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My Dinner With an African Princess, Zahra Universe, of Virginia, U.S.A.

September 18, 2011

Zahra Universe and Brad Spurgeon in Paris

Zahra Universe and Brad Spurgeon in Paris

Thanks to this blog, and especially my Thumbnail guide to open mics in Paris, I had the most interesting and gratifying evening of music and a meal last night with a beautiful African princess named Zahra Universe. Huh? Yes, and this lady is from Virginia, U.S.A., and whiter than me. And her natural singing voice is located somewhere in the region of Tori Amos, Rickie Lee Jones, Madonna, Adele and Amy…. She is a globetrotting singer songwriter who is at ease in techno dance music as she is alone behind the piano, like last night at the Swan Bar. But let me backtrack a bit….

This blog sometimes goes way beyond my wildest expectations in terms of what it gifts me with. Especially that list of places to play in Paris. So many times I’ve had people come up to me at open mics saying, “Hey, I found this place thanks to your list….” I met Zahra after one of her friends and band members in the U.S. found my list and queried me on where Zahra might play in Paris – ie, where there was an open mic and a piano. So I directed them to a few places, including the Swan Bar. Within a day or two I learned Zahra had just arrived in France and immediately booked at gig at the Swan Bar. That hooked my interest, so I went last night to listen.

I had heard her dance music stuff on Zahra’s web site and was curious to hear what she might sound like alone behind a piano. I was not let down. It was intimate, the voice was real, strong and sweat – as was her presence. Which brings us back to the African princess bit. It turns out that Zahra has done charitable work in Africa, that she was there last year to record a video in Cameroon with the musician Wes Madiko, and that during that visit she was honored by a government official and given the title of princess in Cameroon. Her latest CD, Dancing by the Fire, also features another Cameroon-born French rap star, Soprano. And last night she was at the Swan Bar with a couple of Cameroon friends and business connections, and we all went off and had a dinner in an Italian restaurant next to the Swan Bar.

There I learned Zahra will also be singing the opening song at the 2012 Africa Nations Cup, the biggest international soccer tournament in Africa next January. That’s kind of like the equivalent of the Super Bowl in Africa. What can I say to all that? “Holy shit!” seems the best, most honest, expression.

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