Interview with Bassist Gros Ngolle Pokossi
Gros Ngolle Pokossi – Session & Touring Bassist…
There are places that produce a bumper crop of some of the world’s most notable musicians. In the bass world, places like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Virginia, etc. are virtually known as bass player factories. For example, Willie Dixon, Verdine White, Ethan Farmer, Chuck Webb, Bill Dickens, etc., all hail from Chicago. Nate Watts, Ralphe Armstrong, Al Turner, James Jamerson, etc., are from Detroit. Stanley Clarke, Anthony Jackson, Gerald Veasley, Christian McBride, Victor Bailey, etc., developed in Philadelphia. Victor Wooten, James Genus, etc. are from the Virginia area. To these places, we should also add the African country of Cameroon.
Cameroon has given us bass greats like Etienne Mbappe, Armand Sabal-Lecco, Richard Bona, and many more. To this illustrious list, you can now add bassist Gros Ngolle Pokossi. Unlike his compatriots, Gros (pronounced as “Grow”) has not chosen to settle in New York or Paris. Instead, he is a resident of Hamburg, Germany, but has a U.S. work visa and is often in Chicago for projects.
Bass Musician Magazine (BMM): Gros, thank you for taking the time to talk to me and tell our readers about yourself. I have to admit, I feel privileged to interview you in this incredible setting. We are in the heart of downtown Chicago, and the view from the 19th floor is nothing short of spectacular!
Gros Ngolle Pokossi (Gros): You are welcome. Thank you for taking the time to come and interview me.
BMM: Can you please give us your background? For example, where were you born? Who were your early musical influences?
Gros: I was born and raised in Cameroon. My early idols were Victor “Vicky” Edimo, Jean Dikoto Madengue, etc. They were Pop music producers who were looking to put in basslines that they could make louder in the mix. I believe this is where the Cameroonian bass playing is coming from.
BMM: When you were coming up, were you influenced by any local bass players, or did you listen to foreign bassists?
Gros: Both. I was influenced by Vicky Edimo, who is now a friend of mine. Vicky used to play with Maceo Parker. He also attended Berklee College of Music, and Vicky was one of the first virtuoso bassist I was ever exposed to. So, I can say that I was directly influenced by him. Of course, I was also influence by Aladji Touré-Atebass, who mostly played and produced a lot of Cameroonian Pop music. Other guys who influenced me included Roger Sabbal-Lecco (brother of bassist Armand Sabba-Lecco), Moustique Ambassa, and many more.
BMM: So, you eventually left Cameroon, but you didn’t do the most obvious thing, which would have been to move to Paris. Instead you moved to Germany. How did that come about?
Gros: I actually went to France where I wanted to stay, but I only had a three month visa. That’s why I was obliged to move from France to Germany. At the time, Cameroonian people didn’t need a visa to go to Germany.
BMM: You spent a great deal of time in Germany playing with a lot of artists. Who are some of the musicians that you played with while you were living in Germany?
Gros: I worked for two years with Trilok Gurtu. This was from 2005-2007. I also worked with Ronald Shannon Jackson and The Decoding Society. This band had Jeff Lee Johnson on guitar, Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, James Carter on Saxophones. and me on bass. When we toured, and it was a big adventure because we toured without any songs. We were writing songs on the tour. We played everyday a lot of full places, not knowing what we were going to play. It was a big challenge and definitely a major learning experience! At the end of the tour we cut a CD called “What Spirit Say”.
BMM: Wow, what an illustrious group of musicians! Trilok Gurtu’s music is incredibly complex, filled with odd time signatures. Although Jeff Lee Johnson is no longer with us, he is still revered as a monumental talent on guitar. James Carter is a brilliant musician, as are you and Ronald Shannon Jackson. You were definitely working with top flight musicians!
I know you spent a lot of time touring out of Germany. What brought you to the United States the first time you came?
