The various styles of African music have had a worldwide influence on modern jazz, rock, and Latin music. The rhythms are often hypnotic, with bass lines repeated for extended periods. Although the names of the bass players are largely unknown to those outside the continent (click on www.sabassplayers.com, home of The South African Bass Players Collective, for information about South African bassists collected by fellow Bass Musician Magazine staff writer Martin Simpson), a small group of African bassists, after moving to France and the U.S., have made names for themselves playing with jazz luminaries like Stanley Clarke and Joe Zawinul and pop star Paul Simon. In this issue, we focus on these African-born bassists who have brought the music of Africa to the world.
Joe Zawinul introduced some extraordinary African bassists before passing away in 2007 at the age of 75. After featuring Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorious, and Victor Bailey in Weather Report, he began to use African bassists in his group, the Zawinul Syndicate, including Richard Bona, Etienne M’Bappé, Linley Marthe, and Alune. Richard Bona, from Cameroon, was featured in my October/November 2007 column. Here he is displaying his considerable chops as well as singing ability at the Stockholm Jazz Festival.
Etienne M’Bappé, who also grew up in Cameroon and now lives in Paris, joined the Zawinul Syndicate in 2002. In the video he plays in silk gloves, which he originally wore for sweaty hands – and which have become his signature look. Here he plays with Steps Ahead in 2007.
In 2005, bassist Linley Marthe replaced M’Bappé in the Zawinul Syndicate. Sometimes referred to as the “Bass Player of the Twenty-First Century,” Marthe is from the East African island of Mauritius and is now an active session player in Paris. In this video, he is seen performing an effects-drenched solo with the Zawinul Syndicate.
Armand Sabal-Lecco is also originally from Cameroon and now a resident in Paris. He has appeared on records and on tour with Paul Simon and bassists Stanley Clarke and John Patitucci, among many others. (He even plays bass on a Ringo Starr Christmas album!) Here he shares the stage with Stanley Clarke in 2004.
Finally, perhaps the African bassist with the earliest and biggest impact on the rest of the world is Bakithi Kumalo. A native of South Africa, he played on Paul Simon’s Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints albums, and has since recorded some excellent solo albums on which he sings and plays fretless. In this video, the bassist is shown with his trio.