Michel Alibo: The Bassic Personification of World Fusion
AAJ: Is that when you grew the most as a musician? Is that when you were going crazy?
MA: Exactly. Like 16 to 20 years old, I was playing all the time, every day.
AAJ: Was there a time when you were younger, that you really wanted to be the number one guy on bass?
MA: Actually, no. I hate competition. Every time anyone wants to compete with me, I say, "Go ahead, do your thing." I never even like auditions.
AAJ: Did you go to regular school?
MA: Yes, but I quit when I was 16, in the middle of, what is there, my first high school year, because I was sure of music. That's what I wanted to do. What was I going to study if I stayed? When you are young, you invest the time in doing it, learning how to play the instrument as best as you can. I was learning drafting and industrial drawing or maybe to be an architect, but when I discovered music, and had the opportunity to play with great musicians and travel, I said, "Ok, let's go!" So I ended up in Cameroon. These guys who are around now are from there, like Armand Sebal-Lecco or Etienne M'Bappe. I met them there. Etienne was only 12 years old when he came to see me play in Cameroon. He started to play bass at this time. Sebal-Lecco I met in Paris. Many players pass through there. Recently, Linley Marthe is another great player I've met in Paris, originally from Mauritius Island. I told him to call Karim Ziad, Joe Zawinul's drummer, because I knew Joe was looking for a new bassist. M'Bappe quit because he had to do a tour with a French singer. Dominique DiPiazza is another great player, of course, who came from Paris.
AAJ: So you first period of musical discovery was with African artists?
MA: Yes. It was a sort of music school for me. I met a thousand really good African artists there, and recorded with a few of them. They were from Senegal, Gabon, The Ivory Coast, Guin'-Bissau, Angola,Cap-Verde, Mali, and of course, Cameroon. After Dibango was Salif Kaita. Through Salif I discovered West African music, artists from Mali and Senegal. It was important for me to work on this style as a bassist, because the bass style is like a leader. In other words, in African music you have to play as a leader because the bass line conducts the music, and guides the music, especially in Cameroon's music. Again, that's why you get guys like Bona, M'Bappe, Sebal-Lecco and Guy Akwa Nsangue coming out of there. I think maybe I kept something from there as well (laughs).
AAJ: It's the bounce, the groove.
MA: Exactly.. C'est normal, we say in French. It's normal for them.
AAJ: I think that's the commonality between the names you mentioned, yourself and Jaco, that groove, that unteachable, indescribable pulse and propulsion.
MA: Jaco inspired so many. Through his style-he had the groove and the technique and musicality. Those guys, through their ears, copped Jaco as well as bringing their own thing to it. To hear music like this, Jaco, or to taking another example, for me, one was Gary Willis; I discovered another way to express myself with my instrument. I don't think of myself as a soloist, you know, I am more close to, or better at, the groove and the styles.
AAJ: Oh, but you're a great soloist too man.
MA: For example, I have played a long time now with Mario Canonge and this guy loves to play standards. This, of course, is when I solo more. I also play upright with him, a little bit now. After my period with Sixun, I was in New York, and I discovered so many great bass players, so I fell in love with the acoustic sound, too and I bought one to work on it. So, I can play over changes, but my work is more in the jazzy pop realm, even very modern, drum'n'bass types of things.
AAJ: That's the beauty and the strength you bring to it. You bring it all to the table- the groove, the cultural things, or the complex ethnic grooves, the standards playing, and the ultramodern stuff, all accessible and all right there- every time you play.
MA: Exactly, that's what I am trying to do. For example, this band I did, Sakiyo-we did three albums. We tried to have fusion with West Indian, and Zouk music elements, as well.
AAJ: This was later?
MA: Oh, yeah a little bit later, near the end of the 80's. Remember, the entire time I am doing many, many sessions, because all the African artists came to Paris to record. They did not have good studios there. We used a studio called "Studio Johanna". It was the most important studio. Every day, there were two or three sessions. In three days they would lay it down. The first day, the artist would come in, with, say, an acoustic guitar, and lay down, say, the 8 songs he has. Then, you'd have to find all the ideas, right away. He plays it once. Then you practice it as a band once and then, the third time you have to record! (Michel claps his hands like a baker finishing a cake and laughs). This French studio made a lot of money using just African artists.
AAJ: So Africa was for live gigs and Paris was for recording?
MA: Yes. You could say that. Then Zouk just blew up, which was inspired by all this African music, and the African bass lines that I tried to bring into it, so we had a period of just recording West Indian stuff. Before that, we used to play a lot of Haitian style music, called Kompas. Maybe you've heard of Tabou Combo or the Skah sha Band. It's funny, they always tried to cop the best jazz artists, and put a break in the groove to get a jazz solo in there. I was playing many sessions with those artists in the West Indies and Paris. You may not know about these bands.