Multi-award winning singer-songwriter Zara McFarlane, is the UK’s Black British foremost Jazz Vocalist. Eloquent and provocative her sound is distinguished by her melding of multiple influences from jazz, reggae, folk and nu-soul.
Zara first caught the attention of world renowned DJ Gilles Peterson on the release of her self- produced EP in 2010 and has released four studio albums on his label Brownswood Recordings and went on to win best Jazz Act at the MOBO awards (2014) and Urban Music Awards (2015). From her jazz roots, honing her craft with Tomorrow’s Warriors, Zara continues to push the boundaries of jazz adjacent music via an exploration into the folk and spiritual traditions of her ancestral motherland, Jamaica described as a ‘potent hybrid’ in ‘Arise’.
Her latest acclaimed album ‘Songs of An Unknown Tongue’ was born out of her extended trip to Jamaica in 2018 to research the early folk rhythms unique to the island. Her new sound is the culmination of this research and weaves a subversion of the colonial legacy of slavery. Zara teamed up with London producers Kwake Bass and Wu-Lu to explore a meeting point between current electronic sounds and the traditional rhythms of Jamaica.
In 2021, Zara was commissioned by LA based experimental dance company Jacob Jonas The Company (JJTC) to compose, produce and perform the music for dance film DisInteGrated choreographed and directed by Wade Robson and Tony Testa. A meditation of movement and sound, Zara created the score from her voice only, manipulating the sound to mimic a range of instruments.
The twice Jazz FM vocalist of the year winner has led her band in festivals from British Summer Time (Hyde Park), Field Day and BoomTown Festivals to prestigious international jazz festivals and venues such as Ronnie Scotts, The Jazz Cafe, Love Supreme (UK), Rochester Jazz (US), Cully Jazz (CH) St Lucia Jazz Festivals and SXSW (US).
With a voice that has been described as ‘a caressing voice of sparkling clarity,’ Zara is an in-demand vocalist internationally and has performed with acclaimed musicians including Hugh Masekela, Gregory Porter, Gary Bartz, Ernest Ranglin, Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd and Ezra Collective and collaborated with esteemed producers Lil’ Louie Vega, Swindle, Floating Points, Osunlade and Dennis Bovell.
Zara has also worked in the theatre with the Royal Shakespeare Company as a featured singer in ‘Anthony and Cleopatra,’ directed by Iqbal Khan with music written by Laura Mvula and with Glyndebourne Opera and in 2019. Specialising in songwriting, Jazz and Popular Music vocal styles, Zara has worked as a music educator at conservatories including Guildhall School of Music and Drama and BIMM and within local communities and shall be a judge on the BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018 Awards.
Praise for Songs of an Unknown Tongue
"McFarlane creates a series of vibrant storytelling soundscapes where her sweetly soulful harmonized vocals intertwine with woozy synth sounds and throbbing electronic rhythms"
- MOJO (Charles Waring, 5*****)
"Musically, lyrically, conceptually, in any number of ways Zara McFarlane's fourth studio album Songs of an Unknown Tongue is a remarkable, soul-stirring collection."
"McFarlane charts new vistas of vocal and lyrical expression"
- Jazzwise (Peter Quinn, 4****)
"Thoughtful, innovative, and reflective, ‘Songs Of An Unknown Tongue’ is a special record, one that offers up questions and revelations in equal measure."
"a nuanced, detailed project from a voice to cherish."
- Clash Magazine ( Robin Murray, 8/10)
"Deep, imaculately crafted and beautiful"
- All About Jazz (Chris May, 4****)
Praise for Arise
"A class act"
- The Guardian (John Fordham, 4****)
"exploring new avenues in modern jazz. ‘Arise’ illustrates how McFarlane is one of the few artists with the ability to make jazz-soul sound current"
- Clash Magazine (Will Roseburry 8/10)
Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year Award (2018)
Session of the Year at Worldwide Awards (2018)
Best Jazz Act at Urban Music Awards (2015)
Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year Award (2015)
Best Jazz at MOBO Awards (2014)