Blick Bassy brought his new album Akö to Liverpool for a gig at the Philharmonic Music Room, and Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald found him in good voice with a stunning set of Afro soul jazz.
Its fair to say that Blick Bassy’s 2015 Sound City appearance on the North Stage, with the late afternoon glowing pink above him, took many by surprise. Simply accompanied by his banjo and a mic’d up record player, it was one of those delightful moments of discovery, where you stumble on an artist more out of curiosity than anything else.
Dancing, cyclical banjo motifs laid a delicate foundation for his lightly scratched soul voice to create a deliciously haunting sound that floated from the stage.
The perfection of it all was held in its simplicity. Whilst uncoventional in terms of instrumentation, it was a set of traditional Cameroon music, sung in his native Bassa, and with added nods to blues artists such as his much favoured Skip James. It was truly a remarkable performance, breathtakingly good.
His arrival on the stage at the Philharmonic was warmly greeted by an audience whose reaction throughout the night remained muted, partly out of respect, but in reality was far more likely to be a stunned silence such was the powerful effect of this unique set.
Accompanied on cello and various effects by Clément Petit, and on trombone and even more effects by Johan Blanc, the set was entirely taken from Bassy’s new album Akö. The record is an embarrassment of musical riches. It began as an experiment, never to be released, a tribute to the bluesman James. A rich amalgamation of the avant garde, tradition and psychedelic soul, much like the set here, it is an absolute triumph.
The album’s opener, Aké, opened the set, with Petit thumbing a bass rhythm from the cello, and Bassy’s intricate and cascading music box banjo picking, barely audible under his dreamlike pleading stretched vocal. Kiki was another highlight, all groove and swagger, built around raw bass blasts of trombone and a rhythm drummed out on the cello, and Bassy’s sweet and vocal melody telling the tale.
And we could understand too, despite the language barrier, as we were given set lists before the show, which detailed the themes of each song. It helped too, in drawing us closer to the stories, these tales of home, of family and separation.
Leaping through his many influences often in the space of a song, this innovative threesome brought afro jazz, blues and electronic soundscapes together, fusing a quite wonderful sonic alliance, as expressive and instinctive as Bassy’s writing. He is gifted with that voice too, in its slightly scratched blues edge and the power with which he delivers it.
Ndjé Yèm, with its plucked cello chords, muted trombone and sweet lilting vocal, was another striking moment, such simple emotion and drama in its torch song styling. One Love was a multi rythmyic arrangement, banjo and cello weaving in and out of each other, with Blanc adding trombone, and analogue synth strings over the top.
It was on Moût where we found the Skip James influence making itself most clearly heard though, with sweeping low end brass, and the scorched blues rythym of Bassy’s 1/2 size guitar, and Clément Petit adding colour via a cello bow and a box of digital effects.
After a few moments to encourage us and encourage a world where people can be kinder to each other, he left us with a simple ‘smile every day at somebody you don’t know, just smile, its one thing they cannot tax’, Blick Bassy left the stage and the warm applause of a roomful of smiling strangers behind him.
— Mark McKellier (@McKellier) November 25, 2017
Earlier in the evening, we’d experienced another rich creative collaboration, the perfect union of oud and guitar of Anwar Ali and Dave Owen. A classic pairing of instruments and voices, they brought to us songs such as Malaika, from their recent Mellowtone CD release. There was a warm, natural comfort in the way they played together, in the simple harmonies of steel string and the human voice. With Owen’s gently picked out guitar, weaving through the rhythmic melody of the oud, it was a set of strikingly pretty and uplifting moments.
Georgina was such a moment, that warm blend perfectly balanced and nuanced throughout, right up to the lift of the double speed outdo, a real moment of celebration. Sometimes it feels like only a city such as Liverpool could bring together a guitarist from Oswaldthistle and an oud player and singer from Somalia to make music together, but we live in a city that looks out to sea, and welcomes new influences with each turn of the tide so it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.
This was yet another memorable Africa Oyé moment, almost at the end of its 25th year of bringing the beautiful music of the African continent to our city, we look forward to 25 more.
Images by Getintothis’ Stephen Fallows