FM Tribe
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FM Tribe

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
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"Think of all the things you may have liked about modern African music over the last thirty years, combine that with some of your favorite American r&b concerts over the last forty years, and you start to get a picture of the music of Francis Mbappe."

- D.C. Donovan - WORLD DISCOVERIES (Jul, 2005)


"The music is joyful, creative and melangée avec including elements of his tradition. His many influences coupled with his origin are brilliantly blended with jazz and the result is a new music.
Being a highly respected musician in New York and at the same time recalling his own roots makes Mbappe a special character. Add to this the joie de vivre and you've got the CD Celebration."

- by: Dr. Ana Isabel Ordonez - JAZZREVIEW.COM (Dec, 2005)


"Francis Mbappe, from Cameroon, spent years as the bassist and arranger for Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian bandleader whose hit, "Soul Makossa" brought African pop to the world."

- - NEW YORK TIMES (Jul 27, 2001)


"Perhaps the best thing about the new self-produced disc by Zinc regular Francis Mbappe (mmm-BAH-pay) is that he has figured out how to let rawness temper his jazz-bred snazziness."

- K. Leander Williams - TIMEOUT (Jan 12, 2006)


"Mbappe, a bassist with an impressive resume of collaborations that includes gigs with Herbie Hancock, Fela Kuti and Youssou N'Dour, moved from his native Cameroon to New York a few years ago, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. By incorporating them into settings that draw from jazz, funk, folk and other styles, he has created a fresh, open-minded global fusion."

- NILS JACOBSON PHIL - GLOBAL RHYTHM


"The Brooklyn-based Mbappe has worked with eclectic bassist/producer Bill Laswell and is best known as Camaroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango’s long-time bassman. On this joyous debut, his writing, singing, and guitar chops are in full view, while low-enders will dig his subtly percolating parts (via his ’69 Jazz Bass and Modulus Genesis) on tracks like “Awololo Iyo,” “Blues of Life,” and “Spirit of the Village.”
- By Chris Jisi | October 2005 - BASS PLAYER MAGAZINE


Some of the world’s most inventive bass playing can be found in Africa’s modern pop music. While some players have gotten a share of the international spotlight, most of the continent’s great bassists have remained unsung heroes. In this series of articles, we’re focusing on four of Africa’s most bass-obsessed countries—South Africa (July ’10), Cameroon, Congo, and Zimbabwe—and finding out how Africans have been taking the instrument to new places.

"In Cameroon, we have two things,” says Etienne Mbappé, speaking while backstage in Germany after a performance with guitarist John McLaughlin. “Soccer and bass.”

He’s not exaggerating. In addition to having one of Africa’s best national soccer teams, Cameroon produces more slap-happy, fingerboard-shredding bass virtuosos per capita than any other place on Earth. Of them, Richard Bona is the best known, but he’s just one of many Cameroonians in high demand on the jazz-fusion circuit. Etienne Mbappé, Guy N’Sangue, Armand Sabal-Lecco, and Noel Ekwabi are all first-call players on the international scene as well, and back home in Cameroon, every kid grows up wanting to play the bass.

How did this strange, bass-crazy parallel universe come to be in an otherwise inconspicuous West African country? “In Cameroon, we just have a tradition of having a very good bassist,” says Francis Mbappe, another great player working out of New York. “In our music, the bass is in front, even louder than the voice. So when we’re young, we’re already familiar with the sound.”

The country has hundreds of tribal groups, each with its own rhythms, but the biggest popular music style by far is makossa, coming from the cosmopolitan port city of Douala. It’s fast-paced, hardhitting dance music. At its core is a relentless, muscular bass sound that separates the music from other African guitar-pop styles. The genre’s biggest international star is Manu Dibango, whose 1972 song “Soul Makossa” was remixed by Michael Jackson in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” (Think: “mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa”); it has also been sampled by such artists as Rihanna, Jay-Z, and Wyclef Jean.

http://www.bassplayer.com/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/bp0910_wood_Africa_Ex-01.jpg“When you look at makossa,” says Richard Bona, “it’s very simple in terms of harmony and melody, but rhythmically it’s so complex.” Makossa bass lines are made up of an endless barrage of tight 16th-notes (see Ex. 1), with finger-busting fills and shifting accents that keep things interesting. The result is something like an African take on the percussive style of Tower Of Power’s Rocco Prestia. The other Cameroonian genre of note is bikutsi, a rhythm in 6/8 or 12/8 popular in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital (see Ex. 2).

http://www.bassplayer.com/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/bp0910_wood_Africa_Ex-02.jpgWhile some point to traditional drumming styles as the precursor to Cameroonian bass styles, players like James Jamerson and Bootsy Collins had a lot to do with it as well. Motown, soul, and funk were wildly popular throughout Africa in the 1960s and ’70s, but these sounds hit particularly hard in Cameroon. The hyperactive, contrapuntal bass sound that was happening in America had a big impact on the local scene.

