Zap Mama

Zap Mama

    Since signing with singer/music impresario David Byrne sixteen years ago, Zap Mama has managed to change the musical stripes through the present while continuing its run as an international phenomenon.   The Zaire born, Belgium raised founder of Zap Mama, Marie Daulne, is by all means a nomad who has traveled and lived in different countries and is a sponge grasping a wide range of genres from European pop to reggae to the blues. 

    Zap Mama has always dazzled audiences with a hodgepodge of African and European traditions, emphasized by complex harmonies that sometimes defy description and merging progressive sounds from various lands.  This entity, which originally consisted of five vocalists, created shear vocal poetry in motion, easily seaming melody and rhythms drawing upon East Indian, Cuban, European, and African musical cultures.  With the first two discs on Byrne's world-music based Luaka Bop Records, Adventures in Afropia Vol. I  & Sabsylma (What's Your Name?), Zap Mama established itself among the acappella music elite with the likes of Sweet Honey In The Rock and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.   However, just when Zap Mama was grabbing audiences with its rare blend of vocal deftness and subtle percussion accompaniment, the musical tide changed.  

    Over the years, Daulne kept pushing the world music boundaries with a melting pot of urban edges like hip-hop, reggae, jazz, funk, and soul, framed by heavy percussive attacks and mild electronica strokes.   Seven was the first disc to extend Zap's audience by incorporating instruments and male vocals, and was the beginning of Daulne as a virtual solo act who also added more of her musicianship skills.  Keeping true to form from her first two discs, Daulne stressed thematic concepts.  After a four-year hiatus, the more street-based, DJ-friendly A Ma Zone (In My Zone) explored the female warrior character who strives for excellence in whatever she does.  Ancestry In Progress marked a brief return to Luaka Bop, and further explored the similar musical relationship between the African, Europe, Asian and U.S.  Supermoon (2007) incorporated classic soul in the mix, revealing a more vulnerable and public side to Daulne.

    I had the distinct pleasure to speak with Ms. Daulne about the concept of the latest disc from Heads Up International, ReCreation, brimming with positive ideals: reaffirming self, rekindling new relationships, and a reuniting of the original Zap Mama lineup from Adventures in Afropia.  According to Daulne, the purpose of ReCreation is a retrospect on what inspired her through her previous work: "I'm at the end of a cycle with my seventh album.   So I decided to look back on the things I've done." 

    The two reunited Zap Mama members capably provide their trademark polyphonic harmonies merged with big band jazz ("Singing Sisters"), gospel ("Harlem"); & doo-wop ("Chill Out.").   Regarding working with the initial Zap Mama members:  "I called them and told them I would like to get back together and recreate what we felt at that time, the vibration we felt at the period," said Daulne.  

    Much of ReCreation draws from Daulne's insight of the sights and sounds of this festive country:  "I was writing in this place and there was this explosion of ideas and inspirations.  I started to see colors and hear colors.  I heard sounds visually in my head.  Everything happened there.  I used the local musicians and I bring all these recordings back to Belgium."  Various members of the Daulne family have participated in Zap Mama projects including daughter Kesia, nephew Yassine; a sister in former Zap Mama member - Anita, and a brother (Jean-Louis).  Marie's family background has been successfully passed onto future generations: "We grew up with the same background, and that means the same sound.  My mom was performing to African polyphony (where several melodies are intertwined), and we grew up with that sound". 

    The title track of the new album is highlighted by daughter Kesia's soft spoken word that reverberates with child-like innocence: "I have a beautiful song I would like to sing for you because it was the first time I was inspired by the Indian Bahliwood world.  It was the perfect introduction for what the true meaning of ReCreation is; hearing a beautiful song from a fifteen year old that is between childhood and adulthood.  Because when you end something, you stay you but you create a new life."  

    The choices of collaborators on ReCreation, as on other projects, truly accentuate Daulne's eclectic side.  In the case of Daulne's past musical associates, including Erykah Badu, Michael Franti (Spearhead), and The Roots, the connection has almost always been immediate, whether she meets the artist first or vice-versa.  It took some time for the popular neo-soul vocalist Bilal to hook up with Daulne for "The Way You Are," but in her mind she always felt a mutual respect about their musical talents: "What I felt is what I felt. Our common point is our voices.  He was impressed on what I could do with my voice, and I was impressed with what he could do with his voice."  The classic soul dripped "Drifting" features G. Love (G. Love & Special Sauce).  Daulne affectionately speaks as a long-time fan of G. Love's own style:  "He was the kind of music I was listening to during the time I started Zap Mama."  Besides the guest vocalists, Daulne dedicates the funky jazz-tinged "Togetherness" to the vocalists in her band:  "I always find togetherness with the singers I use to work with."  

    Zap Mama's diversified sound adds an extra kick on ReCreation's soulful tracks.  With the various supporting players from the hip-hop and neo-soul on her previous discs, I asked Daulne why she specifically is so emphatic about urban music in general.  Taking the track "Harlem" as an example, Daulne says "I was in Harlem, and I was looking for gospel soul and I turned on the first street and I found myself in Africa.  It is amazing.  You can travel all over the world and be in the same country.  People live together and this is what I find in the urban world, especially today."

    As Daulne likes to maintain a particular theme or mood for each disc, many lyrics are put on the back burner for possible future use.  In the case of "African Diamond," the track was originally recorded during the Supermoon sessions, but was selected for ReCreation: "I'll wait until my inspiration and the story will come but the beat was there."  There are a lot of lyrics on hold and a lot of music on hold.  Sometimes after ten years a lyric becomes very fantastic because ten years ago I was not inspired by it." 

    The recording of ReCreation turned out to be a cathartic experience after recently losing a dear friend: "It's a new life.  She is in me.  This album helped me because I trust my faith and the love I have for her is tripled, and this album ReCreation that will be the way she and me will create something together.  There are a few European pop overtones ("Paroles, Paroles" & "Non Non").  Yet what firmly connect most of the dots on ReCreation are the soulfully cathartic tracks backed by some of Brazil's finest musicians.  For this fact, I highly recommend ReCreation.  As for the next musical venture for Daulne and company, let the next Zap Mama cycle begin.   

    By Peggy Oliver      

    Choice Cut - Brother Reggie - "Love Song"
    Choice Cut - KEA - "Turn It Around"