Planted high atop a siege of multi-talented and multi-genre bassists is Etienne Mbappé, who showcases an amazing array of voices on his instrument, and a colorful palate of ideas within his compositional skills as well. Lyrical lines, breathtaking rhythmic virtuosity, and masterful grooving seem to come natural to this native-born African who now resides in France.
Forgive the cliché, but this is one seriously “musical” player. He can lay way back on an enchanting rhythm from his homeland and totally draw you in, and follow that by scatting, à la Richard Bona style, a nothing less than brilliant solo that easily goes beyond the pure “technique” this bassist employs (which by the way rests at a very high level). He’s a player’s player in every sense of the word, and represents another of so many greats that have showed us that this instrument is truly still in its’ infant stages.
Having already done such stellar gigs as the Zawinal Syndicate, and Steps Ahead, two bands that have graced some of the finest bassists’ of our day, lets us know that this man’s voice has been heard, and appreciated, and after talking with him I get every indication that there’s still much more to come. [Jake] You’re originally from Cameroon Africa, which I understand during that period as a player you were basically self-taught. What type of musical studies did you pursue after your move to France?
[Jake] I also understand that your meeting with Carlos Santana along time ago had a huge impact on you as well. Could you tell me about that meeting? [Etienne] I was 13 years old when I played my first concert. I was playing guitar in a school gymnasium in Douala Cameroon packed with students, and we opened the show with “SAMBA PA TI,” the great instrumental theme by Carlos Santana. Funny thing was I played it without ever listening to the record. Some older “brothers” in the school just sang me this theme and taught the band how to play it in the “African oral transmission” way. Some days after this show, everyone was calling me Santana in the schoolyard… so can you imagine by the 90’s, doing a U.S. tour with Malian great singer SALIF KEITA, and sharing the stage for some shows with the great, and the real CARLOS SANTANA as a “special guest” was amazing. I still have some pictures of that period. I was just like a kid standing by my hero. I’ve cried tears of happiness many times thinking about that. [Jake] As far as improvisation goes, you have a very strong and identifiable voice on your instrument. What in your opinion are the key elements that helped you develop that voice? [Etienne] I am a very instinctive bass player; I ‘m searching all the time. I hate to be locked into “clichés”… So when it comes to improvisation, I just let myself go like an explorer, with my ears, my heart, and my soul as a guide, so I can see colors, and feel some vibes. The rhythm is always there, and becomes a strong element that also helps to keep me exploring. Of course I’ve got my “licks”, like everyone else, but I am definitely not the kind of player who knows every scale that goes on every chord. But I do admire the players that know this inside and out.
[Jake] Could you tell me who is involved with your band SuLaTake, and what your plans are for the band? [Etienne] “SU LA TAKE” (pronounced Také like o.k.) means “the end of suffering”…
My band is a 5 piece band, with some young and very talented French musicians like: Cate PETIT on backing vocals, Cedric BAUD on guitar, Clément JANINET on violin, John GRANDCAMP on drums, and myself on bass and lead vocals. I occasionally use a sax player, and presently I’m thinking about an accordion player. I want to try the contrast I think this instrument will create when played within the context of some African grooves…
There’s a new CD called “SU LA TAKE” by the band coming out the middle of April (14th in France) and, there’s a tour planned that you can check on as well at www.etiennembappe.com. We would love to have the opportunity to bring this music to the U.S.A.
[Jake] You’ve mentioned that some of your earlier influences were Jaco, Marcus Miller, Gary Willis, and Victor Wooten. What, or whom have you been listening to recently that has continued to inspire you as well? [Etienne] Actually, my earlier influences were Cameroonian bass players such as JEAN DIKOTO MANDENGUE, VIC EDIMO, ALADJI TOURE, MANFRED LONG, RIDO BAYONNE and BOB EDJANGUE (I guess you don’t know any of them)… but they are the root of all the great bass players from Cameroon… they made this style of bass playing a tradition. Of course I love all of those you mentioned in your question. There are also a lot of very young and talented musicians from all over the world. All of them are an inspiration to me, and they’re teaching me every day without knowing it—and that’s the magic of life… that’s the way I like it. Remember… “African Oral transmission”
You can learn more about Etienne by going to, Behind the Notes with Joe Darcy