Something different: Paris-based singer Hindi Zahra, who grew up in Morocco, is winning accolades for her debut recording “Handmade.” (Courtesy photo)
Each of her fingers bears a huge ring, and she wears many metal and stone bracelets, most handcrafted in her native Morocco, on her wrists.
Paris-based, Berber-blooded singer Hindi Zahra looks just as exotic as she sounds on her soulful debut, “Handmade,” which recently won the Prix Constantin, France’s Mercury Prize equivalent.
“I grew up with women that really like jewelry,” she says. “In Morocco, when we go to weddings or traditional parties, it’s the occasion for women to really dress up, so I really caught that style. It’s a big feminine reference for me.”
Each ring and bracelet means something different to Zahra, who will be jangling them at her concert in San Francisco on Saturday.
“I’ve tried to find pieces that are really unique,” she says. “And for a long time, I was kind of tough, just wearing boy’s clothes. But now this typically female jewelry is very precious to me, because when I go onstage, it’s something of a costume, and it’s really linked to art. So I’m always wearing something that really helps me to be more myself onstage.”
Zahra, 32, has a smoky trill somewhere between Norah Jones and Billie Holiday, and a retro-spooky blues style that’s almost vaudevillian.
She had been searching for her sound since childhood.
“In Morocco, I was surrounded by people doing music,” she says. Her grandfather was a well-known dancer, her uncle a popular psychedelic-scene musician, her mother a professional singer and theater comedienne.
“This is how music came to me,” Zahra says. “And at age 8, I was really frustrated by being a girl in Morocco — I couldn’t do the same things that my brothers were doing. So I was a tough girl, very solitary, and the only way I found to express myself was, we had a big bathroom with a beautiful echo, beautiful acoustics, and I would spend hours in there practicing my improvisations.”
Zahra moved to Paris at 21, took a job at the Louvre, and began singing gospel, then opera, then jazz.
“Then I got fed up with that world and I started to work alone,” she says. “And by the time I made [opening “Handmade” track]‘Beautiful Tango,’ I understood where I wanted to go with my music and how I wanted to do it”
When it comes to airports, the bangle-bedecked performer says, “I used to take all my bracelets off at security, but now I just put them in my bags. Because even in Morocco, security would say, ‘Did you open a whole jewelry shop? Or ‘It looks like you have the shop on you!’”
IF YOU GO
Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $10 to $12