With all this ricocheting back and forth between continents, it was just a matter of time before le jet lag exacted its revenge. Today it grabbed her. Hard. Wrung her neck. Oooouuuuf. Every corpuscle aches. Her index fingers trace circles around the hollows of her eyes. Even her English is just a leetle bit tired. So is her hair, her braided extensions unraveling as if they no longer have the strength needed to hold things together.
But for Marie Daulne, the dominating force behind the Afro-Belgian singing group Zap Mama, hitting the stage is the best way to exorcise fatigue. At the Irving Plaza club here in the East Village, her band cranks out a melange of Afro-pop, hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, reggae and funk beats, and the suddenly hyperkinetic Daulne summons reserves of energy that had heretofore eluded her. She back-flips. Shimmies. Stomps. Hips, belly and shoulders undulate as she transforms herself into a human beatbox.
Zap Mama performs tonight at the University of Maryland. Attend a Zap Mama show, and you can expect a radical departure from today's standard MTV-influenced fare, where live music concerts are little more than re-creations of over-produced videos. Daulne's voice is a wonder. It is the Zelig of music, tripping through French, English and Wolof, parroting both the man-made and the natural, supple and soaring, husky yet kittenish, at once playful and wise.
Music consumes her. In any given city, Daulne takes to the streets, tape recorder in hand, singing to herself as she records the random sounds that enchant her: A smoker's hacking cough, honking cars, buses, noise. She sucks it all up, spitting it back into her music, an Afropean blend of polyphonic voices and rhythms culled from Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. Afropea, the music of European artists of African descent, defies categorization; it ranges from Les Nubians' easy R&B vibe to Angelique Kidjo's bouncy beat to Zap Mama's carnival of sounds.
Sometimes while searching for new aural experiences, she'll turn her life upside down. A few years ago, she disbanded the a cappella group that made her the darling of music critics in the early '90s. Where Zap Mama was once a group, now it is really the Marie Daulne show, with guests of varying musical persuasions invited to the party. She collaborated with spoken word artist-rapper-musician Michael Franti of Spearhead for her 1997 album, "Seven." This time around, for her new CD, "A Ma Zone," she enlisted the masters of organic hip-hop, the Roots, as well as Speech from Arrested Development. Her influences are many: the Beastie Boys, Pygmy chants, North African ululations, Etta James, James Brown, funk, reggae, the blues, jazz and, of course, hip-hop.
"There are two kinds of hip-hop, I think," she says. "There's more gangsta style and there's more deep. The Roots I think is the best for Zap Mama. But Wyclef [Jean] is good, too. I would like to work with Wyclef. But I don't know where he is."
In time, she will find him. Daulne is nothing if not strong-willed.
When she first disbanded the original Zap Mama, she says, members of the group were not very happy. Daulne concedes that she didn't handle her role as the group's leader as well as she could have.
"In the beginning, I didn't know what it was to be a leader, or to be a chief. It was for me about ego. I was probably going like pooooow. I bothered some persons. I fought with others, but they said nothing because I was the chief."
Now, she says, she's discovered the road to harmony.
"I choose personalities. I choose the person first, then the voices. If the person is good and the vibes can go together, the energy can feed each other and it's possible," she says. "Other way, impossible. Sometimes the capacity of the voice is less, but the ambiance is good. The team I have is a very good team." But is the team a democracy--or a dictatorship?
Watching her in rehearsal, however, it's clear that Daulne is the undisputed president.
Swinging her braids over her shoulders, she issues commands, flipping between English and French--whichever will deliver the point most efficiently.
"John," she tells the sound engineer, pointing to one of her musicians, "I need his voice louder." Her voice dips many octaves as she demonstrates: "Tadum. Tadum. Tadum," much like a little girl mocking her father's deep, tickling bass.
She is big, but not in the counting-calories sense. Big as in expansive, taking up space, more African than European in the way her feet are planted in the earth.
She is tall, large-boned and lean, a ginger-snap-colored woman with a beautiful face punctuated by strong brows. Her eyes are shrewd, wary. Onstage she is effervescent. Offstage she is slightly aloof, readily serving up smiles. Smiles that don't extend to her eyes.
When Zap Mama first emerged in the early '90s, Daulne's exotic background was as much a part of the media hype as her polyphonic music: She was born in Zaire, in the throes of the 1964 civil war. After her Belgian father was slain by rebels, Daulne's Bantu mother took her four children--including 3-week-old Marie--and fled to the jungle, where the family was sheltered by Pygmies.
Daulne grew up in Brussels, acutely aware of being brown in a white world. Her father's family was kind to their African relatives, says Daulne's sister Anita Daulne, even though a couple of her aunties kept trying to look up her mother's dress--they were looking for a tail.
"The first time we come to this country and we saw people who look like us, we cry," says Marie. "In Europe, they don't consider us European. I always say I'm African. In Europe, we know we're in a white country. But I know I'm a human on this Earth."
Growing up, Daulne and her siblings absorbed African culture through their mother. The lessons weren't overt. Their mother never sat them down and said, "Now we will have a lesson in traditional Baboudou," recalls Anita, who sings with Zap Mama. "My mother can't sing without moving," she says, and then Anita breaks off her words, becoming her mother, her body overcome with the rhythms of an unheard melody.
The cultural pride sustained them in a country that looked upon the Daulnes as Other.
"We don't take the complex the white people want us to have. It's just the beginning," says Anita. "All over the world, the skin will be black and the soul proud."
These days, Afropean culture is the new hip thing in black boho circles. But just as the States discover Afropean culture, from Zap Mama to trip-hop innovator Tricky, Daulne is looking to becoming an American. Temporarily, that is. She's planning on moving to New York, where she can take on new rhythms.
"I have something to do here now. I spent 10 years working on voices, voices, voices. Now I have the maturity," she says. "I would like to bring my knowledge to meet people and create new things. Bring my knowledge of ethnic voices to Western beats. And maybe after one, two years, I will go and discover another part of the world."