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Michel Alibo: The Bassic Personification of World Fusion

By Published: October 16, 2003
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So, 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.

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 Nguyꮧs project, Maghreb, and then Karim did his solo record, Ifrikya , which was directly related. NguyꮠLꠤid 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.

AAJ: So will Bojan's thing be next for Act?

MA: I don't know. I know we will be playing together more and I know there will be a new Ifrikya album as well. I have also started to compose again for my own project. I started composing again for this band, Sakesho . It's a new band, but nobody knows Sak賨o -they know Andy Narell . For me personally, I want to prioritize the fusion of West Indian music. The Latin jazz element is a big part of Sak賨o, but when I compose for it I don't want to focus on the Latin jazz element- I focus on fusing it with a West Indian concept. I put some elements in there, including the rhythms, to make you think of West Indian music. We use a 3:4 beat, called "Mazurka," a kind of African waltz, a very traditional rhythm, or Beguine based rhythm. Mario has composed songs around the ceremonial music of Martinique. They used to dance on it with a kind of conductor who talked to the audience. There is parallel to this in New Orleans, with parade leaders. It's a traditional kind of a march, but in three. You know, [again, phonetically] Rakadeerakrak- a-rakrak. We use this but try to go different places with it. So I am taking my time and composing at my own pace, to make sure I get a different concept in there. It's been beautiful to be able to pick and choose what I do.

AAJ: What are some of the records you're you most proud of?

MA: Hopefully people can sample from the African period, like Salif, especially Soro, and Manu Dibango, especially Waka Juju. We also created some incredible bass lines in the music of the singer from Cameroon called Sam Fantomas. During the Sixun period, I'd say Bleu Citron, L'eau de La, Lunatic Taxi and Nomad's Land, when we really came into our own with ideas and energy. Some of the West Indian Zouk, although very commercial, had some great grooves and bass lines on it, but they are difficult to find. You know, I played with Kassav right at the beginning. These are considered groundbreaking records. Recently I had a great live experience in Germany, with the WDR big band, Vince Mendoza as conductor. The band had Peter Erskine on drums, Luis Conte on percussion, Dario Erskenazi on acoustic piano, Andy Narell on steelpans, Marcio Doctor on percussion and me on bass. This happened first June of '97 in Koln and then again in 2001, with West African emphasis, with Salif singing!

AAJ: Now that you mention Kassav again, I am making a connection. This is the most famous Zouk band. I heard them when I was on vacation in the Caribbean, in the early 90's. I had no idea that was you.

MA: It's not always me, but yeah, the bassist in that band was calling me to do some recording sessions. He was so great. He knew me as a jazz player and a good bassist. He actually had some great ideas that he wanted me to play! So he called me. Where are you going to find someone who would do that (Laughs)? Just different tracks on their first couple of cds.

AAJ: What compositions are you most proud of?

MA: "Raggalibo" . A bass raga inspired by Jamaican music-it's on Lunatic Taxi. There are so many actually. But whether it's a record like Maghreb where there are traditional songs, or Ifrikya, where I did none of the composing, there are still many great ideas!

AAJ:So what's coming up for you, project-wise?

MA:The next project may be crossing up West Indian with a Hip Hop concept! We're working a lot on it with my friend saxophonist Jacques Schwarzt-Bart. But that's a 'to be continued.'

AAJ:Finally, give us your attempt at self-classification, musically?

MA:It's always difficult to know exactly who you are, or exactly what you are...and sometimes, I've thought, "I wasn't born in the right place!" (Laughs)... with all these experiences I've had, like my time in Africa, all the musicians that I've met in Europe,etc., I could never have had all those opportunities living in the country of my birth, Martinique. The thing to hold on to is your own 'language' and try to be understood by the world.

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