In analyzing the root of his country’s low-end fixation, Etienne Mbappé points to a trio of makossa bass pioneers: Jean Dikoto-Mandengué, Vicky Edimo, and Aladji Touré were all talented Cameroonian bassists working out of Paris in the ’70s, cutting African and Afro-jazz records and playing sessions for French pop artists. They would dabble in the international jazz and funk scene, paving the way for future bassists like Etienne. “We listened to their LPs coming from Paris, and we just copied what they were doing,” he says. “Without knowing it, those guys opened up a bass school without walls.”

It was also a bass school without basses, apparently. Richard Bona estimated that when he was cutting his chops in Cameroon in the 1980s, there were only eight basses in all of Douala, the country’s biggest and richest city. The instruments were owned by club owners, and aspiring bassists had to go to the venues during the day to practice. Much of the training was onstage, playing dance parties that went on until dawn. “When you don’t have anything, it’s amazing how creative you can be,” says Bona, who first learned on a homemade guitar. None of the bassists I interviewed for this article owned their own basses until they were older and making money playing in France.

Bona sees older causes of the Cameroon bass phenomenon. “Everywhere you go in that country, it’s amazing—the bass frequencies have such a presence in the traditional music,” he says. Bona recalls that when he was young and playing in a balafon (traditional African xylophone) group, the 15-piece ensemble refused to play without the bass balafon present. “I think bass must be in our genes,” he jokes.

Today, the bass tradition continues. In a fairly poor country that provides limited opportunities for young people, the handful of superstar fusion bassists (after the big-time soccer players) are some of the country’s greatest international success stories. The example motivates kids to sit down and practice, and gives bass hopefuls a mark to beat. Still, don’t expect a real bass school to open up in Cameroon anytime soon. “I never took a bass lesson in my life,” says Etienne Mbappé proudly. “And I don’t know a Cameroonian who has.” - BASS PLAYER—Marlon Bishop


During the first act of Fela!, the Broadway hit about legendary Nigerian musician/activist Fela Kuti, the Fela character addresses the audience while building a groove. After various percussion and guitar parts are added, he asks if anyone knows the missing “secret ingredient” that gets butts shaking. The answer, he reveals, is the bass line.

Bass is indeed the agile anchor and adhesive in Fela’s fiery brand of funk, which he dubbed afrobeat. Kuti combined his formal training at London’s Trinity College of Music and subsequent jazz gigs on saxophone with traditional African percussion, West African highlife, and American funk (particularly James Brown) to forge the idiom, which gained worldwide popularity. Fela hit his stride in the ’70s, when his 15-piece band, Africa 70, took up residence in his Afrika Shine nightclub. Musically and politically influenced by his 1969 U.S. tour, Kuti went on to record over 50 albums enroute to becoming a global voice for human rights.

In 1986, 11 years before he succumbed to complications from AIDS, he made his only other U.S. appearance. His music then virtually disappeared from these shores until a late-’90s revival led by the Brooklyn band Antibalas, and similar Gotham groups such as Kokolo and Daktaris.

While Antibalas’s unique blend of Brooklyn-ized afrobeat and “Nuyorican” and Afro-Cuban influences have culminated in cult status (via worldwide tours and five studio CDs of original music), the ensemble’s precision and passion for Kuti’s music resulted in their key role in the development of Fela! This includes the ten-piece unit’s onstage presence as Kuti’s Africa 70 band throughout the show. To get an inside view of afrobeat bottom, we sat down with Antibalas bassist Nick Movshon plus Jeremy Wilms, a longtime Antibalas bass and guitar alternate who has assumed the bass chair for the Broadway run.

How would you describe afrobeat bass?

