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The Bassist's Bible
How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco
By Tim Boomer, Mick Berry
See Sharp PressCopyright © 2013 Tim Boomer and Mick Berry
All rights reserved.
Acid Jazz draws on many musical styles — Funk (mainly 1970s Funk), House, Soul, R&B, Hip Hop, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Jazz — and it has no standard grooves. It originated in the late 1980s in the UK, but achieved greater popularity in the 1990s, especially in San Francisco and New York.
Prominent Acid Jazz artists include Alphabet Soup, the Mo'Fessionals, Galactic, Brand New Heavies, Groove Collective, Digable Planets, Jamiroquai, and St. Germain. Artists recognized as forerunners to Acid Jazz include Roy Ayers, Grant Green, and Donald Byrd. Acid Jazz artists in Japan include Mondo Groso (aka Shinichi Osawa), Gota (aka Gota Yashiki) and Simply Red. In Poland, Skalpel are prominent, as is Moscow Grooves Institute in Russia.
More recently, Thievery Corporation uses a complex mix of samples and live musicians, both in the studio and in live performaces, combining elements of Acid Jazz, Dub, Reggae, Brazilian, and classical Indian music. Though they do not play with a live trap set drummer, they do use a live bassist who syncs his playing to sampled drum loop sequences, as well as live and sampled percussion such as tablas and congas as well as to the other live musicians.
For a bassist, the style is best approached by creating a strong, supportive groove, often locked into a click track. The challenge is in playing in the characteristic relaxed groove of this style while not losing sync to the looped parts (which may be created on the fly) and looking out for the fades, breakdowns, and mutes that are characteristic of the DJ techniques used in the genre.
Instrumental parts are as important as the vocals and lyrics in Acid Jazz, and the style is characterized by danceable grooves and lengthy, repetitive vamping. A typical Acid Jazz ensemble blends horns, a full rhythm section (often percussion in addition to a drum set), a vocalist (singing and/or rapping), and even a DJ. Acid Jazz ensembles also use digital samples extensively, both in recording sessions and live performances.
The style itself has crossed over into modern Hip Hop and Electronica, which are often characterized by melodic lines backing up a singer/rapper. (For the purposes of easy classification and historical accuracy, we've retained the term "Acid Jazz" here.)
Acid Jazz Characteristics
Grooves: Bass lines in Acid Jazz are usually repetitive dance grooves.
Tone: Many tracks are sampled from original upright and electric bass sources. Other tones are synthesized. Effects and distortion can be used. For more choices, refer to chapters on specific styles.
Gear: When performed live (in studio or on stage), conventional instruments can be used. Much of the material comes originally from upright bass sounds, sometimes sampled and looped. Amplified acoustic or electric upright bass can be used to great effect.
Progressions: No limits. From simple one-chord "progressions" to the most complex chord patterns. (Here, as in all of the others chapters, the progressions are only examples taken from songs that we listened to while researching the style.)
1) i7 - i7 - iv7 - ii7/bii7
2) I - II7 - III7 - I
3) i7 - bVII - bIII - bVI
4) i7 - ii7 - i7 - ii7
5) i7 - V7 - i7 - V7
6) i7 - ii7 - bII7
7) i - bIII - iii
8) i7 - i7/iv7
9) Imaj7 - ii7
Tempo: Acid Jazz tempos vary according to the style of music being played.
Africa has one-fifth the land mass and one-seventh the population of the planet, and literally hundreds of cultures. Musical styles number in the thousands. Although a bassist may encounter other African styles, those presented in this chapter are the most common.
Contemporary sub-Saharan African music began with the sounds and rhythms of Afro-Cuban (son) music in the 1920s and 1930s, which was introduced via radio airplay; its clave-based phrasing soon found it's way into Congolese and West African bands, which were beginning to create African Pop and Jazz. With the introduction of radio throughout Africa after World War II, and later through television, African music became popular across the continent.
As Western instruments (most importantly the electric guitar and electric bass) became cheaper through mass production, African musicians began to use them. This enabled composers to easily incorporate new developments in Western music (e.g., Rock n' Roll, Reggae, and Funk) into African music.
