Daulne is guilty of overstretching herself at the expense of the unique qualities her...
Chris White 2007
It’s not that often one comes across a European recording artist fully trained in the onomatopoeic vocal techniques of Congolese pygmies. However, Marie Daulne, founder and lead singer of Brussels-based musical chameleons Zap Mama, is no ordinary performer, as a quick glance at her life story reveals.
Born in the Congo in 1964 in the midst of revolution, Daulne and her mother were sheltered by the diminutive forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers from the rebel soldiers who had already killed her Belgian father. Years later, she returned to Africa to discover her musical roots, and the original Zap Mama line-up of the early 1990s was an all-female a cappella quintet heavily influenced by Daulne's heritage.
Six albums on, the 2007 incarnation of the group is an altogether more international affair, with over 50 musicians from around the globe orbiting around Daulne's restless, shape-shifting presence. Supermoon is a dizzying blend of hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul and funk, with the previously integral African sounds a much more subtly employed, for example in the balafon and harmonies of opening track "Go Boy".
The result is a record that sometimes staggers under the burden of the sheer range of genres it tries to embrace. "1000 Ways" and "Kwenda" could come from a 1970s blaxploitation film soundtrack; "Hey Brotha" sounds like Lily Allen backed by Aswad; "Where Are You" is smoky, Norah Jones-style jazz-by-numbers ballad.
The strongest songs, notably the simple, heartfelt title track and the challenging "Princess Kesia", which features intricate vocal soundscapes recalling Kate Bush at her most experimental, are accomplished and memorable. Overall though, Daulne is guilty of overstretching herself at the expense of the unique qualities her background imbued within her. The pygmies would not necessarily approve.