On her new album “Odyssée,” singer Marie Daulne is clearly still a zap mama thirty years later. A conversation about her personal journey, from huge success in the United States to a fresh start in Brussels.
“I’m a tiger,” says Mary Dolen, 57, as she extends her right hand. A golden ring in the shape of a predatory cat intertwines three fingers. Cheetahs need no mention. They are solitary animals that do not spend much time with other cheetahs. I also love to be alone. I can do it, you know, by living in a group, but on my own I find life more pleasant and comfortable. If you let your personal happiness depend on me, it won’t work between us.
Besides the Tiger family, the daughter of a Congolese mother and Belgian father was a singer of the African pop group Zap Mama for thirty years. With its original sound mix of European, African and American rhythms and traditions, the company has been a household name around the world since its inception in the early 1990s. She has played Zap Mama on five continents. The charismatic introduction won the hearts of the planet’s greatest musicians, including David Byrne, Erika Badu and Afro-major Tony Allen.
Daulne moved to New York part-time, but returned in 2010 without a clear career plan. Her musical life seemed to hang by a thread until she released Zap Mama’s ninth album four years ago. And now there’s the much better “Odyssée,” an uplifting Afro-pop song with lots of soul and hip-hop touches. As far as she’s already gone, Zap Marie—she lives on Instagram—is back again.
The new album title seems to be a huge hit. The singer asserts that she did not get mustard from the Greek story of Homer. She laughs as she stirs her coffee: “I knew the journalists would be successful.” We are in a trendy café in Saint-Gilles, Brussels. It all began in this neighborhood thirty years ago for Zap Mama and when she returned in 2010, she bought an apartment, where she began an unknown life.
Without the connection to nature, I could have given my imagination less freedom. I had not lived the same life.
Odysseus fought in the Trojan War and his journey home was one of many pitfalls. Doesn’t this also apply to her life in recent years? “Now you look at the epic from a very masculine perspective,” she says in a playful reprimand. For me, it is first and foremost the story of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. She stayed at home waiting for her husband. I did not do. I left, out into the world, on an adventure. To write my own legend.
This sounds bold. At the same time, do not hide the fact that the past twelve years have not been easy. Her return from the city that never sleeps was a professional and family necessity. My life has been a maze for twenty years. I’ve traveled the world taking my kids everywhere. But suddenly – bam – I no longer have a record and management company. It slipped to 60 percent of income overnight. I still do concerts to keep my head above water, but that also stopped after a while.
It even rolled back unemployment benefits. She, Zap Marie, pioneered the polyphonic Afro-pop. This was a swallow for someone who had been used to a lot of prosperity for years. (Pauses for a moment) If you succeed, everything is free. Everyone wants a piece of you. If I emailed someone in the US from Belgium that I needed a job, I was on a plane to New York two days later.
There were also special difficulties. Her son’s father’s divorce made it difficult for her to keep her head to music. It says “C’était le chaos dans ma tête”. When her mother got into the deal, she decided to turn her back on her labyrinthine life and settle down in Brussels full time. My kids (she also has a daughter from another relationship, editor) have deserved a more stable life. I also wanted to say goodbye to my mother the right way. She taught me to sing and to see beauty in all aspects of life, big or small.
Her mother died in 2014. Odyssey honors the woman who fled the Congo with her children to Belgium in 1965 after her Belgian husband was murdered. “Regard d’une femme” is a cover for nearly 100 percent of Adamo. Why this number? Simple: I wanted to cover something before him, but I didn’t know what. I called him and he invited me to his home in Uccle. There he sang some songs on his guitar. “Regard d’une femme” hit me hard. I immediately felt my mother’s pain in the Congo, and my grief over her loss.
“Adamo sings about motherhood with tremendous sensitivity. About a protective mother who grieves in silence and puts her plate aside on the kitchen table to feed her children first. He got it! Worst macho.
Friendship, Love, Solitude, Modern Technology: On the first entirely French-language album in Zap Mama’s history, most themes of our time are blown away. Powered by a relaxing rumba beat, La 5G – V5 is all about how not to be afraid of technological advancements. What does the singer herself do to disconnect? Did she put her smartphone aside?
During our meeting, she is easily distracted by the glowing mobile screen, reaching for her phone when for a moment she misses the correct word in French or English. She laughs. “I’m getting better and better though. If you really want to be without a phone, you can find me in Duden Park (where Union Football Stadium is located, editor). I try to become one with nature. I strongly believe in the creative power that flows through Nature – the creative way of life and the juice of life.Without attachment to nature, I could have given my imagination less freedom.I would not have lived the same life and would not have dared to take the step to live in America, for example.
She says that fewer urges make her smarter and more creative, but she doesn’t explain this to her children, who are between 21 and 27. She regrets not being able to convince them to put their phones down every now and then. Her son is about to move out, her daughter lives in Berlin and this spring has followed in her mother’s footsteps. What advice did you give Kezia—which can be found on Spotify and the likes of K.Zia or under “Genesis,” the title of her debut album—when my daughter entered the music industry? I didn’t have much to give her. She has been on stage with me since she was fourteen years old. She is very different from her mother: I prefer to rely on my intuition, while she is a control freak. That’s why I sometimes tell her: Have fun, because if you start to dread the details, you can run into many barriers to achieving your dreams. There is no evidence of success. Every life is different. It is important not to allow yourself to be influenced by a system that is manipulating you. When red is in fashion, sometimes it is better to choose green.
She is the biggest supporter of her singer daughter. “She explains to me every step you take. I listen well and give my opinion, but she doesn’t always listen to me. Sometimes she dares put her big mouth up: ‘Come on, Mom, this is advice from a bygone era.'” (laughs) “Mais je suis encore là”, as I say.”
Odyssée by Zap Mama appeared on Altafonte.