Today, African music is popular globally, influencing many other genres while continuing to develop in its own directions. The styles below represent the broader category of Afropop or sub-Saharan African popular music, which while incorporating elements of it, is quite different from African traditional music, and is also quite different from the Algerian Rai style, which is more similar to Middle Eastern pop music.
 Western African Styles
Western African styles include Juju, Afrobeat, and Highlife. These styles originated in the early 20th century in Ghana and Nigeria, and eventually reached their peak in Africa toward the middle of the century. These styles blend African tribal songs with popular music from the West. They originally incorporated the sounds from Big Band horn sections and later adopted grooves from the Caribbean as well as Rock and Soul.
Because Western African genres incorporate musical influences from North America and the Caribbean, it's helpful to be thoroughly versed in Reggae, Ska, Soca, and Rock when playing West African styles.
Afrobeat is characterized by the "endless groove" created by repetitive bass, guitar, and percussion lines. In Juju and Highlife, although many of the bass lines are repetitive, there is ample room for improvisation. In some compositions the bass plays unison (or octave) lines with the other musicians or vocalists.
When interviewed in 1998, by Jason Gross, King Sunny Ade said, "A bass guitar is more or less like a thumb piano from the old days, in a box with some metal on top. A bass can play that so what's the use of carry[ing] the boxes all around?"
A resurgence of Western African music, also called World Beat, in the 1980s created a global following attracted to the music's celebratory and joyful nature. Important West African musicians include Fela Kuti (Afro Beat), Fela's sons Femi and Seun Kuti (who now leads Fela's band), Fela's musical director Tony Allen, King Sunny Ade (Juju and Afrobeat), Chief Udoh Essiet (Highlife), Rex Jim Lawson (Highlife), and Prince Nico Mbarga (Highlife).
Orchestra Baobab play an African/Afro-Cuban fusion that is reminiscent of Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club. After re-release of cassettes made in Senegal in 1982, the band now tours the world.
The San Francisco Bay Area's Albino! is an example of Afrobeat in America. Another prominent Bay Area musician is bass player Baba Ken okulolo, a native of Nigeria, who moved to the Bay Area in 1985 and formed three Highlife bands — The West African High-life Band, Kotoja, and The Nigerian Brothers.
West African Characteristics
Bass Grooves: Afrobeat and Juju use repetitive lines appropriate to dance music with hypnotic grooves, often using one- or two-bar phrases. Juju is typically played as a lyrical, uplifting, unending jam, whereas Afrobeat is heavier, funkier, and pounds deep grooves while featuring solo sections. Highlife is more lyrical and allows more improvisation on bass. The bassist can be in the background or can be featured as a prominent melodic player in Highlife.
Tone: Bass flat to +3 dB, Mids flat to +6 dB @ 700 Hz, Treble flat to -3 dB. Few or no effects. No distortion. Relatively soft dynamics are an integral part of these styles.
Gear: The plentiful use of percussion makes electric bass more appropriate than upright in most African styles, but some styles, such as African/Afro-Cuban fusion (Orchestra Baobab), are quieter and use upright. The use of 2x10" or 4x10" cabinets helps to cut through the percussion.
Chord Progressions: Afrobeat and Juju use a lot of one- and two-chord vamps. Highlife is more progression oriented than the other styles.
1) I/IV - V/I
2) I - V
3) I - IV/V
4) I - IV - ii7/V7 - I
5) I - V/I - I/IV - V/I
6) I - ii7
7) I - ii7 - I - V
8) IV - V - I
9) I - I/IV - IV/ii7 - V7/I
10) I - V - IV - V
Soukous is a type of dance music that emerged in the Congo region in the early 1960s. Soukous (secouss-er, "shake" in French) is one of the most popular styles of contemporary African music in Africa, Europe, and North America. The roots of this style go back to the post-World War II era when radio stations in the Congo region played Cuban Rumba music. African musicians adapted it and created what was originally called "African Rumba" or "African Jazz."
