Blick Bassy surveyed the tray laden with shorteats and helped himself to some bajiya, gulha and masroshi, at the teashop in the carnival area. Around him fellow musicians John Grandcamp percussionist, Geimbakouyate who plays ngoni and the guitar and Johanbarby the bass guitarist, munched away, happily chatting with the Maldivian musicians who had turned up to their workshop an hour earlier.
“I don’t think it’s too hot, we are used to eating spicy,” says Bassy, referring to his Cameroonian roots when told the food might be too hot for him.
The singer, often hailed as the new soul voice of Cameroon, is in town to perform a music show on Friday night at the request of Alliance Française of Male, before heading off to Sri Lanka to perform there.
He had not known much about Maldives before coming here. “I just knew that Maldives was reputed to be the most beautiful place in the world.”
Bassy started his first band at the age of 17; the band played a fusion of African melodies, jazz and bossa nova. In 1996 he formed a new band called Macase, which had a successful run, releasing two albums in 10 years and winning a host of regional and international awards.
“I wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do,” says Bassy explaining his reasons for leaving the group after 10 years. “In groups you need consensus to do things, going solo is like taking another step, revealing who I am really.”
His first solo album Léman, was released in February 2009 under a Dutch label. The album has been well received in Europe. Bassy is the songwriter, singer, guitarist and percussionist of the album and it connects the music of Central and West Africa with bossa nova, jazz and soul.
“My second album in production now has contemporary African music. It’s a modern vision of Africa through my eyes.”
He explains how with the availability of internet young Africans listen to the same music as young American or English people.
“It’s traditional music colored by other types of music I hear, Brazilian jazz, old soul.”
Tradition is very important to Bassy who sings in his native language Bassa. Despite having lived in France for the last 5 years he says he envisages continuing singing in Bassa.
“Lots of reasons for this, foremost is that there are 250 tribes and languages in Cameroon, but our national language is English and French. If I talk to someone from another tribe we talk in French now to understand each other.”
He says Cameroonian native languages are in the danger of disappearing. “If you lose your language, you lose your culture, tradition and identity.”
Each language colours the music differently. “If you sing to the same tune, a song in two different languages it will sound different because each language’s intonations are different.”
His interest in the native sounds and music of a country is evident. He questions if there is a singular way of singing or music that is Maldivian, and says he has been told of Zero Degree Atoll and is looking forward to listening to it.
When a musician points out that Calbace the Cameroonian drum and boduberu (maldivian drum) have somewhat similar sounds he agrees.
“In Nigeria a drum like boduberu is played and the rhythm is similar to Maldivians.” The band also uses ngoni a guitar like instrument found in Mali and North Cameroon.
Playing traditional instruments is not difficult, he says:“It’s like any other instrument, if you practice its easy.”
Bassy can almost be called a revivalist; he has brought language and traditional elements along with him on his journey, and found a place for them in his music and the modern world.
“You have to be proud of where you come from; it’s a beautiful thing to have. The difference among people is what’s enriching, meeting Maldivians have been so interesting because people of the difference.”
He rues the fact that some youth try to copy the westerners. “You have to think of what you bring to a place, and what your identity is.”
Bassy’s music is a reflection of his philosophy on life itself. A mix of tradition and modern, shaped by his childhood spend in Cameroon and his travels around the globe as an adult.
Asked what kind of music he will be playing tomorrow night, Bassy’s answer is “beautiful music.”
Blick Bassy will perform at Artificial Beach on Friday October 15 from 9:00pm to 11:00pm.