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[whitespace] In the Ma Zone

Zap Mama links hip-hop with indigenous sounds

By David Espinoza

CLOSE TO THE END of Zap Mama's set Sept. 6 at Palookaville, lead singer Marie Daulne said five words that truly sum up what her band is all about: "Come on--play with us!" For almost two hours, Daulne and crew kept a near-capacity crowd grooving to a vibrant mix of Afro-reggae-trip-hop-funk stylings so luscious you could taste it.

Zap Mama isn't the kind of band to hold back when playing live, and the Wednesday show was just as visually stimulating as it was a feast for the ears. There were props and decoratively painted faces, choreographed dancing and an impressive light show. All of this served to complement Zap Mama's defining trait--gorgeous, multilingual harmonies that boast the soul of a cappella stars Sweet Honey in the Rock and a mature Afro-pop sensibility.

The majority of the show focused on material from last year's brilliant A Ma Zone--a 12-track hip-hop, trance, everything-you-can-imagine album sung in three languages. Daulne and crew seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as their audience and even previewed new material from the band's forthcoming album.

Front woman Daulne has long been a star in what can loosely be called contemporary world beat. On stage, she's perpetually in the zone, engaging the audience with words like, "You give me your energy, and I'm gonna put it inside and spread it like a sunrise." Like other artists who've grown up in multiple cultures, Daulne's music is cosmopolitan. With grace, her voice can transition from that of a raspy-throated rastafari rapper to African-rhythmic clicks and thunks to a note-holding diva. There's nothing she can't do. Watching Dualne navigate dance moves with seven other musicians on stage, you just know Zap Mama is going to eventually outgrow the club setting--the band has certainly earned it.

A brief word on the whole African-Euro-pop thing: While the intertwining of African rhythms with Western influences is nothing new to pop music, Daulne takes it to another level. Similar to L.A.'s Ozomatli, Zap Mama is part of a new generation of musicians that celebrates the common ground found in the urban struggles of hip-hop and the struggles of indigenous roots. After years of having artists like David Byrne or Paul Simon introduce African and Latin styles, it's nice to finally see French-Africans and Mexican-Americans do it, too.

Pocket Protectors

If there's one thing that will always make indie-rock bands infinitely cooler than every other genre, it's their names. Sure, the sharpest groups have lately been reinstating the "the" in front of band names, in accordance with the theory that all the best bands have a "the." But what about good, old statements like Yo La Tengo or local outfit Time Spent Driving? At the Sept. 7 locals-showcase at the Catalyst, the foursome Time Spent Driving oozed sensitive-guy indie fluff that would make Lou Barlow proud. Lead vocalist Jon Cattivera has the songwriting capabilities down, though his voice does remind me of '80s pop bands--for better or worse. The quartet must be doing something right--the band is gearing up for a tour to Europe. Not bad for a bunch of locals.

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From the September 13-20, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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