Ahead of Blick Bassy’s performance at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Janaya Pickett talks to the French-Cameroonian artist about applying language to music, his love of Skip James, and assuming individuality.
Blick Bassy has been making waves on the World Music scene since his 2009 debut Léman.
The France based African folk singer produces a sound that is at once modern and nostalgic; an evolution of the past, if you will. There’s an art to this. Being heavily influenced by the past as not to directly copy it or present nostalgia too sickly sweet. Bassy’s songs feel timeless but still inventive.
Bassy was born Cameroon, West Africa. It is in the language of the Bassa people, one in over 250 languages spoken in Cameroon, that Bassy sings in. A sense of place is essential to Bassy’s work, not a geographical place as such but more spiritual space. Bassy is a nomad who sees himself as a citizen of the earth and a product of time with African roots, a philosophy that many millions can resonate with. The meaning of his music transcends language and has that journeying feel.
Bassy released his latest album Akö in 2015 and brings his much hyped live show to the Philharmonic on Saturday. Ahead of this we wanted to introduce this fascinating artist via the magic of the internet.
On his merry nomadic way therefore Bassy took time out to answer a few Planet Slop questions and proved to be a wise, engaging and positive force, despite the medium.
Planet Slop: In your work there is much comment on the idea of place and how that influences identity. This is something that is also important to a city like Liverpool that began as a melting pot of immigration. Do you think of the connections that UK and US cities have had to Africa in the past when you visit them?
Blick Bassy: I’m coming from a country where some regions still have English colours through colonial houses. But when you are visiting my country nowadays, you can still feel French connections and influences in the French part and English connections in Cameroonian English part. So you can understand both the English and French philosophies, which are really different from each other. Every time that I come to UK, I can see some similarity between how people feel free to just be who they are, to wear the way they want. This could be different in France where I’m living, but also in Francophone areas in Cameroon. We were inspired by some English and American bands and artists, at a certain moment it was fashionable to wear like some guys in Brooklyn. I am currently producing rappers in Cameroon and it was a long fight to make some of my artists understand that we are child of our environment.
PS: The sounds on Akö especially are very eclectic and timeless in a sense. Your music is an extension of your life and the sounds produced seem so natural. Is your musical journey as natural a process as it comes across?
BB: Yes, my music is simply what and who I am today. Living in the actual global world system could be an issue for those who have started a journey to find out who they are. Assuming our singularity is still complicated as our society tries to make us the same and one human, with the same feelings, the same tastes, the same spirit, the same way to speak, to wear, to be sad, to be happy. I started my journey a few years ago, just to find myself, to make music in connection with who I think I am today, linked with where and what I have been living these last years, on top of my African DNA.
PS: Cameroon is part of your identity although you are now based in France. Can you tell us Scouse readers something that we may not know about Cameroon?
BB: Cameroon is called Africa in miniature because you could find all of the features there that you have in the whole continent, almost like the whole continent in one country. It is also a huge music country. In north Cameroon for example, we have the same pentatonic music as in Mali, Senegal, the south, the Bantou’s influences.
PS: We’ve read that Bassa is only one of over 200 languages spoken in the Cameroon. How does that work logistically? Do you think having so many languages helps or hinders integration? And what do you think this adds to your music?
BB: Yes we have more than 270 languages in Cameroon. There are a few big groups and languages. All those groups are linked by the same environment, culture, roots, then come French and English. As all those languages belong to the same big language family, even people don’t really understand each other, they are living in harmony because they have the same roots. From those languages, plus French and English, birthed Camfranglais, spoken by all Cameroonian and this our way to link all those languages.
It always depends on the political philosophy. Having all those languages is a wealth as they belong to the same family and each one has it’s own musical language, and as people on top of the language are coming from the same place nowadays, the difference is just integration.
Every tribe has it’s own music, way to speak, to move in dancing, they all sound different. Having many languages is an amazing asset for my music. The music of language is incredible. That’s why the same melody sang in English and in Bassa will be different because of the intonation, the language rhythm.
PS: You have cited delta blues singer Skip James as an influence, especially on Akö. You can definitely hear that influence on certain tracks. What is it about Skip James in particular that you relate to?
BB: The first time I heard Skip James, I was thinking that he was coming from my country as his voice, melody and word are sounding like some old Cameroonian singers like Medjo Messom, but more than Mut Iloun, who was a man who was singing village to village when I was a kid. For me, Skip James is just what singing means. The emotion, the vibration of his voice is the universal language, because even if you don’t understand what he is saying, he is hitting your soul.
PS: What other music has made an impression it stayed with you throughout your life?
BB: Eboa lotin from Cameroon, Les Têtes Brulées, Marvin Gaye, Jeff Buckley, Camarón De La Isla, David Bowie. All those musicians had something really special on top of their music, they were singular, they were themselves. That isn’t easy to find in our actual world.
PS: Do you have any new music in the works? And if so do you care to elaborate?
BB: Yes, I am starting work on my next album. I will you let you know when things be more ready.
PS: What can we expect from your show at the Philharmonic Hall?
BB: It will be a wonderful love moment. My show is always based on emotion, energy and vibrations from the audience that I receive, because it’s what makes me give back the emotion from the bottom of my soul, this is what will happen.
Blick Bassy plays the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room on Saturday 25th November. Tickets are available by clicking here.