Gros: I worked with an artist named Nneka from Nigeria. I was directing the band for many years, and she’s a good friend of mine. She had a CD out in the U.S., so she decided to do a U.S. tour. We played on The Late Show With David Letterman, as well as most of the major U.S. festivals.
BMM: How did your musical knowledge develop? In other words, over and above the incredible techniques you’ve developed, what did you do to develop your music theory knowledge?
Gros: I’ve always been a curious musician. I’ve always wanted to improve and get better. However, I’ve never been one to show off. I learned this from my family. I also learned to be humble, however, over time, I realized that you can’t get much work if you are too humble. You have to be able to say “I can do this and I can do that” without showing off. I’m always looking and learning from anyone who can teach me. In 1997 I decided to go to school because I felt that I’d reaching my limits. I was fortunate to go to the Los Angeles College of Music where I went through a lot of theory. Of course, I’d learned much of it before, but this was more to clean up my knowledge.
BMM: You are often in Chicago now. Hopefully all of the International musicians who know you know where you are, so that they can reach you and interview will serve to introduce you to the American family of musicians.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see you play. I’ve also seen some of your fellow Cameroonian countrymen like Richard Bona, Etienne Mbappe, Armand Sabal-Lecco play. Once common thread I see is that all of you share an incredible technical prowess on the electric bass. However, you all approach the instrument differently from each other. Can you tell us how can so many bass players, who come from the same place, develop so much technical ability?
Gros: We didn’t have a school back home. This led to everyone teaching themselves. At times others would help you, but this could mean learning some bad habits. I was extremely encouraged when I saw a friend of mine like Richard Bona from back home making it & being recognized worldwide. That was different that seeing someone like Marcus Miller or Victor Wooten making it in the U.S. You could say to yourself “they are American, that’s why they are making it in America”. But when you see someone you know, a friend succeeding, you say to yourself, I can do it too! I’m not saying I have to be popular, I’m saying that if I work hard, then I can be successful too. Everybody has his own voice. Even guys from the same city have their own unique voices. We have a direction of Cameroonian playing, but there’s not one style of Cameroonian playing.
BMM: One of the things that I find amazing about you, and the other Cameroonian bass players whose playing I’ve heard, is that you all seem to be very familiar with American music. You play it as if it’s second nature to you.
Gros: It’s due to the generation I mentioned before. Guys like Vicky Edimo, who studied in Berklee. He put in all of his American studies in our Pop music. Listening to him, we were in school. We were trying to play all of his difficult lines. I know that Vicky Edimo listened to a lot of James Jamerson. Also, at that time, as we were going through that, we also listened to and played American music. Of course, everyone was familiar with Jaco Pastorious and his music. We had the advantage of hearing American music all the time, but American musicians don’t have the benefit of hearing our music as part of their listening. That is the difference.
BMM: You definitely have a different feeling and sensitivity that you guys seem to be able to bring to your lines. This totally makes sense!
Although we are conducting this interview in Chicago, I know that you are a world travelling bassist. Are you still working in Germany?
Gros: Yes, I still work a lot in Europe, but I hope to eventually be settled in one place so I don’t have to travel all the time.
BMM: I know that travelling from country to country can be grueling. From the sounds of it, you adjusted very well over the years and even found a way to be successful!
Now let’s talk about your gear. Can you tell us what amp and speaker cabinets you use? What instruments do you use? Do you have any endorsements you’d like to talk about?
Gros: I am fortunate to use and endorse some truly high quality music equipment. For my amplification, I use TecAmp bass amplifiers and speaker cabinets. I am also have a Yamaha bass endorsement. The strings I use are DR Strings and my gig bags are made by Harvest Fine Leather. My amplifier is powered by Essential Sound Products power cords. For in-ear monitors, I use Rhines in-ear monitors and my bass ukulele is made by Kala.
BMM: Gros, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and our readers about your background and career. I wish you all the best in your musical journey!
Gros Ngolle Pokossi is available for sessions (bass tracks at your studio or his), performances and tours. He can be reached at the following web portals: