Nick Bollinger reviews a familiar yet strange sound which combines blues and Cameroonian folk song, and just about everything else.
At first I didn’t know the nationality or even the gender of this singer, but I was drawn in right away by one of the most gently powerful voices.
The opening track could almost be a Mississippi blues, though the language is unfamiliar. But that’s just where the album starts, and in the next track the whole thing seems to have moved down river to New Orleans with horns, and swoops of jazz violin, while the chorus refrain of ‘wap do wap’ surely means the same joyous nonsense in any language.
So who is Blick Bassy? He’s a singer/songwriter/guitar player, originally from Cameroon, who currently lives in a French village not far from Calais.
His music, he says, is a combination of traditional Cameroonian music he heard growing up, and just about everything else.
He’s particularly drawn, to the blues of the 20th century Mississipian Skip James. He even includes a fragment of a tune Skip James recorded in the 1920s, one I’ve known for years, only the first time I heard it in this context and this language – Bassy’s native tongue Basaa – I couldn’t place it. It was both familiar and strange. But it’s a key to this artist’s eclectic musical compound, in which the blues and Cameroonian folk song are equal partners.
Bassy’s rich voice and fine guitar playing would enable him to be self-contained as a performer, but for most of the album he creates a great ensemble sound, augmenting his own instruments with a simple combination of trombone and cello. On the upbeat songs their playing is light and jumpy, like some kind of village string band. But on his deeper, bluesier songs those extra instruments lend a mournful weight.
He’d be a natural for WOMAD and I certainly hope to hear him live one day. In the meantime, Blick Bassy has made this warm and spirited album.
Ako is available on Sony.