Mzaza perform at the Songs Of Hope And Healing concert at QPAC in March.
Since meeting via a phone number left in a West End café 15 years ago, gypsy-folk band Mzaza have toured the world gaining fans and accolades alike.
This March, they’ll perform at the Songs Of Hope And Healing concert at QPAC. But, first things first – how do they pronounce their name? Lead vocalist and founding member Pauline Maudy explains. “It's em-zar-zar. It's a Moroccan slang word – my dad’s from Morocco – which means eccentric or crazy. We all probably have our little, crazy sides [in the band].”
The band themselves are a six-piece with impressive international credentials. There’s Greta Kelly on violin and shah kaman (a Persian upright stringed instrument); Ance Deksne, the Latvian accordionist; Australian John Robertson, who learnt his flamenco guitar skills in Spain; Goran Gajic from Bosnia on the double bass; and, Jordan Stamos, the Greek percussionist.
Not to mention Pauline, whose Australian accent belies a French, North African, and Sephardic (Spanish Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition) heritage. “I grew up travelling a lot: I pick up accents easily.
“In the early years, a lot of our influences were from the Middle East and North Africa. As the band's changed, we've ended up focusing more on a mix of Balkan, Sephardic, and French.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their roots, the band are drawn to migration stories. Their last album ‘Ghosts’, released in 2015, “was about ancestral migration – how that migration story is important, how it shapes who we are in the present, but also the traditions around us and what they've become.
“We explored that mostly through my family and the percussionist's family because both had to leave places. His family were refugees twice.”
While on tour for that album, the band ran storytelling workshops exploring communities’ own migrant stories. “We wanted our stories to connect to other people's stories. We worked with people to tell the story of their family’s migration in different ways. Some people really knew, but a huge amount of people didn’t.
“It was emotional to see people sharing their stories and bonding over them, realising they've been living alongside each other in small towns and never had these conversations before.”
Spiritually, Mzaza are a natural fit for Songs Of Hope And Healing, a concert – drawing together over 200 musicians, including Vika and Linda Bull – that celebrates world music while raising funds for the Friends of HEAL Foundation (FHEAL).
The foundation provides creative-art therapy for young people of refugee backgrounds. “As a band, we celebrate migration and the impact that it has on music: how music transcends differences in culture. We care about intercultural harmony.”
Songs Of Hope And Healing has personal relevancy for Mzaza in general – “Some of us have done community engagement work with refugees and recently arrived migrants” – and Pauline in particular.
She had the chance to meet FHEAL chairwoman Adele Rice, in her role as principal of Milpera State High School in the Brisbane suburb of Chelmer where the HEAL programme (a school-based specialty mental health programme using art and music) began in 2004.
“I went to her school and saw all the great work she had done for the young people and refugees there and got to see HEAL in action. In 2012 FHEAL was formed to find sustainable funding options for the programme. Now FHEAL make the art-therapy programme work in other schools as well, as they had such good results at Milperra.”
In a world where migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are increasingly vilified, what does Pauline see as the solution? “It comes down to tolerance and respect of each other, and not thinking one way of living is the right way. If everyone could just do that.”
Mzaza perform as part of Songs Of Hope And Healing at QPAC (Brisbane) 18 March.