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Zap Mama (Thursday, April 7th, 2005, Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis)
Zap Mama - Photo from their website


By Helen Blodgett

Thursday night The Fine Line was once again the place to be for some amazing music. I would like to thank them for bringing the broad range of musicians that they do, and especially for bringing Zap Mama to town.

Zap Mama knows how to put on a show. After the band was on stage, the singers came on one at a time, regal in their slightly eccentric flowing clothes, flexing their mics toward us like pistols. But they didn’t have the violent energy of pistols, they seemed to be welcoming us in, to share our voices with theirs.

Zap Mama began with Marie Daulne and a group of friends joining together in Brussels, Belgium to create a cappella music with worldwide sources of style. They “zap” (as in switch TV channels) between cultures. This idea of navigating between cultures and following the trails of cultural influence around the world has pervaded their music from the start.

Marie Daulne was born in Belgium Congo just before the war for independence culminated in the creation of Zaire. Her father was a Belgian civil servant, who was killed in the riots before she was born. Her mother was a Bantu from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, who escaped with her children to live with the Pygmies living in the forests nearby. Marie was born there and later the family moved to Brussels, where Marie grew up.

Having decided to make music her career, Marie chose to study polyphony and vocal harmonies to strengthen her understanding of her own musical roots in Africa and Europe, and to reflect the mixture of people and cultures that happen in urban centers. Zap Mama has grown from a strictly a cappella group to a band centered on women’s voices, accompanied by a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and DJ.

During their performance, the instrumentalists complemented their voices well. The only combination I wouldn’t encourage was when the DJ came up front on the mic and tried to turn the strong and delicate singing of the women into an aggressive dancehall sound. It was a shot of male energy that went down wrong.

But everything else was beautiful. For a couple songs Marie Daulne pulled up in center stage with a
mysterious machine (AKA a sampler) that would record her short vocal improvisations, then loop it. So she kept adding layers of her voice, building up a song right in front of us: calling, beat-boxing, sounded-like-belching, cooing, and singing. She created a complex beat of many vocal textures, and at the same time taught us the process of making a song.

As I was enjoying their harmonies and dancing, I was thinking about how well the band connected with the packed crowd. Then Marie sang, explaining this connection: “I’m not a superstar, I’m a supermoon, you are all the sun and I’m the full moon reflecting you.” It’s true! She invited us to sing and make music with her throughout the night. Complex beats and harmonies grew out of us effortlessly with her conducting. And that’s why it was such a fulfilling show, because we were part of the symphony.

I’ll end saying that beyond her powerful stage presence, Marie Daulne is so effective as a musician because she treats music as the celebration that connects our everyday lives and deeper consciousness. During the show, she told us she was going to have a private conversation with her drummer. She sang, he bopped and tapped back. Then she translated the drum talk to us. It was playful, but to me, symbolic of the way she knows both worlds and lives in them as one.

Helen Blodgett is h.blodgett[at]gmail.com