Zap Mama: Mixed Mentality

zap-mama-14The epitome of soft-spoken self assurance, Zap Mama founder Marie Daulne speaks to SoulCulture about the true meaning of multiculturalism.

Since their self-titled debut album in 1991, Zap Mama have gone on to become firm afro-soul favourites among those who know. Fusing French and English vocals with African instrumentation, R&B and Hip Hop, the group’s uniquely soulful blend has attracted a glorious list of collaborators over the years including The Roots, Erykah Badu, Common,Talib Kweli, Bahamadia, DJ Krush, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Sergio Mendes.

Flown from her birthplace in Congo across to Belgium aged three months old, Daulne embarked on a cross-cultural journey of beautifully blurred identity. Returning to Africa as a five-year-old child accompanying her mother, then again solo as an 18-year-old adult “to discover the other culture that half of me had,” she wasn’t welcomed “as an African woman” but instead “as a Belgian woman [because] I speak French and my attitude and behaviour was European.”

Now dividing her time between New York and Belgium [where “Soul music doesn’t have an impact at all”] to fulfil her Zap Mama and literal mama duties, she tells me, “It was hard as a teenager because I felt so lonely, and being connected with nature helps me to stay human. Even in Belgium for me, I am discovering something new all the time. I never want to be too attached to the past, I am a person who lives in the present. I don’t worry too much about future; I keep the future for hope. It is hope that helps you keep your path.”

Zap-Mama-r06In former interviews dating back almost two decades, Marie described Zap Mama as a “bridge” bringing the sound of Africa to the Western world. “Yes, I’m a bridge,” she reaffirms. “I mentioned that 15 years ago and now it’s a big bridge, a lot of people pass through and connect onto that. In the Afro-European world, living here in the States I realise there is Afro-American but there are many people like you and like me having a connection with Africa. A lot of Europeans know African music but don’t fit completely in Africa.”

“A lot of people who have a mixed or double culture like to identify themselves through Zap Mama because they have felt what it is like to be in-between, and don’t completely feel like one culture…Their mentality is mixed because they are open and smart enough to accept and understand other cultures. The double culture will be part of the new era; even triple culture, quadruple culture – multi cultural. It’s the future.” She adds, “It’s the only way we can grow up, because it’s the way it is.”

“My goal is to show people that you can travel and discover others. Sometimes people are not able to because their job doesn’t invite them to travel, so I decided to make a soundtrack that allows people to travel through music.”

These sounds to make the soul travel comes packaged in the name of ReCreation. Zap Mama’s ‘lucky’ seventh album features collaborations with Bilal, Vincent Cassell and G. Love, creating a soundtrack that allows the listener to “feel that they’re going to Brazil, Africa, America… through sound and songs.”

Trecreation_zap-mamahe proceeds of the lead single, “Hello To Mama,” go to CARE – a charity supporting healthy childbirth in Africa. The collaboration came about when the president of CARE, Helen Gayle, invited Zap Mama to perform at “their retreat for powerful women who want to help other women feel power and solidarity.”

The organisation’s theme struck a chord with Daulne, who feels strongly about women’s causes. She comments, “I think now women have to go back to femininity. A lot of women try to be strong women, but being strong doesn’t mean you have to act like men. Men often react aggressively and sometimes too hard, but we women are capable of being patient and supporting love. Sometimes it’s hard to hear that but that’s what it is, this is us: femininity, it’s soft, delicate, refined, love, round and not too square. This is what I bring on stage, this femininity in my attitude.”

Connecting the artistic with the humanistic, Daulne flew to a village in Mali and involved the local women in her music video – in return giving them money from the single’s downloads to fund development of CARE’s activities in Mali. “[The collaboration] was important to me [because I feel] especially connected with African women,” she says, “because my mother is one and I know how it is; my mum tells me so many stories from other there that I felt really well connected and being part of Africa myself – half of me – I felt that it was easy and natural to do it.”

“On this album I recreated something new based on what you have already done in your life – every day you start a day. What am I gonna do or create today to make the universe better? Smile at somebody or help people, just little things that people can do every day to help each other is the only way we can make progression in this world,” she explains.

“In all my answers I come back to the well-being of human beings – it’s where we find happiness.”

COMPETITION! (US Only) WIN a copy of Zap Mama’s latest album, ReCreation.
To enter: email with your full name and postal address, answering the question: What’s the name of the duet Zap Mama and Erykah Badu released?