“We just got into Brussels from Helsinki, Finland. We make it comfortable on the road. The band is really one together, like a family.”
Zaire-born world artist Marie Daulne, aka Zap Mama, is speaking in perfunctory English with a heavy French accent about how being a nomadic child informed her eclectic, technophillic, earth-conscious dance music.
“I'm sure that living between two cultures, between two worlds, between the night and the day, it has an effect on the music,” she says. “I am constantly trying to balance what I hear around me with what I hear in my head. I could probably never do anything just one way. It would be impossible for me.
“If something is too much one side and not the other, there has to be a process of healing to make it special. Something has to connect the earth and the imagination.”
Zap Mama's most recent release, the highly acclaimed and experimental Ancestry in Progress, combines neo-soul and African vocal gymnastics, hip-hop rhythms and alt-rap guest cameos. Her vocal accents fluctuate between English, French and the African pygmy tribal influences that she picked up as a child born to a Zairean mother and Danish father. To call it world music seems reductive, to say the least. But Daulne's goals aren't so unique, given the polymorphous history of American popular music.
“I don't want to create an American sound,” she explains. “I want to create my Afro-European sound and share it with the Afro-American world. I want to bring my style to them and share it with their style... learning from their style as I go.”
Right at home with the storied artists on Luaka Bop-the world-music label founded by ex-Talking Head David Byrne-Zap Mama began with Daulne's fascination with African a capella styles almost 15 years ago:
“I started with just voice because it was my first instrument and I was crazy about all sounds, but especially voices.... But then I wanted to start including more instruments, so I started with just the drum and the bass.
“So now I'm starting a new period, this sharing of a new soul music with people. For me it's like a trip. My voice is going everywhere.”
Daulne learned some good ol' fashioned American workaholism during her collaborations with acclaimed alt-hop ensemble the Roots and neo-soul diva Erykah Badu.
“I learned how to push myself to the very end of my waking moments,” she laughs. “Sometimes the recording sessions could go from early morning to the next early morning.”
Along with the free-form marathon sessions with the Roots crew in Philadelphia, Zap Mama also recorded in Europe on a much shorter, more rigid schedule. “[It's] not as creative, because, as an artist, you may not get that creative spark until 4 in the morning sometimes. And if you're not in the studio at that time, well, it is usually lost.
“But with the amazing Roots crew, I learned to be awake and aware-and ready to work-when that spark comes.”
Daulne's music, as well as her personal philosophies, rarely shy away from the ethereal, a trait grounded by the neo-funk-meets-old-school-hip-hop on Ancestry. She prefers to call her albums an “imaginary journey”-cultural tourism to some, sure, but a form of nostalgic planet-roaming for others.
“When you want to travel to Africa or somewhere else, maybe you can't afford it, so a voice can be the soundtrack of your trip. When you are moving across the planet, the soundtrack in your mind can stir so many emotions.
“These are the places you can go in your imagination-the Africa in your mind.”
Zap Mama plays at 4th & B, 8 p.m. on Sept. 21. 619-231-4343.