0+ Music/Harmonia Mundi
Afrofusion. Unknown to the big audiences but at the same time one of the most skillful and best qualified bass players in African music, Etienne Mbappé has, since moving to Paris from his home country Kamerun in the 70's, played with musicians such as Manu Dibango, Salif Keita, Joe Zawinul and his own fusion bands Chic and Ultramarine.
His first solo album definitely belongs to the same genre as Richard Bona's, soft wellarranged modern African music, where the vocals have a prominent role. Like Bona, he sings in the soft Douala language, but translations into English and French are included in the CD booklet. If you didn't know that Mbappé's career was in full bloom while Bona was still home in Kamerun, you might want to call this genre Bona-music. During the years that they both lived in Paris they used to jam together in the clubs there - one could assume that the room was full of amazed listeners when these two enormously talented bass player got started!
The wealth of variety is great but the 14 tracks form an almost symphonic entity, where Mbappé turns out to be a real master of both arrangement and orchestration. A number of years with Orchestre National de Jazz in France have left their mark. Almost half of the tracks feature a string quintet, arranged by Mbappé. Also the vocal arrangements are exquisite, and the whole album is saturated with warmth, depth and a rich timbre with nearly only acoustic sounds. And the bass playing itself is in a class of its own, soft, elastic, with an obvious virtuosity that doesn't need any showing-off to be noticed. A fantastic record that keeps giving you more each time you listen to it!
Published in Lira magazine 1/2005