Born in 1974, singer, songwriter, guitarist and percussionist Blick Bassy grew up with 20 siblings in Cameroon’s capital Yaunde, a city where people from all parts of the country come together, and the first languages are French and English. Bassy says: “People in Yaunde lose their traditions and culture rapidly because they don’t speak in their mother tongues with each other or their children. My family is part of the Bassa ethnic group, a nomad tribe that originally comes from Egypt and has descendants down in South Africa. But nowadays people stay in one place because they need visas to cross borders. The word ‘bassa’ means ‘people from the earth’.”
Aged 10, Bassy was sent to live with his grandparents for two years in Mintaba, a small village situated in the center of Cameroon. His grandparents initiated Bassy into traditional customs and culture, training him in a variety of tasks, such as hunting, fishing and agriculture. He was also educated in their musical traditions.
In Mintaba, daily life is accompanied by music and it was there that Blick discovered the Bolobo (chant for fishing), the Dingoma (chant and percussion for the inauguration of Mbombock chiefs), the Bekele (chant and percussion for weddings), the Hongo (chant for funerals) and the Assiko (guitar percussion, chant and dance). “In Mintaba, people don’t talk much but they sing a lot during their daily tasks. It’s in the singing that they express their emotions and show their souls. My mother used to sing from morning till night. She’s the one who fired my musical aspirations and taught me how to sing. Back at my parents’ home, I started listening to Marvin Gaye, Gilberto Gil and Nat King Cole. I realized I wanted to blend the beauty of my Bassa culture and its musical traditions with other music that inspired me and create my own soulful sound.”
Blick Bassy started his first band, Jazz Crew, when he was 17. Playing a fusion of African melodies, jazz and bossa nova, Jazz Crew quickly became the most sought-after group in the city. In 1996, he formed a new band called Macase. During almost 10 fruitful years Macase released two acclaimed albums, Etam (1999) and Doulou (2003), as well as picking up various regional and international awards, including the RFI Prize for World Music (2001), Best Group by MASA (2001), Best New African Group by the KORA Awards (2003) and the CICIBA Prize (2003).
Then in 2005, Bassy decided to leave Macase and he moved to Paris where he started working with Manu Dibango, Cheikh Tidiane Seck, Lokua Kanza and Etienne Mbappé. A few years later he signed to the World Connection label and he finally got to do work on his solo album, Léman.
About the album he says: “I’ve been creating and carrying some of these songs around in my head for the past five years. Every detail is a part of me. It feels great to have been able to record them now and share them on stage. The song ‘Bolo’, for instance, is about having to leave your country and missing it. Lots of Africans have to move away from their hometowns to make a living. I’m the perfect example. But I also enjoy my travels to other places because I’m always looking for musical encounters. One of my trips took me to Mali and other West African countries. The Malian griot music is very present in the instrumentation (kora, ngoni), harmonies and melodies of this album.”
Léman was recorded in Salif Keita’s studio in Bamako, Mali, and in Bassy’s current hometown of Paris, and co-produced by Jean Lamoot (known for his work with Souad Massi, Salif Keita, Nneka and Kasse Mady Diabaté) and Jean-Louis Solans.
Blick continues, “Musically it’s interesting to use Bassa. Its specific intonation determines the melody. When I sing in Bassa, I make use of the proverbs in which the Bassa express themselves. They often have a literal sense but also a deeper meaning which you will only understand when you are initiated. For example, in the song ‘Masse’ I talk about ‘the owl that scratched my forehead’ which means as much as you’ve been struck by misfortune. But it won’t get me down because I feel I’m well protected by my forefathers!”
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.