Touching Bass (Part 11)
Concluding our series on bass styles, Simon Trask goes ethnic
As the cold dark days of winter draw in, Simon Trask turns to the warm, infectious groove of Zairean soukous music for the final instalment of his series on the bassline.
To round off the series, I've chosen to look at a form of music which gives the bassline a prominent role. Zairean soukous is the quintessential African pop music, an incorrigibly, irresistibly happy concoction of sparkling guitar lines, jaunty basslines and snappy dance beats which has long been popular throughout black Africa.
Soukous ('having a good time' music!) is characterised on the one hand by straightforward harmonies and chord progressions, and on the other by a complex, dynamic interplay of melodies and rhythms. Chord progressions are typically two bars long and consist of two or four chords; a soukous track consists of two or more recurring sections, each built around a different chord progression. Mirroring this structure, the bassline is typically based on repeating 2-bar riffs, with each section having its own riff to match the different chord progression. While soukous basslines fulfil the usual bass function of outlining and underpinning the chords, they also typically have strong melodic and rhythmic identities of their own. Incidentally, tempo for this month's examples should be 125bpm.
The three rhythmic motifs in Example 1 are the 'building blocks' of rhythm in soukous; the first two are commonly found in the snare part and the bass, while the third provides the constant kick drum rhythm and, on occasion, the rhythm for the bass part (see Example 6(b) - here, the bassline should be played in a clipped fashion). Examples 2-6 all provide characteristic soukous basslines, modelled in particular on the playing of Miguel Yamba, one of the top soukous bass players. Note how some of the examples stray into the bass guitar's upper register; this is characteristic of soukous bass playing, where the basslines are often more like 3rd guitar lines.
You can use the drum and percussion parts provided in Example 6 as accompaniment for all the other basslines. In Examples 4 and 5, the (a) and (b) examples are intended to be matched with the rhythms of Examples 6(a) and (b) respectively while 5(c) is also intended for use with 6(b)'s rhythm - but these are recommendations, rather than commands engraved in stone.
For Examples 6(a) and (b) I've also added the all-important lead and rhythm guitar parts. While rhythm players play mid-range, lead guitarists play as high as the fretboard lets them go! In fact, to avoid excessive use of leger lines, I've written the lead guitar parts without the 'octave lower' symbol which usually hangs off the treble clef for guitar scoring. While we're on the subject of writing for guitar, I've scored the rhythm guitar parts literally, with tie lines indicating where notes should be held; if you actually play these parts on a guitar, you should also use pull-offs for the E-D and F#-E 16ths.
Feature by Simon Trask
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