Blick Bassy’s new album is Mádibá which means water in the Baasa language. There are a handful of voices every generation that stop you in your tracks: Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder Kate Bush, Youssou N’Dour and, in my opinion, the Cameroonian singer/guitarist Blick Bassy easily belongs in the list. I first heard his music on the 2016 album Akö which had me transfixed with the sheer beauty of the songs and the delicate power of Bassy’s voice. In that year I also saw him live at Kings Place with Clément Petit on cello and Fidel Fourneyron on trombone. He weaved a spell over everyone, and the audience left the show walking on a cloud.
The songs on Madíbá are fables with the central theme of water, specifically relating to the global climate crisis and people’s issues accessing water. Bassy uses his music as a gentle force for positive change and is not one for soapbox diatribes. On singing in Baasa he says:
“Usually, when the Baasa language is sung, it comes close to a spoken form, it is a language loaded with information, which evokes poetry and the long stories told by griots. My way of writing my native language, and singing it, is very different and has often surprised members of my ethnic group. My desire has always been to get out of my community to reach a wider audience. And to do this, I tried to work on my language with the help of a great economy of words, so that it rings true, that it blends with the melodies that I compose, so that we can ‘listen while forgetting that it is a language’.
The album also supports the NGO water.org (co-founded by Matt Damon) which aims to raise awareness of the global water crisis and provide people with access to safe water and sanitation.
The music is a little different from previous releases having been produced with Romain Jovion who brings synthesisers and electronic sounds into the mix in order to compliment the acoustic instruments such as Bassy’s guitars, trombone (Fidel Fourneyron again), and trumpet. Synthesisers provide the foundation to most of the songs offering arpeggiated swells or subtle washes of sound as on ‘LoBa’, ‘Li Yanga’ (which feels like it could have been a collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto) and ‘Hola Mè’. Some of Bassy’s vocal lines also get subtle effects with the addition of warping, granularity and judder which works well in tandem with the keyboards. Synthesisers also reinforce the water theme by adding cascading electronic bubbles and waterfalls on tracks such as ‘Nop’ and ‘Touye’. More familiar to Blick Bassy fans will be the soft guitar stabs and layered brass of ‘Ndomè’, the strummed chords of ‘Nop’ or the call and response with trombone on ‘Bissaï’, a track which has a similar feel to the music of WOMAD founder Peter Gabriel.
But above all it’s the sheer beauty of Blick Bassy’s voice that elevates the album to the beatific. He can drift over a track like mist, soft and almost intangible, soar effortlessly to higher registers, or turn up the power to a roar or a plaintive wail. Not understanding Baasa is no handicap to appreciating the emotional range in Blick Bassy’s music and his empathy with the global water crisis. Madíbá is an exceptional addition to a body of work that places Blick Bassy as one of the most significant African artists producing music today.
Review by Paul F Cook