Brice Wassy

Brice WassyBorn in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon on 14 November 1958, Brice Wassy is from the 'Bamileke' people. By the age of five, Brice was already playing in a fifteen piece school band and he's been constantly involved with music ever since. Known as the leading exponent of 6/8 rhythms, which dominate African dance music and fascinate Jazz musicians, Wassy didn't start out playing such traditional forms. During his childhood he was profoundly influenced by the music he heard in the streets, but the rich and complex rhythmic heritage was seen in a negative light, and he was repeatedly told that he should go to school to study music, Western music. 

Albums: 

  1. Balengu Village
  2. NGA Funk
  3. Shrine Dance
Featuring on:
  1. Amampondo - Drums For Tomorrow (Producer)
  2. Busi Mhlongo - Urbanzulu (Drums)
  3. Busi Mhlongo - Indiza (Producer)
  4. Robert Doc Mthalane - Respect (Producer & drums)

His generation were attracted to music from abroad, funk and soul by the likes of Otis Redding and Ray Charles. "I started playing along on the saucepans to 'What I Say' by Ray Charles and went straight into drum kit. Growing up right in the middle of the colonial period, we listened to French and American music on the radio: James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. Playing with school bands, we played all covers: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel. At that time, traditional music was heard only at funerals. My generation wasn't interested in anything traditional. Fela was the one to change all this. He opened our minds with the militancy of his message and our hearts to the rhythms of Afrobeat." Moving to Paris in 1974 to be with his father, big brother and little sister, Brice was impressed by the jazz/rock fusion era. "I wanted to play like Tony Williams, Steve Gadd, guys like that. You know, it was incredible how Billy Cobham did his rolls. Technique is very important, but at a certain point you must start playing your own music and, eventually I realised that I had something different of my own," he says. "Groove is what interests me." These days Brice cites Paco Serry from the Ivory Coast, and one of the creators of Nigerian Afrobeat Tony Allen, as his favourite drummers. Through his big brother, Brice met Wally Bardarou and worked with him before meeting his 'spiritual father', Manu Dibango, with whom he worked for six years, first as drummer, then as Musical Director. Brice traces the moment he found his own distinctive voice as a drummer to the 1981 sessions for Manu's Waka Juju album: "It was this song, Mangambolo, that people started to get interested in me and I got the title, 'King of 6/8'. Then people started to tell me that jazz/rock wasn't my thing and I started to work on my sound and research music from Cameroon. To find my roots... I play jazz because I understand that music. I'm saying that in traditional music you are improvising. So, if jazz means improvising, traditional music is jazz." Acknowledged as the 'King of 6/8', Brice has been the most in-demand drummer on the African and World circuit since the early 1960s, playing with (among others): Pierre Akendengue (Gabon), Francis Bebery (Cameroon), Uta Bella (Cameroon), and Toure Kunda (Senegal). In 1984 Wassy became Salif Keita's band leader, recording the marvellous 'Soro' album and staying with him for six years. In 1990, he met Jean-Luc Ponty, who came to Paris looking for an encounter with African music. Brice took the opportunity to bring together some of the best Paris-based African musicians and co-produced the album, which came to bear the name of one of his compositions, 'Tchokola'. In the mid 90s, Brice recorded his first solo album, 'N'ga Funk' (BW036), independently, and it was distributed in France by Night & Day before being picked up by M.E.L.T.2000 (then B&W Music), remixed and re-released in 1996. As a member of the M.E.L.T. musical family, Brice spent the Summer of '96 at Brownhill Farm working with Amampondo, taking the traditional South African ensemble into a totally contemporary dimension, producing their celebrated album 'Drums for Tomorrow'(BW096).Whilst at the studios he also embarked upon a collaborative musical project with Mabi Thobejane,Madala Kunene and 'Doc' Mthalane which resulted in Robert "Doc" Mthalanes album 'Respect'(BW2094) which Brice produced. 'Doc' sadly passed away in 1998 and the album has become a tribute to him. When in Lagos, Nigeria, while touring with Miriam Makeba back in 1992, Brice took the opportunity to visit the Shrine Club, home of his hero, Fela Kuti. "Fela was a big influence on me, because he opened our minds. In Africa, we were playing American music before Fela showed us the way. It was at The Shrine, which was an oasis of freedom and humanity in the midst of one of Africa's most violent cities, that Brice experienced a kind of rhythmic revelation which provided the inspiration for his album, 'Shrine Dance'(BW089), produced by the late South African producer and guitarist, Russell Herman. "Arriving at the club around ten o'clock, Fela's band were onstage, but the man himself was not there. When he finally turned up at two in the morning, the music stopped and Fela came onstage like a champion boxer entering the ring. The atmosphere intensified as the great man smoked a big joint, surveying the crowd, before at last he gave a signal to his drummer to start the dance. I've never seen anything like it, in Africa or anywhere," says Brice. "The power of the performance and the way in which it involved everybody in the place. It was profound!" 'Shrine Dance' was recorded in 1996 at Real World Studios with predominantly European Jazz musicians. He called upon pianist, co-arranger and close collaborator Don Dieu Divin, a young French musician of Indian descent. The illustrious cast also features trumpeters Byron Wallen and Claude Deppa, cornet player Graham Haynes, saxophonist Steve Williamson, flautist Deepak Ram and the celebrated Airto Moreira and Jose Luis Quintana aka Changuito. Wassy draws upon a full palette of textures for this album from funky bass to groove, through classic instrumentation, 'electric bush' effects, African rhythms and body percussion. Released initially in 1997 'Shrine Dance' has been re-released in August 2000. This is classical jazz material adapted to traditional Cameroonian rhythms. Wassy's most recently produced album 'Balengu Village'(BW2136) released in June 1999, is the materialisation of musical ideas that highlight his desire to celebrate his Cameroonian heritage whilst also making music which has the passion and emotional charge to which outsiders will be able to relate. Recorded in Cameroon this album reveals Wassy digging deeper into his personal and musical history, and although Balengu isn't the village where Wassy grew up it is the family heartland and home to three of Wassy's uncles. His uncle Moussy ? his first drum teacher - is a master percussionist as well as a sanza player and his influence on both Wassy and 'Balengu Village' is substantial. In 1999 Brice and Claude Deppa toured England with the African Rhythms Orchestra and Deppa's 15 piece horn group Horns Unlimited. During early 2000 he gigged in South Africa promoting 'Balengu Village' and also performed live with the highly acclaimed Tananas. Wassy's intricate and innovative compositions and arrangements are built on a solid foundation of African collective tradition, inspired and infused by the individual expression of someone who has dug deep into his cultural treasure chest. Exploring the polyrhythmic sounds of his heritage, and retaining the spontaneity that defines so much African music, Brice forges his own unique and thoroughly innovative sound. As a key member of MELT2000 Brice Wassy has collaborated with and contributed to a number of projects such as the late Moses Molelekwa's 'Genes and Spirits'(BW079) as well as notably laying down the rhythms for Busi Mhlongo's historic album 'Urban Zulu'(BW2118) and producing two tracks on Busi's album INDIZA. Check out Brice's web site http://brice.wassy.free.fr 

 

Afro Trance by Brice Wassy