Prominent Soukous bands and musicians include Zaiko Langa Langa, Franco (Francois Luambo Makiadi), Tabu Le (Tabu Ley Rochereau), and Chief Shaba Kahamba. In the 1970s, bands such as Super Mezembe and Kanda Bongo Man became popular
In the 1980s, Soukous migrated to London and Paris. Bands, sometimes including up to 20 players, often had a lineup of three or four guitars, bass, vocals, percussion, and horns.
Vocalist Papa Wemba is a prominent Soukous player. He performs with his band Viva La Musica in Kinshai, The Republic of the Congo, and also with the band Viva Tendence in Paris. Other current performers include Koffi Olomide and the groups Extra Musica and Wenge Musica.
Bass Grooves: Soukous grooves usually have a 16th-note feel.
Tone: Bass +3 dB, Mids flat to +6 dB @ 700 Hz, Treble flat to -3 dB. Few or no effects. No distortion.
Gear: Electric upright bass will work, but this is more of an electric style than a standup style.
Chord Progressions: Chord progressions tend to be simple and are based on the I, IV, and V chords.
1) I - I - IV - IV
2) I - IV - V
3) I - I - V - V
4) I - IV/V
5) V/IV - I
6) I/IV - IV/I
7) I - V - I - V
8) V/IV - I
Bikutsi developed in the Beti culture in Cameroon. The origin of the word stems from "Bi" (more than one), "Kut" (to strike) and "Si" (the ground), translating to "strike the ground repeatedly." Whereas Soukous began as an African Jazz interpretation of Afro-Cuban music, Bikutsi is a contemporary development based in African musical ideas. Bikutsi became popular in Western Africa by the middle of the 20th century, but only found wide exposure in the mid-1980s through music videos. It rivals Makossa as Cameroon's most popular style.
The "father of modern Bikutsi music," Messi Me Nkonda Martin, front man for Los Camaroes, simulated the traditional "balafon" instrument on an electric guitar, muting the strings by using cotton cord to tie the strings together. One of the more popular contemporary Bikutsi bands in Cameroon is Zélé le Bombardier.
Following its popularization in the mid-1980s, elements of Bikutsi began to appear in the music of American and European musicians, notably in Paul Simon's 1990 recording, "Rhythm of the Saints." Individuals and groups responsible for Bikutsi's success include journalist/promoter Jean-Marie Ahanda, Theodore Epeme (Zanzibar), and Les Tetes Brulees.
Bass Grooves: Much like Soukous, Bikutsi is primarily dance music, and so the bassist's primary job is that of timekeeper. Although occasionally played in 9/8, Bikutsi music usually has a quick 6/8 feel and the drummer usually plays the bass drum on every beat, which allows the bassist opportunities for improvisation around the consistent pulse.
To complicate matters, Bikutsi is often written in 4/4 rather than 6/8. In practice, this means that when Bikutsi is written in 4/4 two 6/8 "measures" are played within every 4/4 measure.
Tone: Bass flat +3 dB, Mids flat to +6 dB @ 700 Hz, Treble flat to -3 dB. Few or no effects. No distortion.
Gear: Electric upright bass will work, but this is more of an electric style than a standup style. Effects such as flange and chorus can be used.
Chord Progressions: Chord progressions tend to be simple and are based on the I, IV, and V chords.
1) I - V - I - V
2) I/V - I/V - I/V - I/V
3) I - IV - I - IV
Quarter Note = 116 – 168 BPMCHAPTER 3
Within 50 Years after Columbus discovered the New World, the Spaniards instituted slavery in Cuba. Most of the slave trade was concentrated in the western part of the island, so Afro-Cuban music developed mostly in the two largest cities there, Matanzas and Havana.
The Spaniards permitted their slaves to worship (in the Catholic religion) through music and dance, which led to the merging of the two cultures in both secular and religious aspects, establishing the foundation of Afro-Cuban music. What has survived is primarily a combination of the Spanish and West African cultures (Congolese, Yoruban, and Dahomean).
