Malika Tirolien is a Guadeloupe-born, Montreal-based star of the world music scene. She first gained recognition on Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinner Volume One with the wonderful tunes “I’m Not the One” and “Sew” in 2013.
Since then, Malika’s been busy releasing her first solo album Sur La Voie Ensoleillée in 2014 and then as a co-leader of the world music group Bokanté with Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, releasing two albums Strange Circles in 2017 and What Heat? in 2019. What Heat was nominated for a Grammy in 2020 for Best World Music Album and you can read FunkCity.net’s coverage of the album here.
Malika is a beautiful person with a beautiful emotive voice that can bounce from a strong, anger tinged tone to softness and sweetness. Her songs often sung in Creole have meaningful, multifaceted lyrics that convey positivity and disparage injustice.
This album is a continuation of her journey as an artist and is a great listen from end to end with dreamy melodies and hard-hitting power as well. Take a listen and a read on my track-by-track trip.
HIGHER is the 2nd installment of a tetralogy. The four albums each represent an element: Sur La Voie Ensoleillée was EARTH (roots, grounded, down to earth) and HIGHER represents AIR (cosmic, spiritual, high).
On GroundUPMusic.net Malika says “HIGHER is like a map through the world of somebody’s mind. I see that person as a black woman navigating between being a warrior and wanting to cultivate her loving side at the same time. Struggling to find balance between her will to fight and her desire to surrender to love, the necessity to stay grounded and the calling to elevate and fly.”
The journey that been started with Sur La Voie Ensoleillée is continuing with HIGHER, where she no longer walks but levitates.
NO MERCY has a beautiful Malika intro and the main melody light sound sequence, transitioned to some rap from Bled Miki and then back to the main melody with Malika for a quick close.
“This is the first movement of a “suite” on the album, the song tackles the feeling of anger as the fictitious protagonist expresses rage after years of mistreatment and looks forward to retaliation.
On a more personal note, NO MERCY is also about refusing to get poisoned by repressed feelings in the name of toxic positivity and fear of the “angry black woman” stereotype. Expressing my hard feelings through art is my salvation, it is what actually saves me from staying in a negative state.
Through music, I can process strong emotions and let them go to regain peace within my heart.”
CHANGE YOUR LIFE starts with some key/synth background before Malika sings about some attitudinal issues with a person she’s familiar with. She exhorts, “Can’t you be nice and chill ans show me what’s in your heart,” to encourage a more positive attitude. The lyrics encourage whoever it is to “change your life” by being honest and real. The layered synth creates a very trippy mood and it’s a cool tune.
“The second movement, which is briefly introduced at the end of the NO MERCY video as a tease, is the HIGHER SELF taking over and reminding to the protagonist, the incredible and transformative power of self love.”
BETTER starts with Malika and some synth mimicking each other and it’s a perfect blend. This one has a dreamy tone with very ethereal feel. The main melody combines her singing and chanting over each other and the close out keys makes the listener feel like floating.
BETTER is about the description of the feeling of complete bliss once you choose to love yourself unapologetically and you see the changes initiated by own will of transformation. It is the 3rd and last movement of the suite.
SISTERS starts with some very soulful singing before transitioning into Malika with a rap in Creole. The main melody has the lyric “You’re my sister” in a sung voice and the chant continues with some intertwined singing. SISTERS really shows the match of Malika’s harder side with her silky smooth singing voice. If there’s another singer that does this so effectively, I’m not aware.
DREAMIN’ starts with echoing keys and synth to live up to the song’s title. There’s the unmistakable low end bass from Michael League. Here Malika has her softest tone on the album so far and it’s a very soothing sound. The chorus vocal support coupled with the deep base and electro synth are a great combination that calls the great Sade Adu to mind. The climactic ending brings the drama on a level of Snarky Puppy’s Sylva album right to the unusual dial tone (?) and bell ending.
GROW starts with some low end funk bass and introduces probably the most funky tune on the album. Malika’s adaptable skill is prominent here. I can hear some similarity to the 80s pop-jazz star Basia here. The changeup in style keeps the album moving and interesting. It’s terrific with the main lyric line and chorus mix together. There’s a fine synth solo in the second half before returning to the head for the close out.
HIGHER is a beautiful soft ballad and a fitting title track. The poetic lyrics are an encouraging life journey. There’s some again some jazzy, bass synth here underneath the chorus. “Reach the Sky” is a good way to close the tune.
FORGIVENESS is starts with some soothing singing with Malika then coming in hard with some rap, and this combo is perhaps her most powerful weapon in her arsenal. The transposition of softness and hardness is overwhelmingly effective. I really need to get a hold of the translated lyrics for all the tunes so I can better express the feelings that come through.
PRIÈRE translates as “pray” and starts with some great guitar work accompanying Malika’s soft singing that segues into spoken whispered words. Again the switching from singing to speaking and back makes this sound unique. The ending peaks with a great drum and synth sequence for a huge wall of sound.
RISE has Malika soloing at the beginning with some very soft instrumentation. She begins some spoken chanting very slickly alternating between right and left channel and then comes back with the main melody. Towards the end there’s a fun jamtronica bit with some heavy bass and fuzzed synth and the chorus comes back super strong.
DON’T COME AROUND starts with some funky drum and bass. Malika comes in at her sweetest despite the lyrics admonishing”Don’t Come Around.” The song is about beautiful strengths that doesn’t need the “help” of anyone else. It’s a great way to close out this diverse and very entertaining collection.
ALL SONGS PRODUCED BY MICHAEL LEAGUE AND MALIKA TIROLIEN
- Malika Tirolien: Lead & backing vocals (All Songs); Keyboards on “No Mercy” and “Change Your Life”
- Michael League: Moog Bass, Fretless Baritone Guitar, Electric Sitar, Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Krakeb, Electric Bass, Keyboards
- Bled Miki: Lead vocals ib “No Mercy”
- Charles Haynes: Drums
- Jason Lindner: Keyboards
- Frank Locrasto: Keyboards
- Philippe Lallier: Guitar “Change Your Life” and “Prière”
- Jean-Michel Frederic: Keyboards On “Better” And Programming on “No Mercy” and “Better”
- Nic Hard: Recording And Mix Engineer
- Ted Tuthill: Recording Engineer
- Jacob Zacharia: Assistant Engineer
- Pierre-Carl Daoust: Recording Engineer