Michel Alibo: The Bassic Personification of World Fusion
Michel Alibo is one of jazz and world music's most accomplished and influential musicians. Bassist of choice, not to just some of world music's most visible stars, he's also the premier bassist for entire subcategories of world styles. Michel has laid down textbook grooves in Latin, Caribbean, African, and fusion forms in such subgenres as beguine, reggae, zouk, soukos, groka and many more. More importantly, he's one of the first guys to start crossing 'em all up. He's continued that signature trend, begun as a teenager when he introduced clean and athletic thumb and slap style to African grooves, through today, as he currently focuses on applying the subtle mysteries of North African grooves and concept to electric jazz.
A Parisian transplanted from his native Martinique as a boy, Alibo absorbed musics and cultures at an astounding rate while growing up. Luckily, he made the jump to doing early on, touring Africa with Manu Dibango at the tender age of 16. He's probably best known, in jazz circles, as a founding member, along with superstar drummer Paco Sery, consummate guitarist Louis Winsberg and the accomplished Italian pianist Jean-Pierre Como, of the European continent's most well-known and best-selling fusion band, Sixun. The group made numerous appearances at festivals worldwide (save for the US) during their fourteen year, nine album run. Many elite electric bassists worldwide cite Alibo as a prime inspiration and hero, and countless more have felt his influence without knowing his name, by listening to the hypnotic, infectious grooves he's provided on recordings and the world stage, with the likes of Salif Keita, Michel Jonasz, Angelique Kidjo, Kassav, Toure Kunda, Yossou N'Dour and Cheb Mami.
Having played on more than 300 releases, Michel remains somewhat under recognized for the contributions he brings to the international jazz scene, and his inventive, vital role in the evolution of electric bass styles. Other musicians recognize him for the innovator and virtuoso that he is, which is why he also remains incredibly busy at the present time. He's currently focusing on the jazz-rooted, "truer" elements of his musical persona, dividing his schedule between the bands of Karim Ziad, Bojan Zulfikarpasic, Nguyen Le, Mario Canonge and Andy Narell's new Afro-Carribean-Latin-world project, Sakesho. He's also begun writing for his own thing again, something which he'd largely let go of after Sixun's breakup in 1998. He gigs mostly in Europe, where he's ubiquitous during the summer festival months, often gigging with more than one of the bands on the schedule. Recently, he fit in two separate US runs with Sakesho in April and May of 2003. This interview was conducted after one of those extremely hot (Sakesho is a bastardization of Creole for, "It's going to be hot.") April gigs in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Allaboutjazz: How old are you now?
Michel Alibo: I am 44 now, this past April 14th.
AAJ: You don't even look thirty.
MA: I'm lucky. There must be good genetic things in my family.
AAJ: When did you start to play?
MA: It was while I was in Paris, my family, with 4 brothers and a sister, when I was 14. We had already arrived there from Martinique. My brother, who was a music fanatic, in fact, decided he was going to play music, so he bought this instrument, the bass, and brought it home. I would take it and practice on it, so it's me who took up the bass, not him. My brother was playing a little bit, and guitar too, but he was more of a collector of music, with thousands of recordings. I have never been to music school. I started by listening to records and taught myself that way. I started with Manu Dibango, the saxophonist from Africa, Cameroon, who was in Paris then. He took me with him on tour when I was 16. So I was playing for two years when Manu took me to Cameroon. I was so lucky to meet those musicians and to have them take me with them.
AAJ: In Africa?
MA: Yes. I was used to hearing music from my country. Latin jazz music, we have a traditional music called Beguine . The music from Haiti, Guadeloupe. The bass lines from this music were fairly simple, but the African bass lines were totally different.
AAJ: What is the Guadeloupean music called, Soukos?
MA: No, no. Soukos is the music of Zaire, Africa. Groka is from Guadeloupe, based on native percussion. I know what you are thinking of-Zouk! This music is also from Guadeloupe, and Martinique too. I played on many cds of bands who did Zouk music- I was there. I was doing all the sessions for many years for many bands when this style came out.
AAJ: Yes that's it.
MA: But back to the African experience. This was a great time for me because I was touring there and playing their music as well as rhythm and blues forms. I was incorporating other styles into their thing. I brought slap technique into it, which they loved.
AAJ: Yes, you are a totally badass slapper from way back!
MA: Oh, yeah! That's why! So this mixing of styles was interesting. It was at that time I met with Salif Keita . You know, I am on his very first record, called Soro. I was between 19 and 20 then. You know, when you start learning an instrument, you have time. Your mom gives you food and a little drink and that's all you need (laughs).