Fairly unknown to big audiences, but at the same time one of the most talented African bass players, Etienne Mbappé has, since moving to Paris from his home country Cameroon in the '70s, played with musicians such as Joe Zawinul, Manu Dibango, Salif Keita, and his own fusion bands Chic and Ultramarine.
Misiya, his first solo album, definitely belongs in the same genre as Richard Bona's, soft well-arranged modern African music, where the vocals, using the soft Douala language, have a prominent role. (English and French translations are provided in the CD booklet.) If you didn't know that Mbappé's career was in full bloom while Bona was still home in Cameroon, you might want to call this genre Bona music. Afro fusion is another appropriate word for this jazzy, well-arranged, but still "ethnic style.
During the years that these two bass players both lived in Paris, they used to jam together in the local clubsone could assume that the room was full of amazed listeners when these two enormously talented bass players got started! Sometimes they were joined by Guy Nsangue, a third bass wizard fromguess whereCameroon... a country whose rich musical tradition is still very much alive, inspiring musicians like Manu Dibango and Les Têtes Brulées to bring it to the rest of the world with great success, which in turn must have served as inspiring examples for their countrymen. And womenfor example, Sally Nyolo.
Misiya is amazingly rich when it comes to variation and interesting detail, at the same time as the fourteen tracks form an almost symphonic entity, displaying Mbappé as a real master of both arrangement and orchestration.
A number of years with Orchestre National de Jazz in France have left their mark. Almost half of the tracks feature a string quintet arranged by Mbappé. The vocal arrangements are also exquisite, and the whole album is saturated with warmth, depth, and a rich timbre, using nearly only acoustic sounds. And the bass playing itself is in a class of its own: soft, elastic, with an obvious virtuosity that doesn't need any showing off to be noticed. A fantastic record that keeps giving you more each time you listen to it!