Zap Mama channels her travels into a powerful pulse of Africanafunkreggaesoul.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Marie Daulne’s alter ego, Zap Mama, is a globe-trotting nomad who pulls musical threads from diverse cultures and weaves them into multilayered sounds all her own. The Weekly spoke to the intrepid vocalist just after she arrived in New York from her home in Brussels.
“When I travel a lot I feel like I can escape into my cocoon,” she says in a soft, lilting French accent. “My imagination is my reality.”
Born in her mother’s native Congo and raised in her father’s native Belgium, Daulne grew up in a home infused with music – African tribal melodies mixing with European and American radio hits. Though she studied painting in college, Daulne had an epiphany as a young woman revisiting the land of her birth. Deeply moved by the pygmy rhythms punctuating the forests of the Congo, she began her quest to create a musical world without borders.
In the early 1990s, Zap Mama debuted as an all-female a capella quintet specializing in Afro-European harmonies. But by her fifth album, 2004’s Ancestry in Progress, Daulne had made a habit of surrounding herself with an ever-shifting cache of guest artists and instruments, producing sounds across a spectrum of genres.
Her latest, Supermoon, keeps up the tradition with polyphonic elements of Africana, jazz, funk, reggae, hip-hop and soul. It also incorporates a distinctly more American sound, rendering the album blander than those that came before it – but perhaps more palatable to the masses.
The opening track, “1000 Ways,” is an aerobic groove with poppy pulse and a we-are-the-world message. Launching off that energy is “Hey Brotha,” a playful ditty featuring Michael Franti. Ironically, the title track “Supermoon” – Daulne’s humble counterpoint to the concept of a superstar – is the album’s most formulaic, folksy melody.
From there, it gets better. “Go Boy” features the multilayered harmonies Daulne is famous for, drizzled over African chanting and jazz piano. With a voice that almost yodels, jumping from one note to another like an electron, Daulne tells the story of an exhausted young immigrant trying to cross the border illegally. She says the song, inspired by the movie Babel, aims to humanize an issue too often reduced to rhetoric.
“Toma Taboo” spins a riff from James Brown’s “The Payback” into a polyglot club joint, and “Kwenda” keeps up the funky, ’70s-inspired energy. Complementing it nicely is “Gati,” a galloping tune based on a pygmy chant – Daulne’s tribute to the people who helped her family to safety during the Congolese rebellion.
What energy Daulne loses with “Where Are You,” an American-style ballad about the search for love, she lures back with “Moonray,” a moody, amorphous song that invokes the misty space between sleep and waking. “Princess Kesia” is similarly watery, exploring Daulne’s emotions as her 13-year-old daughter grows up.
Monterey Music Summit’s lineup will feature a diverse sampling of artists Daulne has collaborated with, including Questlove, Michael Franti and Me’shell Ndegeocello. Zap Mama, for her part, will perform as a supermoon – exuding a confidence stripped of conceit, a unique beauty reflecting the light of others. “When I am onstage, people look at me and applaud me,” she says, “and I feel like I am a moon.”