Interview with EBS Artist Etienne Mbappé. Pre-NAMM Show ’13 Feature!

 

EBS Celebrate 25 years in business 2013, starting at the NAMM Show in California at the end of January. We will report from the show, with daily features. Here’s another interview from the EBS 25 Years Magazine, to be distributed at NAMM). This time with EBS Artist Etienne Mbappé that will appear at the booth at NAMM: 

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MEET EBS ARTIST ETIENNE MBAPPÉ

ETIENNE MBAPPÉ IS ONE OF THE MANY OUTSTANDING AFRICAN BASS PLAYERS, WHO HAVE LEFT THE WESTERN MUSIC WORLD IN AWE, SOUTH AFRICAN BAKITHI KUMALO AND MBAPPÉ´ S FELLOW CAMEROONIANS RICHARD BONA AND ARMAND SABAL-LECCO BEING THE BEST KNOWN EXAMPLES. ETIENNE HAS AN IMPRESSIVE TECHNIQUE, BUT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT IS HIS RHYTHMIC AND MELODIC UNDERSTANDING, ROOTED IN AFRICAN TRADITION. AND OF COURSE THE BLACK SILK GLOVES, BUT MORE ON THAT SUBJECT LATER…

By Mikael Jansson. Photo: Lasse Eklöf

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The 48-year old Mbappé has lived in Paris, France for more than 30 years. But the music he is carrying with him from his native country is strongly influencing his own music.

–I have deep African roots, I grew up with African music, which was always present at home, especially at family ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. And my music is like my cooking; even if I cook French cuisine, I add African spices.

Mbappé came to France as a teenager in the Seventies, and had at that time not heard European or American music.

–I had never heard of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, etcetera – all I knew was African music.

But he soon became very much involved in the French fusion and jazz scene. He also toured and recorded with major African stars such as Manu Dibango and Salif Keita. For three years, he was a member of former Weather Report leader Josef Zawinul´s group The Zawinul Syndicate, and he also played on soul master Ray Charles very last record. For the last three years, he has been a member of the legendary fusion guitarist John McLaughlin´s band The 4th Dimension.

In addition to that, Mbappé has since the year 2000 lead his own band in France, Su La Také, performing his own music, compositions with very strong African influences. The human voice, both Mbappé´s own and vocalist Cate Petit´s, are important elements in his music, and the voices are often used as instruments, beside conveying the lyrics, often in the African douala langague. Especially Petit´s voice –she has been a member of the band ever since the start – is often used more as an instrument, singing in harmony with Cedric Baud´s guitar and Clement Janinet´s electric violin. Drummer Nicolas Viccaro rounds up the band Su La Také. There is no keyboardist, which Mbappé claims is a deliberate choice.

–My music does not need keyboards. I want it spacey, clean so that you sometimes cannot hear the harmonies around the melody. Keyboardists like to play a lot and fill all the spaces. With only the guitar as a chord instrument, it sounds more African, less like traditional fusion.

Su La Také was about to finish their second album at the time of this interview, and Mbappé likes the more modest settings in which the album has been recorded. The release is planned for March or April 2013.

–I wish to have a live feeling, like in smaller clubs, more like we sound on stage. I also hope to play more small club gigs with my band, it is more like just having fun with friends, as opposed to the larger venues I play with John McLaughlin, in front of sometimes thousands of people. I like that, too, of course – it is just two different experiences.

–Going out playing smaller clubs will also give me a chance to meet a lot of new friends I have made on the internet, on Facebook and other places. To me, it is important to meet the audience, who give me a lot of important feedback on my music. I love to talk about my music with the fans.

When the interview took place, Mbappé was preparing for another long European tour with John McLaughlin, for whom he has been a sideman for the last three years.

–Playing with John is such an experience, both on a musical and a human level. He is one of the masters, one of the creators of the entire fusion movement! His music is so demanding, both technically and intellectually, and every show is a new challenge. But I like that, even though I´m actually quite tired after a tour…

But playing with John, with very strong Indian rhythmic influences in his music, isn´t that quite different rhythmically from your African roots?

–No, not really, it´s just another way of thinking. African music is often played for dancing, while Indian rhythms often have long bars with accents on, say, 9, 11 and 16 in each bar. And there is so much going on rhythmically all the time. But the new drummer, Ranjit Barot from Mumbai in India, and I talk a lot about the rhythms, and he has helped me a lot. Indian rhythms are something you must study, and I have asked him a lot. But it is very fun playing them!

Mbappé also teaches on a regular basis at a university in Burkina Faso.

–It might be the most important thing I do. Africa has given me so much that I feel I need to give something back to its young. There are so many talents deserving guidance. I don´t do it for money – it´s good enough for me to get food and accommodation while I´m teaching. Even when I go home on vacation I try to take a couple of days to give seminars.

–Conveying knowledge to the next generation is probably the most important thing in life, and I try to not only teach music, but also teach about life itself, to give my students more self confidence. Africa´s problems must be solved by Africans, and if I can contribute to only one of them being successful with his or her ambitions, then I´m satisfied.

But he has not only taught African students; Etienne´s 20-year old son Swaéli is an up and coming bass talent already getting attention from the music industry.

–I taught him some parts, but he is beyond that now. Soon, he´s going to be better than me, ha ha! And I don´t have a problem with that, I am just a very proud father. Swaéli has been with me to music shows such as NAMM, and he is already an EBS Artist like me. But he´s doing his thing, playing pop and jazz in clubs in Paris, which has also made me go back to the smaller clubs. And I like clubs, there is so much closer contact between the musicians and the audience. And it´s a blessing to be able to share the music with your family!

Etienne Mbappé´s basses are hand made by French luthier Noguera, and he uses the following EBS equipment: EBS HD360, TD660 and Reidmar heads, EBS ProLine cabinets and EBS Black Label Pedals.

And the black silk gloves?

–Ha ha, they are almost more famous than me! It has nothing to do with allergies or skin problems. I tried it once because I wanted a sound that was softer, bigger, smoother. It was not easy to start playing with gloves, but now I´m used to it and I like the sound.

From the EBS 25 Years Magazine – distributed at NAMM and through EBS distributors worldwide in 2013

ETIENNE MBAPPÉ & FRIENDS PLAY AT THE EBS NAMM BOOTH, Hall B, #5391 as follows:

Friday, Jan 25: 11.30 AM & 2:30 PM
Saturday, Jan 26: 11:30 AM & 12:45 PM
Sunday, Jan 27: 11AM & 1PM

Stay tuned for next pre-show feature to appear soon!

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