Zap Mama is a group centered around the vibrant personality of Marie Daulne,
child of a Belgian Father and Zairian mother, who assembled a bunch of friends
to stage an a cappella girl group with theatrical elements to bring songs of different
Marie's father was killed in the riots at the time of the independence of Belgium's
former colony Congo (or Zaire), but her mother managed to escape with three children
to the safety of the pygmies, the neighbors of her own tribe the Bantu's. There,
Marie was born, without medical attention, in the forest. The family came to live
in Brussels. Marie decided to make music her profession and studied (apart from
anthropology and sociology) polyphony in Arab, Asian and African contexts. She
felt that since the African tradition is oral and transmits emotions she needed
to experience this other dimension first hand; Marie set out to re-meet the pygmies.
When she arrived, they regarded her different from the other women who had come
to study and film - because she could sing like them.
The first record of Zap Mama was released in 1991 and released by Crammed,
the Belgian record label of Marc Hollander (previously of The
Honeymoon Killers) and Vincent Kenis. The songs vary from Pygmy chants (Mupepe,
Babanzélé), Zairian popular songs (Marie Josée, Mizike, I
Ne Suhe), Arabian influences (Abadou), South-African (Guzophela) and Spanish 16th
century chants (Din din) to human beatbox (the specialty of Marie's brother Jean-Louis
Daulne, who has developed a career of his own in chanson).
Although the record was received well at the beginning, it wasn't until Europe
saw their live shows that the band started to gain a big audience : on the stage
the vocal acrobatics are combined with dance and humor. Their exciting stage show
captured the hearts of audiences the world over. A newspaper once described a
Zap Mama concert as "a wild, poetic, funny and sensual trip around the
A few years later, the band was "discovered" by David Byrne (the former
singer of Talking Heads) who decided to bring out the album on his "Luaka
Bop"-label. The title was changed to "Adventures in Afropea I".
The band was announced as "What is this ? It's the original instrument.
The primary instrument. The most soulful instrument : the human voice. The music
of Zap Mama incorporates a myriad of vocal traditions from all over the world,
but mostly the funky African Diaspora mixed with Euro-American traditions. Sometimes
there are words, sometimes no words - just sounds. (Sometimes we don't need words,
but don't think about it - it's beautiful. Like nothing you've ever heard, except
maybe in your subconscious.) The simplest sound is the most luxurious. Richness
is absence. Five Women. African and European. Zap Mama live in Brussels - capital
of Europe, home of the Big Molecule".
The record become a huge selling success in the States (best selling "World
Music" album of 1993 according to Billboard. The triumph on the world's stages
is complete : the group gets to perform at such magical venues as New York's Central
Park, Paris' Olympia, the Jazz-festival of Montreux ... They also tour the United
States as openers for Nathalie Merchant's 10,000 Maniacs.
The second album "Sabsylma", released in 1994, was characterized
by a growing number of "American" influences on the music. The album
added a more polished, sophisticated and urban spin to the group's audacious musical
mix, while retaining definite roots in traditional music from all around the world
(India, Morocco and Australia were also (re)visited this time).
Marie, who started to make it ever clearer that Zap Mama was her project,
explained "We've been touring so intensively. "Zap Mama" was
a soft, African record with a natural, round sound. "Sabsylma" is hectic,
sharper. Not on purpose, mind you. I can't help it. If you're driving in a van
for months, and you constantly hear the sounds of traffic, TV, hardrock on the
radio ... those sounds hook up in your ears, and come out if you start to sing."
She also explained her way of working in an interview with Humo : "I'm
always looking for sounds. Most of the time, I work with colors. Each sound needs
different colors of voices. I dissect sounds, cut them in little pieces, order
them, and reassemble them. Some sounds on this album contain over 20 layers :
20 voices who simultaneously create that one sound. But don't go telling I'm some
sort of musical academic : the songs themselves come about in a very organic,
improvising way. During the rehearsals, we light some candles, start a tape-recorder,
close our eyes, and start making up a story. On that, we start adding sounds.
We let ourselves go. We are carried away by the music. It has something hypnotic
: if I open my eyes again, I find myself yards away from the microphone."
In 1997, after having her first baby named Kesia and a trip to Mali, Marie
finished her third album, called "Seven". "A man in Mali told me
that there are seven senses," she told. Everyone has five, some can use their
sixth. "But not everyone has the seventh. It is the power to heal with music,
calm with color, to soothe the sick soul with harmony. He told me that I have
this gift, and I know what I have to do with it."
