1997: Virgin 7 24384 28162 5
The first time I heard Zap Mama was while waiting for access to a computer at Pariss very cool Le Web Bar one Autumn afternoon in 1998: their DJ played Belgo Zaïroise and African Sunset back to back, and by the middle of the second of these I had to go over and ask him what it WAS, it was so infectious and lovely .
Id heard African Sunset before, as its on Miriam Makebas Welela (which a friend had played for me about eight years earlier and which I later obtained for myself), but I didnt recognize it at the time. The sound of these both was deliciously rich in world-music flavors and rhythms, and I was hungry for more.
When I actually got a copy of the album, I found it was a mixed lotto my tastes, anyway, whereas Im sure that for many other people this is a great album through and through. All the energy and diverse intensity seems to be in those two songs, and in Téléphone. Most of the other tracks drag on with too much This or too much That being stretched out over more time than it takes for the point to be made; some of them do develop into something different midway through, but even then half of them turn into something even less compelling.
As I said, my tastes arent everybodys. For example, I absolutely cannot stand Rap; because of this, her otherwise exquisite cover of Phoebe Snows Poetry Man becomes not a rendering but a rending, and when I play it I find myself seriously out of sorts even if I skip the tedious rap in the last section because theres still pathetic yknow wham sayn bullshit her duettist throws in here and there, soiling what was a fine and luxurious gem (and I mean her cover version, not just the original song Marie Daulne gives it a lovely, irregular reading that works very well with the lyrics and her own sound).
I do like Jogging à Tombouctou (especially its near-endings from which the song resurges as a yummy surprise, YES! more of what I was grooving on!), Ele Buma, and Illoi, but as I said, theyre far longer than their content sustains. Timidity takes far too long to say what it says, and then it descends into some jarring screams that guarantee I hit the Skip button if I havent already programmed the track out of my playlist of the moment. Kesia Yanga is the nearest miss, for me: after the beginnings beautiful sad vocal harmonies, the track moves subtly to a more quickly-paced and lively style while giving the sadness a new presence and then it stays there for the rest of the track, repeating itself and repeating itself and going almost nowhere aside from a scat section. Which I find frustrating.
Téléphone is a little repetitious too, but at least it has an opening and a closing and some storyline in between. The rhythmic structure is quirky as hell, the topics one she is clearly fascinated by (the voyeuristic/eavesdropping/disconnected nuances of communication), and the soundscape is adventurous and darkly playful. So its this track and the two I first mentioned that keep me playing the CD as often as I do and they really are exemplary tracks.
OH! I totally forgot to mention that her cover of Damn Your Eyes is really, really good. Its quirkliy unique, for sure, and moves at a jerky pace that takes a little getting used to (it seems to be always on the verge of running out of steam but plods on somehow), but by the end I cant think of how any other version of this song sounds, Im so into her reinvention of it.
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.