zena carlota is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, visual and theater artist whose work navigates the space between dreams, ancestry and memory through sound and imagery. Her practice as an artist is to weave the tenuous boundaries of matter and spirit into form through storytelling, puppetry, mask-making and live sonic ceremonies inspired by the Jaliyaa tradition of West Africa.
The past ten years of studying the Kora, a 21-string West African bridge harp that originates from the Malian Empire during the 13th century, enabled Zena to live and travel in the US, West Africa and Europe, learning both ritual and experimental forms of indigenous string music and storytelling with masters from The Gambia, and Guineau; most recently completing an intensive training in Paris with Grammy award winner, and Kora virtuoso, Toumani Diabate of Mali.
These teachings are the threads that have allowed Zena to combine the ancient past with the present moment, using language as both a sacred invocation of her ancestry, and musical inspiration, by singing traditional and original songs in English, Bambara, French, Arabic and Spanish.
"The Confidence of Birds" is Zena's debut album inspired by the the Sufi poem "The Conference of the Birds" written by the Persian poet Attar of Nishapur, which details the mythic journey of birds in search of enlightenment. Funded by a grant from The Center for Cultural Innovation in San Francisco, the album was penned by Zena on Kora and Ùkelele and features original string trio and string quintet arrangements from Bay Area composers Minna Choi (founder, Magik Magik Orchestra), Omid Zoufonoun (Principal Conductor, Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra), Bassist Shuyler Karr (San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra) and Cellist Misha Khalikulov.
Recorded onto analog tape at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco during 2015-2017, Zena’s first album culturally explores the relationship between West African string music, classical chamber music and folk pop while embodying the journey from gravity to levity in song.
The Confidence of Birds EP samples: release date: August 2017
"listening to Zena...is a hauntingly beautiful experience"
"history and imagination drive Zena Carlota's Afro-folk sound"
"Zena's...live performance on the kora enchanted the ear"
— SF Gate