Michel Alibo: The Bassic Personification of World Fusion
AAJ: A great session player, in a sense, is probably not supposed to even find his own style.
MA: Probably! When you play so many styles for so many years? I can play African music as an African bassist, Latin music as a Latin bassist, I can play jazz as a jazz player and I can play fusion as a fusion player.
AAJ: Believe me, you are bringing your own thing to everything you touch, man.
MA: That's a big part of it. Absorbing and then playing everything.
AAJ: Where'd you meet Mario?
MA: It was with a Latin artist from Cuba called Azuquita. I came there to sub for the bassist at a club in Paris called "La Chappelle des Lombards". This was the main Latin club in Paris. Mario's from Martinique too, but I know him from Paris. We met in '83. He had a great band called Ultramarine with Nguyê® Lê ¯n guitar, Etienne M'Bappe on bass and Mokthar Samba on drums. I did a gig with this band in 2001 at the Nice Jazz Festival. They were very similar to Sixun in that they had players from all over the world.
AAJ: All those French Colonies.
MA: That's why we met in France.
AAJ: Who are the people that inspired you in a jazz direction?
MA: Well, the thing was to find our own fusion. With Sixun, we found our own style very quickly. It was easy, again, with each guy bringing so much in. Just playing with Paco Sery helps create a style pretty quickly. The thing is, with fusion in Paris, we always stayed at the same level. There was only so far we could go. We never got the really big festivals, or really worldwide exposure.
AAJ: I can imagine you opened for artists that were not as good as you were on many an occasion.
MA: I don't know about that, but we opened for Miles in Nice and Wynton Marsalis as well. We opened for Wayne Shorter. I remember Terry Lyne Carrington was on drums then, and she told me that, "We should play together one of these days!" It recently came to pass, with the recording of Nguyê® Lê §s Celebrating Jimi Hendrix. So we had some great gigs, that's for sure.
AAJ: Sixun was probably the leading European fusion band.
MA: Yes, Ultramarine too. But they were definitely number two (Laughs). Ultramarine did not have a solid management so they quit after two cds.
AAJ: How many records did Sixun sell?
MA: About 20,000 of each record.
AAJ: That's a lot more than many fusion artists are selling today.
MA: We won many awards, including Victoires de la Musique, but even after that we stayed at the same sales levels. This was why we decided to try to do a record in New York, to come to the US.
AAJ: So how did you end up in New York, for Lunatic Taxi ?
MA: We spent 7 months in New York. We had government help, a grant from the French government. A French journalist, named Pieremarti, helped us out. He found us a place in Brooklyn. We had a $60,000 grant for the 6 month period, and many contacts from Polygram. We invited the great saxophonist Michael Brecker to play on it. We played at SOB's and some Universities and at Central Park around the 4th of July. I remember Stanley Jordan and Mino Cinelu helped us find some gigs and industry contacts. We played at another club called the Blue Lounge.
AAJ: But you never played any US festivals or a tour?
MA: No. We played at the Montreal Jazz Festival many times, however. That's what we did when we came to stay in New York. We played Montreal first and then stayed on.
AAJ: So what about the post-Sixun period?
MA: After Sixun I felt I should start to calm down a bit. So since I was sixteen I was going and Sixun was until '98, so in '99 I started to calm down. I had a solo album, 9 albums with Sixun, and 3 albums with Sakiyo - after that I decided it was time to refresh myself, to find some new ideas. So I stayed quiet for a while.
AAJ: Meanwhile you are working your butt off, I'm sure, but by your standard it's quiet.
MA: (Laughs). Yeah, but in a way, I needed some inspiration. I mean, Warner wanted Sixun to do the last album. But did we want to do a new album just for the sake of having a new release? Or do we want to find something new-new music with new ideas? We weren't ready to do that, in my opinion. I said to the guys, "OK, for me, we're not ready to do a new album right now. Let's wait." But production and circumstances demanded a new cd. But I wasn't so happy so I didn't compose for this new album. So that began my moving on and deciding to learn more about North African music, Japanese music, more traditional and ethnic music and things like that. So I started to work with Nguyê® Lê¼¯A> . I started to work with African artists, like Karin Ziad, the great Algerian drummer Cheb Mami for example. I played two years with him.
With Nguyê®ŠLê¼¯A> it was the first project, with Bojan and Karim Ziad . It was the first Maghreb & Friends. This concept was more using traditional African music, Moroccan music, and Gnawan music. Maghreb is the name of the North African continent. Alors! Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Karim is from Algeria, Berber. Gnawa is the music from the slaves. They do rituals and ceremonials with the music.