Michel Alibo: The Bassic Personification of World Fusion
AAJ: I think the catch phrase I hear is "Gnawan Trance."
MA: Yeah, that's part of the ritual. The music of North Africa is very complex. I thought because of all my previous experience with African music with many singers, and all the "new lessons" about music and rhythm I had with every different artist I worked with, I thought I would know it somehow. But when I discovered North African music I said, "Wow! What's this?" Because they don't play the time as most of the black Africans we know play it. You find very many connections to Brazilian music, Asiatic music. It was very surprising to hear traditional music from north Algeria and they play pentatonic things that are exactly like Asiatic music. At the same time they have some grooves that are exactly like Brazilian music. There 's a big collection.
AAJ: What did you mean the time is different than other African music?
MA: The first thing Karim Ziad explained is that, "We don't play the first beat. We don't play the one." So the one is what? The one is a hole and two is a hole too (Laughs). [Michel then explains by singing the difference between an African 6:8 and a North African 6:8 that cannot be syllable-ized. Here is an attempt at it, displaying the top line as phonetic drum beat, the bottom line as your toe tapping 6 times.]
Tak - tak um takit, ta-ka-tat 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6So, I have to learn to forget about one and play with the bass drums, and find the right bass lines within that. And this is a big discovery for me. We took, like months, to become comfortable with that, to make arrangements over it and to play some kind of fusion over it. Nguyê® is great for that, a great arranger. Actually, he is a great composer too. So, for this period I stayed quiet for a while and kept my ears open to understand what's happening with it. This is how the "Maghreb and Friends" concept came about.
tak-tum,tak-a-tum 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
AAJ: Yeah, the time signature is the tip of the iceberg. The intricacies of playing, say, the 6:8 example you showed above seem tres challenging.
MA: Yes, discovering that leads to other things. You'll find it in the scales too. Algerian scales are similar to Indian and Arabic scales. They also use quartertones and pentatonics depending on where you are in the country. Berber uses pentatonics in their folk music for example. The western part of the country uses quartertones in the melody. There are connections to Malian music too. I mean in this part of the world, the populations blur together. There are black families and Arabic families that are cousins and do not know it because there is a front line, a borderline, between them. The line is created after the relationships.
AAJ: So these concepts are at the center of the latest thing you are exploring?
MA: Yes. First, you'd have to listen to Karim Ziad's first solo album, Ifrikya. Even if you listen to the latest Nguyê® Lê ¼/A> , thing, Purple, Celebrating Jimi Hendrix , there is an introduction to Purple Haze, when we use the Gnawan music as an introduction, using the Gumbri , which is an ancestral bass, with three strings. It has a goatskin body. Karim plays it. The technique is very much like a slap technique. This instrument is a bass, but I have to find a way to play electric bass with it at the same time.
AAJ: Have you ever tried to do any microtonal playing on fretless bass?
MA: Not really, because it is never my role in the music, because if the melody is already in quartertones, there 's not a reason to be playing bass lines in quartertones as well. I don't really want to be playing quartertone melodies on the bass, at this point, anyway.First, it's very difficult to do, and second, there are no bass players doing that in ethnic music anyway. There are no African bass players using quartertones, just the lead melodic instruments.
AAJ: So, more on the connection between musical cultures.
MA: Bojan Zulfikarpasic is a good example. If you have the chance, listen to his solo album. Because of his Bosnian heritage, in a certain way, there is a connection to Arabic music. Yugoslavian music, it's a very strange mix, but when we are playing, sometimes at the keyboard, he is playing majors and minor scales at the same time and you can hear quarter tones in his music, in Balkan musics. They play minor music and sing in major scales, which is very strange to hear, from our ears, and he plays jazz with that, which is great. And this is the next thing I want to focus on. We work in terms of projects. So first, it was Nguyê®§s project, Maghreb, and then Karim did his solo record, Ifrikya , which was directly related. Nguyê® Lê ¤id his Vietnam project, and then he met with this female singer called Huong Thanh , with Etienne M'Bappe and Richard Bona singing and playing bass. Now it's time for a new project. We have all played together with a Gnawan troupe - Bojan, Karim and Julian Lereau, a French saxophonist. We haven't started a recording, but we have played a lot on stage. We will play the Essaouira Festival in July. This is the festival that Hendrix played at years ago. He came and did not leave. He stayed for three months.