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Jul 16, 2009

After a life spent traveling the globe, Zap Mama’s Marie Daulne wants to take her listeners on a trip of their own.

By Drew Stoga

All too often, “world music” is used as a blanket term to categorize any music with origins outside of America’s borders and comfort zone.

But for Marie Daulne, the principal force behind the category defying group Zap Mama, these international sounds are a constant source of inspiration. Daulne’s creations draw deeply on indigenous music from around the globe, and the results are world music in its truest sense.

“I am an internationalist, a human being, part of this world,” says Daulne, her distinct accent revealing traces of her time in both Europe and Africa. She explains that she has no problem “zapping” from whatever catches her fancy, be it salsa or soul, reggae or rap.

Born in the Congo, raised in Brussels and with a second home in Brooklyn, Daulne is truly a citizen of the world. The child of a Bantu mother and a French-speaking Belgian father—a man killed before Daulne can remember by Simba rebels opposed to her parents’ mixed-race marriage—she spent most of her childhood in Belgium, though a few trips to the African continent left an indelible impression.

She sees herself as “a mix,” but not just in terms of race. “Mix does not mean ‘because you were born with two kinds of culture or the blood of black and white or Chinese,’” says Daulne. “It is in your head. The way you are capable of understanding others and other cultures and learn from them.”

This welcoming attitude has always been reflected in Daulne’s music, as have the many cultures she was exposed to in her younger days.

Zap Mama originally formed around 1990 as an all-female a cappella quintet—something like a feminine version of the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Daulne first envisioned the group’s sound as a marriage of European choral traditions and the pygmy singing techniques she had learnt on her childhood trips to Africa.

In 1992, ex-Talking Head David Byrne signed the group to his Luka Bop label, which is known for bringing indigenous music from all over the world to American listeners.

As the group toured extensively, Daulne was introduced to new and exciting forms of music from around the globe, and she made it her own. She fell in love with music native to Jamaica, India, Morocco, Australia and other places—and they were all incorporated into the Zap Mama sound.

Over time, the focus of the group landed increasingly on Daulne. She began to use fewer singers and more instruments to back up her otherworldly voice.

She eventually hooked up with the Philadelphia hip-hop collective The Roots and affiliates like rapper Talib Kweli and singer Erykah Badu.

Zap Mama’s seventh and most recent release, ReCreation, was unexpectedly inspired by a trip to Rio de Janeiro to record a single track with French actor Vincent Cassel. Daulne explains that the creative juices immediately began to flow, and that she entered a “period of synchronisma.”

She didn’t stop to over-think the new songs that were streaming out of her, and instead tried to rely on her well-tuned musical instincts. “When things happen like this, I think this is art,” she says, “when you are able to catch the beauty and be synchronized on the temple of life and make a work of art.”

Later sessions in Belgium, Boston, New York and Los Angeles proved equally productive, with contributions to the record coming from soul singer Bilal on the track “The Way You Are” and G. Love on “Drifting,” a “very beautiful song” that Daulne says “was born in the middle of the night.”

ReCreation is a focused and mature record, though it also as eclectic—and eccentric—as they come.

Ranging through international influences and sounds, Daulne sees the album as a trip around the world, a much needed vacation for listeners (hence the title).

It’s all a part of Daulne’s plan for dealing with the troubled times in which we live. “Let yourself go. Relax…Recreate yourself with recreation.”

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