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Coupled with the European pop and African melodies and rhythms, it's world music for an Internet world -- immediate and unassuming. Their presence -- Speech on one song, the Roots guys on two others -- also lends a deep timbre to the all-female vocal lineup, adding another layer to the complex grooves.
Zap Mama began nine years ago as an a cappella group, and the interweaving of vocals is still the group's strength. Head Mama Marie Daulne is a world beat all by herself, Belgian by way of Zaire and Central Africa; as a singer she mixes warm soulfulness, breathy whispers and staccato, wordless chirps to create something between Lauryn Hill, Sade, and Björk. Heady, but deserved company.
On "Call Waiting," Daulne audibly inhales and exhales twice before singing over a faint phone dialing and rumbling keyboards. The pause adds a weird tension, expecting her to sing and having to wait, but soon a drum 'n' bass beat slides in. With a jazzy upright bass punching in and out of the mix, the track takes off. Her voice rising above it all, Daulne remains the focus because of her intensity, which she maintains even when quietly backing down.
When Daulne and drummer Stéphane Galland get into a duel of snare roll and her quick cadenced, "you and me and me and you," the singer falters at the end, dropping a beat before gliding back into the chorus. It's a minor dramatic moment, but it shows how much control she has over her instrument, using it to build and ease tension. Moments like that show the greatness of Zap Mama; they may be slightly alien, but they have worldwide appeal. -- David Simutis