21st century musicians

Zap Mama’s Marie Daulne spawns musical revolution in Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse

by Tomi and Kurk Johnson


 ©2005 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.

“Are you ya-yo?"

                       Marie Daulne

Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA., April 20, 2005…The adage “There’s nothing new under the sun” seems trite when considering the onstage entrance of Zap Mama’s Marie Daulne, the Afropean songstress, and her unclassifiable sounds. Although the lead singer is no musical neophyte, being first introduced to her music, you are both baffled and mesmerized.

Don’t know about Zap Mama?  Whether listening to her CD or attending a concert for the first time, get ready to go on a musical journey with Daulne as tour guide. Is she from the Zairian rainforest, Tokyo, Philly, or Belgium? And what is she saying?  Is she speaking Lingala, Swahili, English or French? There’s nothing quite like her polyrhythmic resonance auscultating culture, creativity and beauty.

Daulne, 45, is a native of Zaire. Her Belgian father was killed when she was in her mother’s womb, and the family fled armed turmoil to live with Pygmies, a tribe of hunter-gatherers living in equatorial rainforests known for their short stature and improvisational, onomatopoeic music. Zap Mama began performing in 1990 and produced a debut album “Adventures in Afropea I” in 1993.

Leading up to Zap Mama…

Opening act Anthony David said, “We have some internationally known people here tonight,” referring to Zap Mama. David is a clear toned, mellow, sexy poet. Making the most of pregnant pauses and lullabies, David crooned “Can you be a part of my life,” “Baby, we should be together” and “Cold Turkey.”

The acoustics were exceptional, however, two drawbacks with the Variety Playhouse are that if you come early, hoping to get a front row seat, your attempt may pay off, but you won’t be able to see the stage because of the open area in front where fans congregate to watch, dance, and get close to the artists.  Also, it gets really hot in there. Evidence to the fact was a young lady being carted out by strangers after being overcome by the heat.

When Zap Mama came on stage, with a Japanese fan hiding her face, body clad in a kimono, I couldn’t understand the language she was uttering, but it was rhythmic and moving. Her costume, graced by a rolled-orange snake scarf, reminded me if the alien Diva in the movie The Fifth Element, which happens to be my favorite movie of all time! From the sound of it, the music is international. “What is she saying?” was my first thought, but then, it didn’t matter because it was so polyrhythmic and beautiful.

Zap Mama pays tribute to original tribes and diverse cultures through music and dance.

“Are you ya-yo?” was the question she asked the audience repeatedly, and they responded affirmatively. Daulne spent a lot of time developing a theme of videogame trauma which is taking the spirit of people away. Daulne told the audience she didn’t want to be a superstar because “they all look alike.” She had the audience making music out of car keys while the group sang holding their noses. After one curtain call, she sang for another 45 minutes and each one of her band members gave a solo, the total concert lasting about two hours with no breaks for her accept for water. How can her voice hold up this long? What stamina! Her voice is flexible and repertoire is from every genre except opera, which she can probably do, too, if she wants. And oh, how she can yodel! She seems caught up in the music, not being able to resist keeping the concert going. At the end, the surprise factor is gone, but some diehard finds are still engaged. Endurance and raw talent kept the remaining few spellbound. About midnight, they seemed geared up for another set.

“People want music to find peace and travel with their imagination.”

                                                                               Marie Daulne  

Daulne earliest voice coach was her mother. Her mantra seems to be peace, love and happiness. Perspiration dripping, she sheds her silk kimono and displays a white bustier, gauze-like pants and white boots. She asks for and gets from the audience scarf donations she can wrap her booty in for a belly dance. Her hair is a maze of weaved braids accented with Asian adornments and hair ties.

Talking with Zap Mama’s fans in Atlanta, GA

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Fans attending the participatory concert held in Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse thought they knew what was up after listening to the group’s CDs but could only anticipate the totally immersing experience.

WCL: What do you like Zap Mama’s style of music?

Anonymous: What I like about her music…its taking R&B to the next level which is what we need in the United States. The music in the US is in desperate need of a revolution. Someone needs to come here and step up R&B especially, and Zap Mama can do that if she’s promoted. Had I known that she was such a great artist, I would have been a fan a lot earlier.

