Umar Zakaria and Fearless Music

From Voices, 8:00 am on 5 July 2021

As a child, when Umar Zakaria saw the double-bassist play in an army band in New Zealand, he almost immediately knew that was the instrument he wanted to take up. 

FOLLOW Voices on Apple Podcasts, SpotifyiHeart Radio or wherever you listen to your podcasts. 

While studying jazz at high school, Zakaria was listening to a lot of Dizzy Gillespie's music.

Zakaria recalls coming across a story about how Dizzie asked his pianist, Panamanian Danilo Pérez, something to the effect of "when are you going to deal with the music of where you're from?"

It was a quest that jazz musicians at the time like Yusuf Lateef were all beginning to explore by going on journeys to Africa to discover their own musical roots. 

Umar Zakaria, Wellington, 2021

Umar Zakaria, Wellington, 2021 Photo: RNZ

Inspired by jazz greats like these, Zakaria delved into his own Malay roots and the melange of influences it comprises - Arabic, Indian, indigenous Malay, Portuguese. 

Over the past decade or so, Zakaria's interpretations of the ornamentations of Malay music in his jazz compositions has seen a solid response. 

Umar Zakaria, Wellington, 2021

Umar Zakaria, Wellington, 2021 Photo: RNZ

It's an ongoing journey of discovery which he calls Fearless Music, and along the way, being named Best Jazz Artist in 2018 by Recorded Music New Zealand, are encouraging junctures for Zakaria. 

Right now he's in the thick of his PhD at Victoria University these days, which is based on Malay contemporary musicians.

Umar Zakaria and Kadambari Raghukumar of RNZ Voices

Umar Zakaria and Kadambari Raghukumar of RNZ Voices Photo: RNZ

Listen to Zakaria's full interview on this week's Voices with Kadambari Raghukumar - where he talks about his love for Wellington, Malaysian genres of music, and straddling his New Zealand, Singapore, and Malay identities through music.

FOLLOW Voices on Apple Podcasts, SpotifyiHeart Radio or wherever you listen to your podcasts.