Senegalese-French band Guiss Guiss Bou Bess is set to perform a showcase today at the World Music Expo WOMEX today. The concert will take place at Twin Stage A, Plaza de la Música in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
Mara Seck and Stephane Costantini talked about this project with World Music Central.
Tell us about your background in music.
Mara Seck: I began music since I was a child, since I was raised in a big family of Senegalese griots, the Sing Sing Family. When I was 16 I played a lot with Garmi Fall, a band mixing jazz funk with Senegalese music (mbalax). With this band we toured during 4 years (from 2006 to 2010) in Senegal and in Europe. After that I focused on my solo act and working with other artists in Senegal, until I met Stephane and decided to work together.
Stephane Costantini: I also learned music quite early in music school in South East France, first guitar then drums and percussion. As a teenager I played in a reggae dub music band, which last for ten years. I also began to produce beats and instrumentals for rappers and local sound systems. This is where my love for Afro and Caribbean music started to grow, as well as more electronic beats and bass music. When I moved to Paris, I played percussions a lot in different bands (jazz, funk, rock, Latin American, music, French chanson, etc), and I started a band playing live electronic hip hop. Then I moved to Dakar…
How did the two of you connect?
Stéphane: We met in Dakar, during a concert in an art place and venue called Les Petites Pierres. This place was a good place to listen to good and unconventional live music and to play jams no matter the genres you’re into. The place is now closed for repair works but it gathered a lot of people from the music scene in Dakar. So our encounter was quite informal and natural. Mara was interested in electronic music and I wanted to get more into the essence of Senegalese mbalax music, which is sabar music. At the time Mara just had his first solo EP out and wanted to do remixes of some of his songs. But then we started to rework the songs together and the musical outcome went to a much different dimension…
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Mara: It’s a mix between traditional and modern music. We’re trying to make use of African instruments like Tama, Sabar and Djembe, but in a rather unconventional way, since the electronic music is thought to integrate the original rhythms, melodies and voicing, and not the other way around. The essential goal is also to value and make the people discover the tradition of Senegalese Sabar percussion and dances, which is far less known as other genres like the Manding percussion in West Africa. We named this encounter ‘electro-sabar’, since there wasn’t a musical genre to coin what we are doing. But what we can say about it is that it is very rhythm led, and bass music influenced African music.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
Mara: I listen to a lot of things, from coupé décalé to Senegalese mbalax and electronic music. If I had to cite a few, I’ll say Michael Jackson, Alpha Blondy for African reggae, and speaking of Senegalese music, our own (and unavoidable!) Youssou Ndour, but also Baaba Mall and Cheick Lô.
Stéphane: as a real ‘musicoholic’ I must confess it’s a really hard question! I use to listen to a lot of reggae, dub and hip hop, and a lot of African music too. to say it broad and quickly, black music is essential to my ears and soul. Electronic music wise, Amon Tobin and guys like Dj Vadim or Dj Shadow got me really into making beats. And I also owe a lot to the UK bass music scene since its beginning, being it UK dub, drum and bass or UK garage to dubstep and more darker techno. Artists like Swindle, Joker, TC or Machinedrum are coming to my mind right now, but there a bunch more to be cited!
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
Mara, Stéphane: It’s a bit early to answer this question since our first EP is not out yet! It will reach the stores and digital platforms this autumn and gathers the music we were working first hand we met in late ’16 / early ’17.
Right now we are working on a full length record, trying to push further this quite unique collaboration. And creating new bridges between sabar and electronic music.
Can you share some information about the program you’ll present at the WOMEX 2018 in Gran Canaria?
We’re really thrilled to play at WOMEX this year! We’ll try to present an overview of the project as it is since our first European tour this summer. And a new live VJ set will be prepared for the occasion, with Benjamin Richard-Foy, who is also doing visuals for our mate and great artist IBAAKU (go check him out if you haven’t already done so!). So we want it to be an immersive audio-visual experience as well as a participatory live show (don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes to Gran Canaria!).
What musicians will you take to Gran Canaria?
We’ll be 3 musicians, with Senegalese fellow drummer Aba Diop coming with us. And Ben, our VJ like we said earlier 😉
How’s the current world music scene in Senegal?
Mara: Nowadays in Dakar, It’s a lot about hiphop music, with young and talented Senegalese rappers taking over and some events filling the big stadiums. That said, the Mbalax music is not dead, but the scene is kind of saturated, and only a handful of singers can handle making a living from it. And on the side, there’s a lot of acoustic and traditional musicians who are still finding their way, but with a less wider public.
To sum up, the music scene is full of young talents but it severely lacks economic and logistic support to make the things working fully.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
Mara : For our work we already collaborated with a lot of great musicians, mainly Senegalese singers and instrumentalists, and I hope we will keep it that way! That said, why not collaborating with a great American performer like Beyonce or Jay Z, mixing Sabar with their music. If I’m allowed to dream, that could create a really different universe…
Stéphane: for my part, I’d love to do some collabs with Kenyan producers from the East African Wave collective, as their are producing a lot of great music mixing African and urban sounds, I really dig it. More European oriented, the Mancunian guys from Swing Ting are making really groovy productions and dope collabs with Jamaican singers, and their style is quite unique. Maybe for a next remix?
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?
Not that we have already talked about! New music coming out, and insh’allah a lot of touring 🙂
headline photo: Guiss Guiss Bou Bess – Photo by JB Joire