First thing that needs saying: I don't care what your musical predilection is. If you have the merest hint of eclecticism about you, and you love a good show, do not miss Zap Mama when they come your way. I can't think of a single other person for whom I'd give such a universal recommendation, but I'd be amazed if anyone was unmoved in a Zap Mama concert. They jaunt through Japan, India, both Americas, Europe, and, of course, West Africa in a pretty impressive sweep of musical style. But don't call it "world music", as some reductionist critics do. This is no patch-up of the alien mediocre. Zap Mama are sheer virtuosity by any standard.
I've heard a lot of people talk about Bobby McFerrin's vocal range and skill. Marie Daulne, Zap Mama band leader, is easily a match (Zap/McFerrin would be a killer collabo). Marie has no earthly right to be able to make some of the sounds that came out of her mouth. If you have/get the album, listen carefully. I think I can safely say that any sound that was not obviously made by drums, bass guitar, bass upright, electric guitar or keyboard (plain organ voice, mostly) or turntable cut it probably came from a voice, either Marie or one of the other singers. And Marie's voice: plaintive, assured, earthen, ethereal, reedy, robust, she affects it all.
And she is one of the most striking women you'll come across. Not just lissome and beautiful, but also cultured, artful, expressive, energetic and very playful (she closed the concert with some classic hip-hop moves, including the reverse worm). She bounced effortlessly around the stage while exercising that shape-shifting voice in a panoply of languages. At one point I was thinking to myself "this woman has more of The Goddess in her than anyone else I've encountered", and soon thereafter, a CU Boulder coed-looking chick turned to me and said "Oh my god. She's a goddess. I've like, never had a goddess so close I could almost touch her" (we were in the front row). I nodded. I can quite feel where she was coming from.
Boulder Theatre was packed, and as usual, the Boulder crowd ate it up like suya on Id el-Fitri. I barely had space to shake like Bandy Bandy. And speaking of "Bandy Bandy", that was the song that immediately followed the encore, and pretty much the entire crowd try fi wind up them waist. If you go to Zap Mama's Web site, the sinuous bass chord progression that greets you is from "Bandy Bandy", and it's as infectious as it comes. Closing with an extended version of Follow Me, Marie gave the whole band in turn a chance to amp up the crowd. They'd already taken us all over the musical map, from India ("namaste" as Marie modestly said, with proper soft voicing on the "t"); through Europe, playing songs such as "Ça Varie Varie"; through her native Zaïre (now "Congo" again), adding to several of the songs a strong Soukous flavor not present on the album, and acknowledging each explosion of the crowd with a very melodious "mmmmeeeeerci beaucoup"; Japan, playing "Alright" (and yes, she does both onnagata and aragoto in the extended, Kabuki-like intro); South America, playing songs such as "Vivre"; and New York City, with a few brief demos of old-school Hip-Hop. Zap Mama didn't spare any opportunity for crowd participation, and the crows was very willing. It wasn't just the standard call-and response--I nearly lost my keys when she had us shake them in the air as makeshift maracas during "Show me the Way".
The only sad note of the night was that Lori didn't come. She hasn't heard much Zap Mama, and I didn't realize how universal the concert would be in its appeal. The funny thig is that my good friend Tony had been inviting me to catch Zap Mama at his Aggie Theater for years, but I never got around to it. We shall not make such a mistake again. When we saw Erykah Badu last year in Denver, we were all riding the high for months, including the kids, who imitated our imitation of Eryka's overhead hand slide through her extended set of "Woo". Zap Mama is at least as powerful an experience, and we'll catch her together next time.