Iness Mezel 2011

1) You have a fascinating background with Franco-Italian roots on one side of the family and Algerian-Kabyle ones on the other. What was it like for you growing up in the suburbs of Paris, then living in Algeria, before once more returning to Paris?

Being born of dual culture, enables me to utilize creative aspects of my father’s Berber «Amazigh» heritage and my mother’s European background. I was born in Paris (18th district) and have spent most of my life in France.

Amazigh languages (in Amazigh languages)
Major Amazigh languages include Shilha (Tashelhit), Tarifit, Kabyle, Tamazight, and Tamahaq. The family may also include extinct languages such as the Guanche languages of the Canary Islands, Old Libyan (Numidian), and Old Mauretanian,….
I went to Algiers at the age of 7 for two years – this made me define myself for the first time as both French and Kabyle ; especially when my relatives asked me about my life over there in France « is it better here or there ? » and at school I realized my belonging to both countries made me different. At home in Algiers, we would speak French & Kabyle.

While living in Algiers, I’d go to Kabylia during school holidays and it was a wonderful time for me to discover my ancestors’ country in my father’s village. I remember my aunts, the colors of their dresses, the smells of fire cooking, the life in the village. All these sounds, smells and colors impressed me deeply. More particularly the memory of their singing, their typical kabyle dances and the very astonishing sound of the women’s « youyous » in the distance at night during festivities as they where joining from other villages.

Going back to France I lived in Auvergne, in the heart of France with my parents and French relatives – getting all the imperceptible cultural imprints, hearing different folkloric music from Auvergne (typical instruments and typical old dances from Auvergne) but also classical music because there started my very first musical steps at school. Music lessons would make my day at that early age.

Returning to Paris, I asked my mother to take me to the music school in Levallois-Perret just outside Paris for piano and ballet lessons.

2) Tell us about your early musical influences that have inspired your own music? What styles of music and musicians in particular have been an inspiration for you?

On the classic edge, Debussy, Eric Satie, Ela Bartok
On the funk : Bootsie Collins, James Brown,
On the composition edge Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon
Rythmics of African & Berber music
Vocalists like Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Tina Turner
& Taos Amrouche

3) Your vocal style fuses jazz with other music styles such as soul and funk. How did you come to improvise using jazz vocal techniques?

As a musician, composing piano parts was not enough, I felt singing would help me be complete – I tremendously enjoyed playing with my voice – jazz vocal appeared to be a good way to extend my vocal capacities and a the same time have fun while joining other musicians and develop the ear – later I developped the different subtilities of vocal aspects in playing with African musicians or with vocalists like Tamia and Bobby McFerrin.

4) You started off singing with your sister Malika and in 1998 won the ‘Best North African artist’ of the year at the Kora awards. Why the decision to go solo and why the use of a different stage name from your real one?

I received two awards (Best North Artist & Best African Artist) – My sister had already left because she had decided to stop and quit the professional music field – it was a bit dramatic at that moment because we had concerts booked and I had to react very quickly. But I decided to make my own way through as a solo artist.

The use of a different stage name has to do with what lies beyond imagination, dreams, freedom, space, hope which I felt my civil name did not provide.

5) To what extent have you been influenced by classical Arabic music (Egypt, Lebanon as well as the Maghreb) since you are of non-Arab Berber origin?

Speaking about influences, I have not been influenced by classical Arabic music – My music finds part of its roots in the Mediterranean & North African cultures and music which are part of my musical heritage (rythmically or melodically speaking).

6) You describe yourself as French, Kabyle and Parisian. What different perspective on life does it give you having these distinct identities?

Perspective can be multiple. I think this has to do with the subconscious. That is why I called this album « Beyond the Trance » as going through this dance called « trance » you let go and get rid of your tensions, and all that is not you and then begin to catch a glimpse of another path, other possibilities. That could not have occurred otherwise, the subconscious leads to a new opening.

Tim Stenhouse