I spoke to her on the street outside, and she’s extremely nice, humble, and confident. It was an honor to talk to her, a woman who produces and writes her own music and has passion.

She founded this group in 1990. She doesn’t let others dictate to her what music should be; she’s setting the trends. If more people in the United States knew about her, they would be fans. The promotions department at Zap Mama Record Company is cheating the world of great music because they’re not letting people know about it.

WCL:  What is so special about her?

Anonymous: I don’t know the right word, but it begins with an “O”. She went back to Zaire when she was about 20 to the Pygmies. I read up a little on her, and she came up with the art of making noises with your mouth. Putting that together with R&B and a little taste of pop has made it very palatable for the American audience. I don’t think we in the United States can handle straight up African music, but on her new CD, she puts a taste of R&B – our sugar – and puts that art of making noises with her sounds. Who would think of using “googa”? We don’t do that in the United States – our background music is “yeah, yeah, yeah.” Who would think that they would be beautiful enough sounds to work with R&B? That’s what makes it so special – those sounds without instruments.

WCL: I didn’t know anything about her either, but I was in Tower Records, and saw this beautiful face, and I said, “Who the heck is this?”  So I put the headphones on and heard “Bandy Bandy.” I bought the CD and took it home to my kids, and they said, “Oh, that’s Erykah Badu.” That particular song is what got me to buy the CD.  Once I got past “Bandy Bandy” and started listening to the whole CD, I said to myself, “This is different, original, and something I enjoy because I have to consciously listen to it…and there’s more behind it that you get from a first time listen. The CD draws you in with ancestry and progress.

Anonymous: Yes, she’s a work in progress, but she’s at the top end of a work in progress. She has been influenced by music from all over the world, and she tries to incorporate all that she has learned. She’s eclectic, takes that best of everything, and puts that into her music.

WCL:  What brought you here tonight on your birthday?

Eileen Tann: I saw a documentary on Zap Mama, and it inspired me to come out and see them in person.

WCL:  Poetically, what do you think about Marie Daulne’s music?

Tann: Her music has always been ahead of its time. Anyone who becomes interested in it will be elevated.

WCL: Do you think a lot of people in Atlanta can relate to her music?

Tann: A select group of people will relate. Although Atlanta is expanding on a cultural level, we are not where they are in other cities because of southern culture.

WCL: Since we’re at the very beginning of the concert, what are you expecting to hear and to see?

Tann: I’m expecting a fabulous evening; everything from the sounds they use and what they picked up from the Pygmies…to me, that’s extraordinary.

WCL:  What do you think is drawing all this talent to Atlanta?

Tann:  Atlanta is evolving right now. Artists are coming here to live and leaving to work. They’re making Atlanta home because here you can live without all the paparazzi and live a normal life. It’s not like living on the West Coast. You’d be surprised at the number of well known artists that live in Atlanta.

The Ancestry in Progress CD draws you in.

                                                                                                                      Kurk Johnson

WCL: I understand that you heard an interview with Marie Daulne the leader of Zap Mama, on NPR. What excited you about what she said in her interview that drew you here tonight?

Toni Hakimi: I enjoyed her interview because she loves poetry, people, and world music. Also, the fact that she has collaborated with such great artists like Erykah Badu, Karma, and Bahama Mama in Atlanta and Philadelphia…the Philly sound and how she came from Africa and settled in Philadelphia with neo-soul groups and Jill Scott, Fresh Prince, Jazzy Jeff – those collaborations are just wonderful.

WCL: What are you expecting from the concert?

Hakimi: Oh gosh, I expect to see her here with her group as well as possibly an appearance by Erykah Badu who has a residence here in Atlanta. That would be a real treat. I’m expecting great things tonight.

Interview with Marie Daulne, founder of Zap Mama

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Ms. Daulne, who has a very calm spirit, speaks French as a first language.

Zap Mama’s Marie Daulne with WingcomLtd.’s Tomi, Ilea and Kurk Johnson

WCL: I really enjoyed your performance. I’ve been taking the pulse of a lot of people in the audience. Some people know you and your music, and some people didn’t before the show. Before any of them left, I think they were in love with your sounds. How would you categorize or classify your sounds? 