Nick Movshon Essentially, it’s one- or two-bar syncopated, melodic patterns that repeat endlessly, without variation, improvisation, or fills, for songs that can run anywhere from ten to 30 minutes. Most of the songs are just onechord vamps, almost always minor. Some describe the overall concept by saying that every instrument in the band is functioning as a drum.
Jeremy Wilms That’s my viewpoint—we’re all playing drum parts in a sense. Apparently, Fela would just come in and play everyone’s part one-at-a-time on keyboard, building these usually Dorian-mode-based, interlocked pieces of music. That’s the James Brown aspect: It’s not about you; it’s about how everything locks together. Instead of making up your own bass line to a set of changes, you play a part for 20 minutes, so you have to really internalize it.
Who were the key bassists?

JW Franco Aboddy was the main bassist during Fela’s Africa 70 period; there was Maurice Ekpo before that, who Ginger Baker [of Cream] may have brought in. And I’ve spoken to other bassists who played with Fela later on, like Francis Mbappe here in Brooklyn.
NM Certain parts of the African 70 band were consistent, including its great drummer, Tony Allen. Aboddy appears to be the most regular bassist. With only the drums and lead percussion allowed to improvise, to some degree the musicians are interchangeable because they were playing Fela’s parts on instruments he owned, and if they didn’t play them exactly as specified, he replaced them.
Is there a rhythmic key or clave?

NM Yes; every song is either in 2:3 or 3:2 clave, but oddly, the actual clave sticks play on every downbeat or upbeat. The clave rhythm is in the shekere [a bead-covered gourd], and it can be outlined by other instruments, like the snare drum or a guitar.
JW Also, in Fela’s music the three and the one are often interchangeable. The rhythm section may start on what is actually the three, on the back side of the bar; then when the horns come in later on the one, it shifts the listener’s perception of where one is.
How do you view your role?

JW My mantra is to be centered—to play evenly and steadily, and be the center for everything else going on. There are times when I feel I have to push or pull, but I still try to be the band’s core and focal point. I don’t play with the drum kit as I would in R&B or jazz; I’m more locking into the shekere and sticks.
NM That’s how I see it; I’m left with the task of playing in the middle of all the other instruments. Usually, I’m somewhere between the drummer and the two guitars. The drums set the tempo and create the dynamics, but the kick and snare are not on two and four, so it’s a little different. I just try to put the bass in the center; even if it’s not my natural center, I put it where it sounds like it’s in the center.
What’s your approach tone and technique-wise?

NM On Fela records, probably due to the mix more than anything, the bassists have a really round, warm tone with a bit of growl and attack. I turn my neck pickup all the way up and I usually play between that pickup and the base of the neck; I pluck with my fingers and sometimes my thumb for the E string, and I’ll mute the notes mostly with my left hand.
JW I have only my combo amp onstage, so much of the sound is determined by my hands. I play either over the EB-O neck pickup on my bass or the bottom of the neck, using fingers with some thumb plucks for softer parts.
With set parts, where does the expression and interpretation come in?

JW Through the feeling and intent you put into the parts. They’re rigid, but there’s also a looseness that exists on the dynamics side. There’s an interaction based on call and response; if someone plays a phrase with a certain accent, the dynamics of the whole band will suddenly shift way up or way down, in synchronized fashion. The improvisation is more about levels and intensity as a band. Afrobeat also has its own swing. It’s different from jazz or Afro-Cuban.
NM Right—dynamics is the biggest aspect. The way Fela’s band moves dynamically is beautiful to pick up on; it occurs in places that are counterintuitive to the untrained Western ear. They may bring it down in the outro and suddenly they’re racing ahead as if big solo is happening. Listening to the records to learn the phrasing of the bass parts is really important. When you play afrobeat right, it’s like nothing else, and that’s a very satisfying feeling to have. - Bass Player- Chris Jisi


Francis Mbappe, a native of Cameroon is quoted as being an unstoppable natural musician, combining the harmonious sounds of his native country and home of Cameroon with some of the wider spread genres of rock, funk, and jazz. Francis has held a long career in the music industry beginning at the young age of nineteen when he was the bass player and musical director for Manu Dibango’s band.


In 1990, Francis headed-to New York to start his own band, “FM TRIBE”. “FM TRIBE” brought together some of the most innovative and exciting musicians of the time together. Bridging a gap between funk, rock and swing, recording a stylistically revolutionary album entitled “Need Somebody”.


