June 24th, 2009
Artist: Zap Mama
Label: Heads Up
Catalog No.: HUCD 3159
Release date: May 2009
For nearly 20 years, Zap Mama has been at the forefront of world music. They have not only exemplified the joy of crossing and (re)mixing musical and cultural genres but they have equally challenged the cult of celebrityism and the all too common sexual objectification of women in popular music and culture (Supermoon 2007; A Ma Zone 1999). Experiencing a number of personnel and stylistic changes over the years, the group has consistently reflected the personal developments and insights of its mixed race founder, Marie Daulne.
Born in the central African country of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) from the union of a white (French-speaking Belgian) father and a Bantu mother, Daulne has always known the negative effects of racism. Only a week after her birth, Daulne’s father was killed by Simba rebels who were opposed to inter-racial unions. Later, when she immigrated with her mother to Belgium, Marie found that there were too few Black role models and her mixed race background set her apart from her Belgian compatriots.
As a young woman Daulne returned to Zaire where she discovered that she was not perceived or accepted as an African but as a white European and a foreigner. Daulne, however, also rediscovered the music that her mother used to sing while she was growing up, and she began to integrate the close-knit, polyrhythmic harmonies sung by the Bambuti and BaBenzélé people (a.k.a. Pygmies) into Western song. Dualne says that her musical integration enables her to “zap” between cultures, and that combining African and Western sounds shows “that to have blood from white and black was [to have] perfect harmony on the inside” (Gruno 1997). This was the inspiration behind Dualne’s creation of Zap Mama in the early 1990s that is reflected in all seven of the group’s CDs, beginning with their first recording, Adventures in Afropea, in 1993.
Zap Mama’s 7th and latest release, ReCreation, includes an eclectic mix of Native American, Moroccan and Australian influences along with salsa, Motown, and rap. With Dualne and an interchangeable front lineup of female vocalists characteristically dressed in a sundry of African head scarves, jewelry and stylish Western gear, Zap Mama emphasizes women-in-charge. And Daulne’s unwillingness to conform to the music industry’s demands for commercialism and bounded genres has allowed her (and Zap Mama) to maintain both personal andmusical integrity over the years.
ReCreation is influenced by recent events, including the election of U.S. President Barak Obama, and is distinguished by a positive message that humanity is embarking on a new social and political era more inclusive of racial and cultural differences. The recording also reflects Zap Mama’s inclusion of Western instruments (electric and acoustic keyboards, guitars, trumpets), a development beginning in 1997 that deviated from the group’s earlier a cappella recordings. The personnel on the CD includes two members from the original Zap Mama early 1990s lineup, vocalists Sylvie Nawasadio and Sabine Kabongo, along with French actor Vincent Cassell, “neo soul” singer Bilil, and rapper/harmonica player G. Love.
Daulne provides the lead vocals on twelve of the thirteen songs, while the opening track “ReCreation” features the vocals of her 15-year-old daughter Keisha Daulne. G. Love joins Daulne on her original composition, “Drifting,” a soulful Motown-style song about a traveling male musician and his female counterpart who waits for his return while she tries to keep the flames of love aglow. “Paroles Paroles” and “Non, Non, Non” are sung in French with background vocals whispered by Cassell. Both songs use the sexual play of flirtatious words between and man and a woman. ”Hello To Mama” is an upbeat salsa number that, along with “Drifting,” comprise the musical highlights of the album.
Here is the music video for “Hello to Mama” courtesy of Heads Up:
There is a possible downside of ReCreation, and to Zap Mama in general, in that the group’s eclectic mix at times reverberates as mood music, i.e. (what I define as) fragments of melody, harmony or rhythm that instill a specific mood but that lack substantial musical-generic development to readily distinguish one song from others. At their best, Zap Mama employs their unique use of vocalization and rhythms in the corroboration of distinctive songs regardless of the genre performed. ReCreation includes some of these features and, when combined with Zap Mama’s penchant for zapping between musical cultures and challenging the status quo, definitely offers something unique and special.
Posted by Karen Faye Taborn
Gruno. 1997. “Mama Knows Best: In Zap Mama, Daulne Dispenses the Wisdom of the World”. Denver Westworld, Music section. http://www.westword.com/1997-08-21/music/mama-knows-best
Review Genre(s): World Music