my Shabbat and light my candles,” as well as avoiding playing gigs on Friday nights.
Zarie, whose Canadian fan base is strong, hopes to tour here and in Europe in the near future, but noted that, as a singer-songwriter, her main focus is “being in the studio and making sure the songs are written. Once the songs are down, then everything else is cake.”
Zarie stressed that all of her music is a tribute to her mother, who, from day one, had an inclination that Zarie would be a success.