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Sparks soar in Zap Mama show

Trevor Whitney

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Zap Mama brought an impressive and theatrical performance to Laxson Auditorium on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Chico Performances.

Four women dressed in tight black outfits with gold chains and sleeves casually walked into the spotlight onstage singing in harmony.

It was hypnotizing.

The shiniest of the quartet, group founder and lead vocalist Marie Daulne, started beatboxing and improvising her own separate melodies as the other three continued harmonizing on the previous one.

Daulne looped the beat, adding subtle changes each time. The other singers built up underneath her with a gradual intensity and right when it felt like it was going to pop, everyone cut out simultaneously in resounding silence.

Daulne’s Afro-pop group, Zap Mama, stopped by Laxson Auditorium Wednesday night as part of its current national tour with the Brooklyn Afrobeat and funk band Antibalas.

Antibalas consists of 12 members: lead vocals, trumpet, trombone, tenor and baritone saxophone, drums, keyboards, two guitarists, bass and percussion featuring congas and shekere. The band was founded by baritone saxophonist Martin Perna.

“Antibalas literally means anti-bullets and colloquially means bulletproof,” Perna said. “The double-meaning describes the robustness of the music we play underscored by an anti-imperialist sensibility as a band based in the U.S. but oftentimes in opposition with state violence both inside the U.S. and abroad.”

A few songs into the Zap Mama set, members of Antibalas started creeping onstage to back them up. Eventually the show transitioned into their set until they were rejoined for the finale and encore.

Collaborating with Zap Mama has been a fitting counterbalance to what the musicians of Antibalas normally do on their own, Perna said.

“Typically, there’s a lot of masculine energy — 12 guys onstage with instruments,” Perna said. “By adding four talented, strong female vocalists we create a much fuller, deeper sound than we are normally able to achieve on our own. While we have Amayo, our frontman and lead vocalist, the long instrumental sections are even more present than the vocal elements, and vocals will be a much stronger part of our show than they have been in the past.”

Depending on the success of the tour and the schedules of the parties involved, there is a possibility for future collaborations in the studio, Perna said. In the meantime, all of the material that Antibalas is playing on tour is new, and they hope to get it recorded sometime this year.

Despite perfect execution of the new material, some of the jams went on too long. For the most part, the performance was both exciting and mesmerizing. But toward the end of the set, similar grooves seemed to go on too far past the point that it should’ve built into something else.

To those unfamiliar with Zap Mama and Antibalas, their performances are a celebration of the power of the human voice, Perna said.

“The voice can create positive or negative energy in the world,” Perna said. “More than ever, we need positive energy, to channel the righteous anger about income inequality, police violence, institutional racism, misogyny, climate change, gentrification into something that is focused and productive. Both Zap Mama and Antibalas deeply engage the audience. The audience is a key part of the show, not just as spectators but as engaged participants. Expect to sing like you’ve never sung before, dance like you’ve never danced before.”

Trevor Whitney can be reached at [email protected] or @nicegrandmas on Twitter.

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Sparks soar in Zap Mama show