Vocals and rhythm take the spotlight at Belgian Afropop singer's feel-good concert
ZAP MAMA and ANTIBALAS at Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall, Saturday, February 7. Rating: NNN
At Koerner Hall, the sprawling Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band mirrored on Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 added undulating polyrhythmic groove that toppled one song into the next as Afropop group Zap Mama, founded and led by Congo-born, Belgian-raised Marie Daulne, dazzled with complex vocal interplay and tons of visual flair. You wonder how the groups hadn’t found each other before now.
Early into the two-hour concert, Zap Mama was the focus – and it was glorious. Daulne and three female singers sang a cappella, dancing slowly in black dresses and a tangle of long gold necklaces, their voices beating and belting interdependent lines that soared and swung low. Dualne’s voice is deep and rich when storytelling, but can turn into a playful and otherworldly soprano at a moment’s notice.
The 12 members of Antibalas trickled in, bringing rhythmic oomph and prompting Zap Mama’s girls-versus-boys dance moves – the women plugged their noses as the four brass players tooted and soloed. “Stay positive,” they sang, smiling brightly, during the song Vibrations. But before long, the women exited and gave the stage over to the all-male Antibalas and their vocalist Amayo, who wore a bright and flamboyant suit.
Then it was all Antibalas all the time, for a good half of the show. They have a big enough name to warrant the lengthy solo focus, and it was during this part of the concert that some members of the audience rose from their seats to dance in the aisles, but the relentless, funky polyrhythms became a blur, and Amayo, though plenty of fun, lacks Daulne’s onstage charm.
Eventually Daulne and company returned but continued to keep the focus on those around them. Antibalas’s shekere player took a lead vocal turn on a fun cover of Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me, and then Zap Mama’s secret weapon, astounding bass player/vocalist Manou Gallou, stunned the room with a badass solo bass turn, full of speedy fretwork and tasteful string-slapping. (Yes, it can be done.)
The concert grew to a loud and vibrant finish, though there was something about the soft and enchanting a cappella simplicity at the start that made some of us wish to see Zap Mama all on their own.
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