`Moon' mission

Zap Mama's latest CD carries uplifting messages

November 01, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun pop music critic

She gets celestial this time. On Supermoon -- the new album by Marie Daulne, the musical globe-trotter better known as Zap Mama -- the Congolese-Belgian singer wanted to make a personal statement. The title is a reflection of the way she sees herself and the trajectory of her career. The artist isn't trying to be just another star.

"Supermoon is be true to yourself as opposed to being a superstar," Daulne says. "Superstar is a fake reality. There's one moon, which means I'm one, I'm unique. The moon is bigger. The sky is full of stars."

Although Daulne's highly eclectic style has always set her apart, the artist feels her early efforts, including 1994's Grammy-nominated Sabsylma, weren't personal enough.

"This new album was more my experiment," says Daulne, who headlines the 8x10 tonight. "Before, I created songs from situations I'd see around me. Now I feel I can pull from my own life."

And if Supermoon's 11 cuts are any indication, the artist is in a jubilant, optimistic mood. The mostly benevolent songs carry simple, uplifting messages. The music underneath shimmies, sways and sashays through an array of international grooves. Funk, jazz and modern R&B inform the arrangements. On the new effort, released in August, Daulne's onomatopoeic vocals are overlaid with slick textures and bolstered by heavy beats.

"I'm not thinking of a style of music. It's universal," says the artist, who divides her time between homes in New York City and Belgium. "I'm not limiting myself as a creative person to one genre."

Growing up in Brussels the daughter of a Belgian father and an African mother, Daulne was exposed to various styles of African and European music as well as American pop. In 1984, after studying painting and art history in college, she made a pilgrimage to the Congo, where she was born.

There, she studied pygmy culture, particularly the music and vocal techniques. She formed Zap Mama in the early 1990s with four other vocalists and braided much of what she had learned into the group's sound. Three years later, the all-female a cappella quintet released Adventures in Afropea I, its debut on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label. The music fused music of different countries -- Zaire, Tanzania, Syria, France and Spain -- into a vibrant, highly percussive style that thrilled critics.

But on subsequent albums, namely 1997's 7, Zap Mama started mainstreaming its approach, incorporating elements of the R&B and hip-hop that Daulne loved as a teenager in Brussels. To push the sound even further, Zap Mama (which is pretty much just Daulne these days) has collaborated with other progressive artists. On 1999's A Ma Zone, Daulne shared the mike with Black Thought of the Roots and Speech from Arrested Development. And on her last CD, 2004's Ancestry in Progress, she brought into her exotic mix the sounds of Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.

"What makes the connection between me and the other artists is the art," says Daulne, who's calling from her New York home. "That is where we meet -- the creativity and the emotions. All of that serves the music."

But on Supermoon, the artist eschews collaborations and focuses on blithe messages of encouragement and metaphorical tales of love. She even folds in rhythmic childhood songs. "Kwenda," one of the CD's danceable highlights, works an old street-game chant into a slightly hip-hopped context.

In the musical world of Zap Mama, no boundaries exist.

"It's all a journey," Daulne says. "I want people to travel through my music. Zap Mama can fit anywhere. There's no musical mission impossible."

See Zap Mama at the 8x10, 10 E. Cross St., at 8 tonight. Tickets are $25 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-7328 or visiting ticketmaster.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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