Zap Mama Biography
Say you're a globally respected artist. Over the past decade, you've crossed continents winning hundreds of thousands of fans, while introducing your musical heritage to the world. You've united musical cultures through the wonders of voice, and done more for the art of a cappella than anything since the b-side of a hip-hop 12". What’s next? You have a passion for hip hop and want to explore and stretch that music's boundaries.
If you're Marie Daulne, the Zaire-born visionary behind Zap Mama, one of the most popular World Music ensembles on the planet, you abandon the safety of your Belgian home, and relocate to the land of modern soul, the United States of America. Even better, you land in Philadelphia, in the Soulquarian hothouse of The Roots, and their extended community. Then, you do what comes naturally: bring your unique sensibilities to their smooth groove, and let their down beats rub off on your higher life. Together, you push culture forward without ever forgetting where it began, and you call it Ancestry in Progress.
Zap Mama's fifth album is an experience in global soul. With help from neo-soul superstar Erykah Badu (on "Bandy Bandy"), hip-hop royalty Common and Talib Kweli (on "Yelling Away"), and other members of the Roots' Philly massive, Ancestry in Progress further establishes Zap Mama as a main fuse in the continuing musical re-unification of the pan-African Diaspora.
But Progress isn't just Zap Mama's American move on Urban Music. Created mostly in the U.S. with Philly’s own, Anthony Tidd, tracks such as “Show Me the Way” and “Ca Varie Varie” strut with the openhearted Afro-funk common to the clubs of racially diverse Western European capitals. Belgium born producer Phillippe Allaert, put his production magic on tracks such as "Sweet Melody" and "Yaku” which incorporates the sounds of European ambience with a refreshing American vibe. Marie's vocals-only duet with Roots human beat-boxer Scratch on "Wadidyusay?” takes Zap Mama's a cappella futurism to a whole new level of musical globalization.
You see, as Marie says, the Ancestry this album addresses is not specific to any one people or any one culture. "I'm talking about all the humans who made this world better, their philosophy and their fight. I want my work to show respect for those people. Because I know that tomorrow we're going to be ancestors, and that is the kind of ancestor I want to represent."
Marie's life and career is already one that her descendants could be proud of.
She was born in what was then called Zaire and most recently called, once again, Congo, to a Belgian father and a Congolese mother; the family fled that country when Marie was three years-old, after war broke out. Taking shelter with a tribe of Pygmies, her family eventually made their way to Brussels. This experience resulted in an uncommon upbringing. While children from her school were learning classical music instruments, Marie's mother was teaching her the "polyphonic" singing of the Central African Pygmies, a form Marie considered "boring, because it was traditional." At the time, Marie's tastes veered toward Stevie Wonder and early hip-hop, and she honed her vocal skills by imitating the quiet-storm sultriness of Roberta Flack and the lip-smacking beats of the Fat Boys’ Human Beat Box. It wasn't until Marie returned to the country now known as Congo at age 18 that she developed an appreciation for the syncopated undulations of African vocal melodies. Hearing the music in its proper context helped Marie re-imagine her past, energizing her to return to Belgium. In 1990, Daulne founded Zap Mama, an a cappella group probing cross-cultural musical pollination.
Zap Mama instantly struck a chord with its debut; a strictly vocal venture entitled Adventures in Afropea, in 1993. 1994's Sabsylma received a Grammy nomination for Best World Music Album, further seducing the worldwide audience with the group's a cappella approach. 7, released in 1997, saw Zap Mama begin working with instrumentalists, as well as collaborating with dub reggae legend U-Roy and spoken word activist Michael Franti (Spearhead). And 1999's A Ma Zone took Zap Mama's musical expansion even further, with its hit single "Rafiki," which featured The Roots MC, Black Thought, a guest spot Daulne repaid by singing on The Roots' '99 album, Things Fall Apart. Little did she realize that this would be the first step towards a new direction for Zap Mama, or at least a new home.
In 2000, Daulne moved to New York, a decision fostered by professional opportunities, such as her work on the soundtrack to the hit Tom Cruise film Mission Impossible II, and a personal desire to, in her words, "feel the atmosphere of people from around the world." When it was time to start planning the next Zap Mama record, she contacted The Roots family, who promptly invited her down to Philadelphia to join in the fertile creative camp they'd set up. So, for the next two years, Daulne was involved in a unique relationship with one of the most prolific musical communities in the U.S.
Of course, the result of Zap Mama's collaboration with Ahmir "?uestLove" Thompson, Anthony Tidd, Rich Nichols and the rest of the Philly Soulquarians ended up stretching beyond Ancestry in Progress. In the intervening years, Daulne also appeared on albums by Common (Electric Circus), King Britt (Oba Funke) and Erykah Badu (WorldWide Underground). She also jammed in the studio with the likes of Bilal and Nelly Furtado, and joined Erykah Badu's band, for the singer's 2003 national tour.
Yet it is on Ancestry that Zap Mama's fruitful inquiry into modern soul music can be best experienced. Nearly all the album's songs were co-produced and written by Daulne after she arrived in the U.S., and found influence in her American experience. Some bear the thematic stamp of living with the red, white & blue -- especially Daulne's newfound existence in huge American cities. More important was Daulne's pursuit of the country's musical heritage, and how it reflected back to her own.
"The American beat is a revolution all over the world," she says. "Everybody listens to it and everybody follows it. But the beat of the United States was inspired by the beat coming from Africa. Not just its structure, but the sound of it. This is the source of modern sounds, the history of the beat, starting from little pieces of wood banging against one another, and arriving on the big sound-systems today. It's genius. So I wanted to create an album about the evolution of old ancestral beats, how they traveled from Africa, mixing with European and Asian sounds, and were brought to America."
It is the musical side of documenting Ancestry in Progress. It is part of Zap Mama's continuing exploration. This is Word Music Re-Defined.