Album of the day: Zap Mama, "Adventures in Afropea 1"

Album of the day: Zap Mama, “Adventures in Afropea 1”

Zap Mama
Adventures in Afropea 1 (Cd Luaka Bop/Warner Bros. 945183-2)

Although fourteen years have passed since its release, not a speck of dust has settled on this debut album by Zap Mama, a group based in Brussels and entirely composed of female voices who sing without any accompaniment drawing (as is the title of the album clearly explains) both to the African tradition (with particular reference to those of Zaire, Rwanda and Tanzania), Cuban and Syrian and to European Spanish and Belgian melodies from which the leader and vocalist Marie Daulne comes.

Forget the sterile self-referential games of Bobby McFerrin and other virtuosos of the genre, here we are faced with artists whose music vibrates with authentic passion, drawing from a thousand-year-old heritage and transforming popular intuitions into sophisticated compositions with a strongly contrapuntal physiognomy, which they use in a masterly way. the incredible vocal extensions of this quintet capable of bringing out a rainbow of different tones and inflections from the uvula.

From time to time the voices become a rhythm section full of energy (in songs like “Brrrlak!” and “Abadou”), they swing frighteningly in “Bottom” and “Plekete”, they alternate sensuality and innocence in “Babanzelè” and ” Ndje Mukanie”, they sing their anger against apartheid in “Guzophela” and yearn for love and anticipation in “Marie-Josée”, they tackle intricate polyrhythmic structures with butterfly lightness while releasing persuasive melodies into the air, alternating continuously different formations (from duo to quintet) with impressive skill also taking a leap into the sixteenth century for “Din Din”, a few seconds which are an authentic jewel.

An extraordinary album that revealed to the world this formation whose incomparable skill was also confirmed in the subsequent album “Sabsylma” (where several percussion instruments also appeared in addition to the voices).
Unfortunately, after these two works, the quintet dissolved, leaving only Marie Daulne at the helm of a project that took on increasingly commercial characteristics, clumsily contaminating itself with chart-topping dance music and becoming increasingly distorted (recent albums are to be avoided).
Fortunately, these first two albums will continue to enthuse anyone lucky enough to find them in stores for years.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.