Zara McFarlane’s latest single, “Fussin’ and Fightin” is its own brand of smooth jazz


Zara McFarlane releases her third album in September 2017. The album, titled “Arise,” will feature the single, “Fussin’ and Fightin’.” The song is an example of jazz/dub fusion that pays homage to the singer’s Jamaican heritage, and captures the delicate, yet resonant qualities of the female singing voice.

About Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane is a London-based singer-songwriter. Her parents are Jamaican. It is the influence of her parents homeland that seems to permeate her new work. McFarlane’s UK education includes earning degrees in music performance, music theater, and a master’s degree in jazz studies.

The strength of McFarlane’s work is not found in rigid jazz compositions. Her work is fluid, but not without structure. Her topics appeal to a broad spectrum of people, and McFarlane’s lyrics have the potential for multiple meanings.

The Sound of Zara McFarlane

An organ shimmers, then swells to open “Fussin’ and Fightin’.” Percussion shakes and buzzes work to underscore the lyrical content. The instrumentation and vocals have a definite reggae feel. Even so, there is a smoothness to the work that isn’t always present in reggae. Interesting, too, is the way backing vocals are a step, or half-step higher than McFarlane’s lead vocals that will remind some listeners of Lauryn Hill.

“Fussin’ and Fightin'” by Zara McFarlane

McFarlane paints a picture either of domestic discord, or political unrest. The lyrics work either way. Except for when McFarlane refers to the world “sighing.” Then the song seems to be solely about political difficulties.

Before the organ and shaker percussion come in, drums set the song into motion. “Fussin’ and Fightin'” is deceptively smooth for a song about discord–of any kind. If a listener is not paying attention, she might mistake this for a light tune. Whether the actual topic involves individuals in a domestic dispute, or national unrest, the ramifications are serious.

While the instrumentation is interesting and multi-layered (the piano toward the end is particularly haunting), the vocals are worth exploring further. Words like “soulful” and “poignant” fall flat when ascribing them to “Fussin’ and Fightin’.” Maybe a phrase like “ethereal soul” does a better job of capturing the sound of the vocals.

For the first part of the chorus, McFarlane sings and backup singers offer a high-pitched, but resonant, “Ah!” They echo her later in the chorus. The contradictory sound of the backing vocals adds texture and depth to the song.

The fusion between dub and jazz is not entirely new. But where McFarlane raises the bar is in the area of meaningful lyrics that could have depth of meaning for a range of audiences, and in terms of vocal arrangements. The arrangement here makes “Fussin’ and Fightin'” a true original and a pleasure to listen to.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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