If anyone can succeed in integrating the music of Africa and Europe, it’s Marie Daulne. The Belgian-Congolese diva – better known as Zap Mama – is not really a vocalist, she’s more of a sonic stylist. Alternating between musical storytelling and an evocative form of non-verbal creative expression using the tonality of the human voice, Daule has become a staple on the world music front over the last two decades. She blends African and European cultural influences into a polyphonic music pastiche that encompasses everything from tribal chants and hip hop to r&b and jazz.
“That’s how I started, trying to combine my African and Belgian sides,” the 48-year-old Daulne told The Jerusalem Post last week from her home in Brussels.
“When they don’t know what’s happening on the other side, people get scared. With my music, I bridge the sides and create harmony with good music and create the possibility that people can learn from each other and get a better understanding of each other.”
A look at Daulne’s unique life provides a glimpse of how she gained insight into bridging gaps in society.
When she was an infant in Isiro, her father, a French-speaking Belgian, was killed by rebels opposed to the mixed race relationship he had with Daulne’s Congolese mother. After her mother escaped their wrath by fleeing to the Congolese forests and taking refuge with Pygmy tribes, Daule and her family were eventually airlifted out and flown to Belgium.
“It was strange growing up as an African in Belgium, where they don’t know a lot about Africa and you get some strange looks,” said Daulne. “So I created my own Africa in Belgium. I never verbalized it, but I probably looked to music for an escape. I thought, ‘Okay, let’s teach the world a lesson about human beings.’ From one country to another, they can be good or bad, so don’t judge people because of their color or where they’re from – that’s my message. When I started singing, people didn’t look at me as being from somewhere else; they didn’t see my color, they saw my joy and my warm voice and my energy as a human being.”
At age 20, Daulne returned to Africa to learn about her heritage and spent time with Pygmy groups learning special onomatopoeic vocal techniques before returning to Europe and founding Zap Mama, which was originally conceived as an acapella group. Their 1993 debut, Adventures in Afropea, introduced them to the rest of the world and put her name on the map in the West, thanks to an opening slot on that summer’s 10,000 Maniacs tour. Seven albums later, the group – which now includes massive groove percussion and other instruments, as well as a chorus of female vocalists – is one of the leading practitioners of spiritual healing through music.
A move from Belgium to New York City in 2000 found Daulne increasingly incorporating hip hop into her style; and during her four years there, she became a darling of the New York community.
“They invited me to bring my Afro European sounds to their world and wanted to integrate elements of my music into their American music. They understood my songs better than any other type of music,” she said of the New York musicians she collaborated with, including a 2004 duet with Erykah Badu on the song “Bandy Bandy.”
“She called and asked to perform with me – she was looking for my vibes and energy.”
Zap Mama’s global urban beat has evolved into a more accessible sound through 2007’s Heads Up and 2009’s ReCreation. Today, the group’s music is played everywhere from college radio stations in the US to European discos.
The next place it will be heard is this weekend as the headliner at the annual Sunbeat Music Festival, a global beats event taking place on Saturday at Kibbutz Alonim in the Lower Galilee.
In addition to Zap Mama, the festival will feature Austrian human beat-boxing troupe Bauchklang and local queen of Israeli groove, Karolina.
Besides the live shows, the Sunbeat Festival will feature DJs, visual art installations, as well as circus and dance acts.
Daulne, who will be making her first visit to Israel, expressed interest in the dynamic African migrant situation in the country and offered some advice for the refugees.
“My question for these people who came from Africa would be ‘Who told you that this would better than leaving your own country?’ And the answer, unfortunately, is that in their own countries, nobody gave them opportunities to get an education, and they were always told it was better elsewhere. Nobody taught them how to do something with their lives,” she said. “Now they are in Israel, poor and ignorant.
But now that they’re here, I would say you need to respect them as human beings and give them a chance to receive an education so they can build up their own land. I’m tired of Africans saying that they’re poor. I say to them, ‘Stand up, guys. Stand up for yourselves. And be proud of yourselves.’ That’s what I learned from life,” she said.