The styles presented here developed individually, so it's important to recognize the uniqueness of each and its appropriate application in Afro-Cuban music. It's even more important to recognize and understand the differences between Afro-Cuban music (commonly referred to as "Salsa") and Brazilian music, because they're often lumped together under the vague term "Latin Music." The information in this chapter and the Brazilian chapter will clarify the differences between these very different styles. (Among other things, as we'll see shortly, the foundation of Afro-Cuban music is clave rhythms; and there are no clave rhythms in Brazilian music.)
This chapter focuses on the most commonly played Afro-Cuban styles: Mambo, Cha Cha Chá (usually referred to as Cha Cha), Merengue, Cumbia, Afro-Cuban 6/8, and Afro-Cuban Jazz. (Although Merengue and Cumbia originated in The Dominican Republic and Colombia respectively, they are often thought of as Afro-Cuban genres, largely due to their being dance-oriented Latin styles.) There are many other Afro-Cuban and Latin styles, but those presented in this chapter are the most important for bass.
Salsa is the most prominent and recognizable style of Afro-Cuban music. Various stories credit the name to different sources: 1) It first appeared in the late 1940s song "Échale Salsita" by Ingacio Pineiro; 2) Cuban musician "Bigote" Escalona introduced bands as playing with "salsa"; 3) Tito Puente coined the term. Whatever its derivation, Salsa is now established as the name for Afro-Cuban music performed in a dance setting. The terms "Salsa" and "Mambo" are often used interchangeably, which is close to being accurate. Mambo is the most important Salsa style, while Salsa includes other musical forms such as Bolero.
Mambo's & Cha Cha's Rhythmic Roots
As percussion is the foundation of the Salsa styles, the following information on percussion is essential. The bassist, in order to fully execute and feel the music, must listen to and lock in with the percussionist(s).
The traditional Afro-Cuban percussion section consists of a Conga player (conguero), a timbale player (timbalero), and a bongo and hand bell player (bongo-cero), who may also play güiro on Cha Chas. Additional hand percussion, usually played by singers, includes claves and maracas.
When the traditional percussion section is not present, the drum set takes its place, with the drummer handling all of a percussion section's tasks simultaneously.
The primary Afro-Cuban rhythmic parts consist of:
1) Clave (pronounced cla - vay, with the "a" in "cla" being soft and the "a" in "vay" being hard, and with the accent on the first syllable)
2) The Cáscara rhythm
3) The Campana rhythm (bongo bell)
4) Montuno (played by the piano)
5) Tumbao (pronounced toom-ba-oh)(played by the conguero)
6) Tumbao (played by the bassist)
The interplay between these rhythmic parts is complex. Because this chapter is an introduction to Afro-Cuban bass playing — a basic how-to guide — we will only cover those rhythmic parts most directly useful to bass players: clave and tumbao rhythms.
Clave ("KEY") is the underlying rhythm of Afro-Cuban music. A repetitive two-measure pattern, clave has become a near-universal rhythm, whose influence extends beyond Cuba to North American Jazz, Rock and Roll (e.g., the familiar "Bo Diddley beat"), and even Funk. It is essential for all instrumentalists to understand the rhythm and role of the clave in Afro-Cuban music. The clave has two major forms, the Son and the Rumba. The Son is covered here, the Rumba in the Afro-Cuban Jazz section of this chapter.
Excerpted from The Bassist's Bible by Tim Boomer, Mick Berry. Copyright © 2013 Tim Boomer and Mick Berry. Excerpted by permission of See Sharp Press.
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Table of Contents
CD Track Listings,
DVD Track Listings,
Introduction (by Paul Jackson),
Preface to the First Edition,
Preface to the Second Edition,
The Art of Bass,
1. Acid Jazz,
6. Cajun / Zydeco,
10. Drum & Bass / Jungle,
14. Hip Hop/Rap,
17. Latin Rock,
19. Middle Eastern,
25. Wedding Dances,
A. Standup vs. Electric,
D. Recommended Listening,
F. The Unknown Bassist,