Daulne: I have a different way to classify it. If people want to know where my sounds are from, I say I’m an African European. There is the African American, and then there is the African European like me.  My background is from Africa, and I grew up in the urban world of Europe. And I would say Afro-urban is easy to understand because it is urban music, but at the same time you have African elements in it. I don’t like to classify my self in world music, but it is more from the Third World. And it’s something a little bit negative in it, and I want to… I’m against that, and I’m there to make it a better value, of what it’s… the world that nobody wants to talk about - the disabled people.  And people like us, we’re all looking for the best, we all have the same energies and mindset, and to remind us that it is not only our country and what TV tells us…we need to travel and open our mind and not follow especially the system, the manipulation of the politics that bring us fear. If we know what’s going on in this world, we see by our eyes and still with our bodies we can start to think about ourselves. This is what I want to see.

WCL: It came out in your interview with NPR that your musical training is not what I would consider traditional, that your mother had a lot of emphasis on your training. Do you have perfect pitch?

Daulne:  No, I do mistake, absolutely, like everybody. We are never perfect. I think some people have very good ears, but I’m not a perfect pitch. I don’t think so.

Everybody in the audience participated with sounds, hand movements and dancing.

WCL: What is your vision for your group? Where do you see yourself going? You’ve been all over the world already, but what is your vision?

Daulne:   To keep going and open the minds of a lot of new generation. I’m focused on them, to see and understand by themselves. I call this album “Ancestry in Progress.” I want to have progress in the songs I do, talking about the others. I expect that I can bring a lot to the people in this world. This is my mission.

WCL: I noticed that you have a very participatory performance in which you really engage the audience. Is this important for you?

Daulne: Yes. Absolutely.

WCL: And how do you keep that stamina going?  It looked like the concert was over, and then it all started up again. You really have a lot of energy.

Daulne:  Yes. Good health, no alcohol, no drugs, no cigarettes. I’m vegetarian, but that’s not part of my energy. It’s a choice. I think we need to respect our body, and vitality of the child always brings us vitality. (She has two children – one is 3 ½ and the other is eleven.) When you start playing with them, they bring us some energy. It reminds us of our childhood. I don’t know what to say. I was a big, sporty person before; that maybe helped.

WCL: Did you run track? Were you a runner?

Daulne: Yes, a runner and volleyball player.

WCL: You mentioned a few minutes ago about youth. In America, we have a traditional music program, and some people are getting turned off by the standardization and are really not allowed to develop unusual and unique ways of performing music. What kind of advice can you give to American youth for trying to be a little different and succeeding by being different?

Daulne:  Difference? You have to repeat the question because I’m not sure I understand well.

WCL: Ok. In America, there’s a traditional music program in the public schools.

Daulne: Uh huh. Yes.

WCL: My daughter, of course, has been in one of those programs. She was a violinist and decided to give up her violin because of problems with her teacher. She wanted to be a little bit different. Here, everything has to be…

Daulne: Categorized?

WCL: Yes, and step by step has to be followed. What advice can you give youth to stay in music and to keep and use difference as a method to becoming successful?

Daulne: What I did myself, because it’s not only in the United States that everything is a program that the government decided to adhere to, in that this is the music, this is the  classical music, and is all only on one European culture, not based on the African culture. I’m lucky because I grew up there and I teach myself. I find that when I go into a store, and see all the categories, like world music, or jazz, and I look at myself, try to listen, and  talk with others, exchange, and I look at a lot of video programs about music. And now on the Internet, you can find good music, too.  But I’m going to try to do it.  Because a lot of people want to know my background and what I listen to, on my website, there are different links, so that’s good.

WCL: What do you think about Atlanta? Have you seen a lot of it?

Daulne: No, just this street (in Little Five Points) and it’s not representing Atlanta.  I compare like Africa here. Yes? People are more in contact and talk to each other easily in this district. But this is really not Atlanta.

WCL: Is there anything you would like to tell your listeners, that you want to really stick in their minds, about you and your music?

Daulne: I invite them to discover other sounds than only pop songs or only what’s the program the TV and the radio give, because this is something that people, or the minor society decided you have to listen to that because they want your money. I think people want music to find peace and travel with their imagination. Some good music store have this mind and take care to bring some music that not a lot of people know, and discover this way by taking magazine and read, too.

WCL: Thank you sooo much, and much continued success.

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