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Zap Mama
By Marie Elsie St. Leger

Published May 5, 2006

“I invite people to open their imagination with the sounds that I create,” says Marie Daulne. And the creative force behind Zap Mama has invited listeners in once again with Ancestry in Progress (Luaka Bop), a collection of “organic, futuristic” pieces reflecting the singer’s African heritage, European sensibilities and her always widening musical boundaries.

Her mother’s Congo, her own European upbringing (when she was three, Daulne and her family escaped the fierce fighting of Zaire they eventually made their way to Brussels when she was about six) and her continued fascination with hip-hop meld into a polyrhythmic mix that compels the listener to listen up, and let go. One of her inspirations: the pygmy tribesmen of Congo, who chronicled their lives through polyphonic vocalizations.

  “I record the organic sounds, vocal sounds, or I record water or any kind of a piece of wood or a glass,” she says. “I put it on a computer and add some effects to it to open it up. If you break a glass, it sounds like a glass broken, but if you pass it through a delay or an echo machine and you breathe at the same time, you’re going to open the imagination [to other possibilities].”

            Wanting to spur her own imagination, Daulne left her hometown four years ago and settled in the New York area. There, she said, she could escape the “dead end” of Brussels and find a new avenue through which to create. What she found was a vibrant, exasperating, exhilarating city, where she could make a new life and new connections. Ancestry In Progress echoes Daulne’s new world experience. It’s Daulne coming full circle: the hip-hop that grabbed her attention as a rebellious teen now helped spark new ideas for the worldly adult.

Michael Franti’s cameo on Zap Mama’s 1997 album 7 (a remake of Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man”) caused quite a stir among the boho hip-hop set, as did Black Thought’s turn on “Rafiki,” from 1999’s A Ma Zone, a play on the mythic land ruled by women and the comfort/creative flow. Daulne turned to her hip-hop friends for input on Ancestry as well, recording in Philadelphia with the Roots, reconnecting with singer Erykah Badu and rapper Common and finding new musical kindred spirits in Talib Kweli and Bahamadia. “All systems for travel up,” a voice intones on the vocal collage that opens the new album. Indeed, Daulne & Co. lead a journey through positive vibrations and hope—for love, for peace, for a place to call home.

Related Recordings

 

Zap Mama A Ma Zone (Luaka Bop, 2001)—Marie Daulne collaborated with Spearhead’s Michael Franti to remake Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man” for her 1997 album 7. But the hip-hop/world music connection wasn’t cemented until A Ma Zone, when the Roots’ Black Thought flowed on “Rafiki.” The single thrilled DJs everywhere.

 

Angèlique Kidjo Oyaya! (Sony, 2004)—The singer from Benin admired Miriam Makeba’s big voice, big heart and adventurous musical spirit and went on to try to build an equally eclectic musical career. Kidjo sings in several languages and feels comfortable using various musical vocabularies, including rock (hear her take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” on 1998’s Oremi). On Oyaya!, she continues her collage, moving from bossa nova to avant-garde French pop with little regard.

 

Common Electric Circus (MCA, 2002)—The Chicago rapper never felt comfortable staying within the strict confines of R&B/funk-flavored hip-hop, preferring instead to throw in rock, jazz and progressive political and personal. On Electric Circus, Common mixed a flavorful blend of all those ingredients, adding a taste of Africa (enter Daulne) and staying true to his bohemian hip-hop heart and adventurous spirit.

 

Erykah Badu Worldwide Underground (Motown/Universal)—Badu, a dancer and actor by training, released her debut in 1997 and realized her true calling. The Dallas native experiments a bit on 2003’s Worldwide, and she invited Daulne to add her take on the world on “Bump It.”

 

Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares The Complete Box Set Vol. I & II (Nonesuch, 1990)—Th

 

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