Francis heard about BREAKAWAY and generously contributed original music for the game. Recently we scored a brief interview with Francis and asked him a few questions you’ve been wanting to know.

Breakaway Team: “Why did you get involved with the BREAKAWAY project?”



Francis Mbappe: “I got involved with the project because of its contribution to the continued struggle of human rights around the world. Having witnessed firsthand what the oppression of people, particularly children and women can do. I know it is imperative that to end poverty, we must end this violence and discrimination against one another.”



BT: “What rhythm and feel were you going for when creating the music for Breakaway?”



Mbappe: “ Being a football fan myself, I wanted to capture the energy of a football match, and yet have it maintain a funk filled air to it, with just a dash of my home, Africa, where much of the research for game took place, a fitting tribute I feel both to mine and its roots.”



BT: “Probably the biggest question, do you like the game?”



Mbappe: *Laughs* “Yes, I actually love playing the game, it’s great for both kids and adults and those who love the sport as well, it breaks down the basics of the game in a fun and innovative way that few others can accomplish.”



BT: “Do you see yourself working on future projects such as BREAKAWAY itself, or any game in particular?

Mbappe: “I do, it was a lot of fun to compose the music for the game, and I look forward to working on a similar project in the future such as this or the next game itself!”





- Breakaway Game Initiative-BT


After just a few bars of the first track on Peace is Freedom, I was hooked! Cameroonian bassist Francis Mbappe knows that you need to strike hard with your first track and the rest is gravy.
“Freedom” opens with his bass and B-3 Hammond. Very tight and smooth horns punch this tune into gear and a rolling Brazilian percussive element mixed with a tasty African spice makes you want to get up on your feet! There is quite a mix of tempos, syncopation and meaningful lyrics and we are only on one tune.
I have stated many times that music is the universal language so I don’t mind that most of the lyrics are in a language I don’t understand. I do speak the funky Slap and Pop and the chordal, percussive groove that prevails throughout the CD. Francis Mbappe can really lay it down!
Each track is unique and enticing, seriously solid arranging. It doesn’t hurt that Francis has brought in some amazing musicians to compliment his foundation. I want to give special mention to either Aaron Heick or Lenart Krecic (Whomever was working it on “Esquina Latina”). OK, My son is a Sax player so I really enjoy good Sax solos. In general the horns are very impressive. Simply listen to “Lion Kola” and you will agree.
I also want to recognize the tight percussion section that ties in with the bass in such a seamless fashion. Let me not forget the very harmonious background vocals either, stellar.
Most of this CD is very bright and upbeat and I use it to kick start my day. Superb driving music! (Who needs coffee?)
Excellent work Francis…
Check this one out, you will walk away happy.
- BASS PLAYER MAGAZINE, October 1, 2010 By Raul Amador


Discography

"FM Tribe Vol. 1," "Celebration," "Peace is Freedom," "Surtension," "Abele Dance," "Baobab Sunset," "Boro Song," "Waka Africa," "Percussion Madness"

Photos

Bio

A native of Cameroon, Francis Mbappe is an unstoppable natural musician who is releasing his third album under his name, after having graced the stage with musical greats such as Herbie Hancock, Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Ashanti Tokoto, Francois Louga, and Ernesto Djedje.

By the age of nineteen Mbappe was bass player and musical director for Manu Dibango’s band, with whom he toured extensively from 1982 until 1990. He appears on the albums “Surtension”, “Abele Dance”, “Baobab Sunset” and the renowned “Waka Africa” release, which also features Peter Gabriel, Youssou Ndour, Salif Keita, and King Sunny Ade.

Upon arrival to New York City in the 1990’s, Francis started the band “FM TRIBE” with some of the most exciting, innovative players around. With funk in the conception, rock in the attitude, swing in the movement and soul in the spirit, Francis Mbappe led his band “FM TRIBE” through the New York City music circuit and recorded a stylistically revolutionary album entitled "Need Somebody."

Aaron Heick, former saxophonist, referred to Mbappe’s contribution to the cross-pollination of music as “essential. Francis is contributing something new and truly unique to this scene. He is on the verge of creating a new kind of music that contains many of the best elements of both traditions (jazz, funk, rhythm-n-blues with African music).
It is so rare to find someone who is capable of pulling all these types of influences together and to actually create something new.”