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BassPlayer 2017-01

BassPlayer 2017-01

F ETIENNE MBAPPÉ

F ETIENNE MBAPPÉ Queen”), gorgeous fretless bass with spot-on intonation (the title track, “Assiko Twerk,” and “Mang Lady”), awesome horn parts, complex dynamics, and uptempo walking (“Bad As I’m Doing”), pocket funk (“Make It Easy”), and even a ballroom-ready tango in 7 (“Milonga in 7”). Mbappé is clearly having fun with this band of badasses; his playing overflows with heart, and his support of the soloists is inspired and involved. Somehow, he manages to never sound hyperactive and showy, just grooving, fully present, and firing on all cylinders. When How Near How Far fades out with Mbappé’s deep vocals on a plaintive ballad, “Musango Na Wa,” it’s a fitting closer that sweetly balances the album’s abundant firepower. We caught the 56-year-old between shows with the Prophets and McLaughlin to ask about singing and playing, odd times, his bass-playing son Swaeli Mbappé, those gloves, and where it all started, in 1970s Cameroon. In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned the first generation of great Cameroonian bass players such as Jean Dikoto Mandengue, Vic Edimo, Manfred Long, Rido Bayonne, Aladji Toure, and Bob Edjangue. What impact did they have on you? Huge. Massive! These great masters are our gods in Cameroon. I knew them before I had ever heard of Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, or James Jamerson. They influenced several generations of Cameroonian bass players in a school without walls, by oral transmission from the oldest guys to the youngest. Do you consider “oral transmission” better than music school? The best way is to learn through both methods. If you have a chance to go to music school, it can be very important. Learning by oral transmission develops your instinct. When you got to Paris, you studied upright bass for three years. How did it inform your bass approach? Upright is a totally different instrument than electric bass. Studying classical upright for three years taught me, first of all, to be familiar with bass clef. I also learned upright fingering, and using a bow was so unusual. I loved it! You also studied classical guitar. Do you recommend that bass players play some guitar? It’s always good to play a chordal instrument. Guitar is the first instrument I learned to play. I never had a chance to study piano, so guitar is the only chordal instrument I play, even though I can play some nice chords and changes on piano today. How did your time in music school help you with the complex music you play today? When I arrived in France at the end of the ’70s, I knew very little about music. The time I spent studying music taught me the most crucial elements about jazz and pop—things like reading charts and knowing a little about classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Mozart. The music I play today is a mix of my African background and roots, what I’ve learned, and my diverse influences. How was it to be on the scene in Paris in the ’80s? Those were great years. I was privileged to play what we now call world music with so many inspired musicians—recording, rehearsing, playing concerts until early hours in the morning, touring the 40 bassplayer.com / january2017

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