Think Spice Girls.
Then add Afrocentric flava, space-age diva costumes, a new level of beat-boxing and soulful lyrics in at least three languages. This was Zap Mama's theatrical, bass-heavy performance on Saturday night at the University of Maryland.
The Afro-Belgian singing group transformed the mundane--smoking a cigarette or chatting on the telephone--into an imaginative melody of coughs or rings over a mesh of hip-hop, funk, reggae and soul. The bass guitarist, a Me'shell NdegeOcello look-alike and sound-alike from the Ivory Coast, provided much of the musical foundation for Zap Mama's soothing lullabies ("W'Happy Mama") and high-energy jams ("Rafiki").
The five women who make up this international, multiculti group brought to the stage a girls-just-want-to-have-fun simplicity with synchronized dances, ponytails, cartwheels and call-and-response vocals.
Most of the concert's material came from the quintet's latest album, "A Ma Zone," the group's fourth U.S. release, which features the Roots and Cameroonian saxophonist-singer Manu Dibango. Without guest rappers and Dibango in the live show, Zap Mama filled songs with jazzy scat and James Brown-like sputterings. And Pygmy chants. And North African ululations. And whatever else Zap Mama's front woman, Marie Daulne--an easy rival to fellow human beat boxes Rahzel or Biz Markie--felt worthy of incorporation at the time.
The concert ended with audience members dancing in place, waving arms, bobbing heads, their enthusiasm bringing truth to the prophecy about this intercontinental sound found in Zap Mama's lyrics: "This collaboration is the next movement, y'all."
CAPTION: Marie Daulne, the power behind Zap Mama.