Surprisingly enough, the music of the band now has evolved from the pure voice-acrobatics
to a more western sound, for the first time backed up by instruments. Although
she previously said "I don't like the sound of common instruments. They
are too ... easy. If you use only your voice, you have to work harder : you have
to reach deeper to make a song sound varied and rich. It's a bigger challenge".
She defended herself for this change by saying "I made music on 7 the
same way as on the other albums. I only used acoustic instruments...I'm looking
for instruments that have vocal sounds, forgotten instruments like the guimbri".
On some songs, Bruno Meeus and Luk Michiels of the Belgian band Wizards
of Ooze back her up.
On the album, she also left the all-female concept, with contributions by rappers
U-Roy (on "New World"), Michael Franti (on "Baba Hooker",
about the blues legend) and Wathanga Rema (from Cameroon, about who she said "I
couldn't have made this album without him! I met someone who could sing high female
parts and also have that male power...that changed everything!".
Not everyone was equally enthusiastic about this album : "Those who found
these world-beat faves' first two releases vivacious and engaging may be disappointed
this time around. Not only has leader Marie Daulne dismissed the rest of the original
a cappella vocal group, she has also enlisted a full back-up band who play throughout
the CD. The results are all too predictable. The back-up musicians are competent
but uninspired, as are most of Daulne's lead vocals, which are relieved, from
time to time, with guest stars U Roy and Spearhead's Michael Franti - whose appearances
with this most feminine of operations feel intrusive and clumsy. The writing tends
to be more in grooves than in songs, and the grooves are never much more than
adequate. The background vocals are still frequently inventive and affecting,
but they're pushed further into the background than ever, and the overall feeling
is more of bleakness than joy." (Peter Travis)
However, the new musical direction and the flirtations with rap music have brought
the group also in front of new audiences : in 1997 they had a prominent place
both at Torhout-Werchter and the Danish Roskilde Festival.
In 1998, things grew a little more quiet around the group. In September they
announced an original tour : they will visit six countries in Africa and perform
live concerts over there. In South-Africa, they will perform a live-concert on
television. The whole tour will be recorded on video. When they return, they immediately
hit the studio in Brussels to record their fourth album.
In April 1999, the band released "A Ma
Zone" (a wordplay meaning both "Amazone" - the female warrior
- as "A Ma Zone" - in my zone) : even more than "7" the basis
of the songs are now beat & bass, while the musical direction on top of that
danceable layer is as varied as the four corners of the world. The album got a
different sleeve again on the American market, but also a few new tracks and some
In 2000, the most noticeable event in Zap Mama land was the inclusion of a
Zap Mama song on the soundtrack of the blockbuster movie and Tom Cruise-vehicle
"Mission Impossible 2". The song that vocal acrobat Marie Daulne
did was a cover of the sixties song "Iko Iko"
(aka "jockomo", originally of James Crawford, but it has been covered
hundred of times, best-known version probably that of Dr. John), amidst other
contributors such as Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Butthole Surfers, Rob Zombie, Foo
Fighters, Chris Cornell & Tori Amos. David Byrne, ex-Talking Heads
and currently co-owner of the Luaka Bop-label - which houses Zap Mama in the United
States - on a visit to our country, affirmed that despite the fact that the song
will only be included on the European version of the soundtrack, this could
make a big difference for the band in the States, as it is much easier to promote
"the band that was on the Soundtrack of Mission Impossible" than
"the band of girls from Brussels with a Zaïrean background".
In 2001, it was another side-project, with DJ Krush, that struck the ear:
together with their friends of The Roots, Zap Mama collaborated to an album of
this Japanese wizzard, with vocals on the track "Danger of Love"
Band members :
- Marie Daulne
And her ever changing cast of voices :
- Sabine Kabongo
- Céline 't Hooft
- Cécilia Kankonda
- Sylvie Nawasadio
- Sally Nyolo
- Marie Afonso
- Watanga Rema
- Angélique Wilkie
- Bernadette Aningi
- Anita Daulne
- Jean-Louis Daulne
Buy CD's of this band at
- Zap Mama (Cramworld - Crammed, 1991)
- Adventures in Afropea I (Luaka Bop, 1993 - Dit is hetzelfde album als het eerste,
maar uitgebracht in de USA op David Byrne's Luaka Bop label)
- Sabsylma (Cramworld - Crammed, 1994)
- Seven (Virgin, 1997)
- A Ma Zone (Virgin, 1999)
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