African pop and European harmonies meld together in perfect musical harmony when Zap Mama-an all-female troupe of Belgian-based vocalists—and Antibalas, a Brooklyn-based big band—perform together for the first time ever during the Unified Tour, which will be making a one-night-only stop at the Byham Theater on Wednesday, February 4 as part of the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents Series.
“They are going to see a wonderful show,” said Marie Daulne, founder and front woman of Zap Mama. “I give the beginning of a story and everyone can create their own story with it. It’s a musical journey through different parts of the world. If they don’t know African music, it’s a good way to discover it through voice, music, horns, rhythm, visual projection and good energy.”
Antibalas founder and front man Martin Perna agrees with Daulne.
“Pittsburgers can expect joy, virtuosity, improvisation and an engaging musical experience where they are not spectators but rather an indispensable part of the show,” Perna said.
This will be Zap Mama’s first US tour since 2009.
Zap Mama was founded in 1991 as a way for Daulne to pay homage to both sides of her heritage. She was born in Isiro, one of the biggest cities in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a White Civil servant and a Black Bantu woman. When Daulne was a week old her father was attacked by rebels who opposed to interracial relationships.
On the advice of her father, Daulne’s mother and siblings escaped to the forest and were hid by Pygmies until they got to see what would happen. Daulne’s mother was taken by the rebels but was released because she spoke their language.
After eight months in the center of the country her mother, brother and sisters were airlifted in an emergency evacuation by Belgian paratroopers and flown to Belgium because their father was a Belgian citizen.
“The music in Belgium was so boring that I had to make my own,” Daulne said.
The group burst onto the music scene with their self-titled album and has since released seven full-length albums including 1993’s “Adventures in Afropea 1,” which solidified their spot in the world music scene.
Antibalas—which means Bulletproof in Spanish, was started in 1998 by Martin Perna. The group was inspired by the golden age of West African and Afro-Caribbean musical styles of the 1970s as well as the Jazz and improvised music. The members of Antibalas are sought after session touring musicians with the Roots, TV on the Radio, Arcade Fire, Allen Toussaint and Betty Lavette.
After years of heavy international touring the band rose to higher heights in 2007 for its role in the musical direction of the Broadway musical, “Fela!”
Now they are working with Zap Mama on the Unified Tour.
“It’s a natural fit. Marie and her singers are world class. They bring a lot of talent and joy to the stage, and their energy and vocal prowess compliments what we bring to the stage,” Perna said.
Daulne is enjoying working with Antibalas also.
“So far it’s been wonderful working with Antibalas and I know it will get better every day,” Daulne said.
“The concerts have been amazing,” Perna said. “None of the audiences have seen anything like this. This tour includes mostly seated performing arts venues. After every show we hear the same thing: ‘We’ve never seen people up on their feet, dancing in this theater before tonight.
“There’s so much nasty stuff going on in the world,” Perna continued. “The people who we’ve chosen to represent us betray us. We ask for peace, they bring us war. We ask for protection, we become targeted. So when we get on the stage, it feels good to deliver something that can potentially nourish people’s souls, make them happier, let them know that they’re not alone in their frustrations and their desire for something better.”
Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.cultraltrust.org.