Blick Bassy specializes in a very specific feeling; a kind of weightless frenzy marinated in bliss and angst that can only be transmitted through the spellbinding webs of harmony his voice weaves. Locating this feeling would mean drifting between the serenading acoustic guitar melodies of vintage coastal highlife that invite the hips and shoulders to sway and glide to the rhythm, and the soulful vocal gymnastics present in Afro-Cuban Jazz. On his latest studio album, the Cameroonian crooner reveals this familiar feeling to you with the grace of sunrise revealing the beauty of a landscape with a gentle spread of golden light.
The album titled 1958 and released via via No Format/Tôt ou Tard/IDOL in an invitation to the candid history of his home, Cameroon as the title commemorates the date of the shooting of Ruben Um Nyobé, the anti-colonialist leader of the Popular Union of Cameroon (UPC). And across the 11 songs and 35 minutes of this record you are presented with vignettes of both colonial and post-colonial history of struggle through Bassa, Blick’s native language.
The project excels as a brilliant exposition of his vocal and compositional dexterity, as each songs appears minimal and simple but is indeed layered and compact with various charming musical moments that create a warm and familiar sonic signature. Indeed, this temperate feeling is somewhat contrasting when you considering the lyrical content being a reflection on Cameroon, assessing its posture under neocolonialism as well as the contemporary memory of the moments that have led up to this points and the heroes who died to win independence. However, the gift of music allows you to experience this without having to translate the lyrics as the emotions behind each song are direct and piercing.
Ngwa, the opening track for instance unfolds in a worship-song-like euphoric manner with synth chords that prance gently before blooming once the dark and moody horns swell up the sonic atmosphere. Blick Bassy’s vocal work on this song also go through a similar pattern as they become more intense and surreal as he seems to grow into the song. Indeed, most cuts on the project feel like oscillating between bliss and grief making the listening experience a full journey, rather than a stale liner ride. From song to song, you follow the artist through the valleys and peaks of his feelings and thoughts about his Cameroon. You are somewhat deceived by the apparent simplicity of the composition and songwriting, which simultaneously opens you to receive the complex and weighted singing.
It is hard to pick a favorite from this string of solid cuts yet it’s also hard to ignore the stellar brilliance that is track 4, Woñi. Again the song opens with a simple series of blues chords accompanied by Blick’s tender vocals, but transform once the layered hook and Dayme Arocena’s style horns emerge. It feels like a lament on a cold night at one point and then evolves into an Afro-Cuban dance jam with the most serenading trumpet solo. Mpodol the lead single for the project is also similarly cinematic and surprising just as is Maqui and either could very easily be a fan favorite.
1958 is not a project I would miss if you are interested in contemporary African music. Blick Bassy presents a heavy magnifying glass that appears weightless at the first glance, however, it does offer a terrific exposition of his mastery of music which indeed is all a backdrop for his sombering reflections on the history and condition of his home. Indeed, the album is somewhat similar to Nakhane’s You Will Not Die but unique in its own stylistic brilliance. 1958, certainly joins a host of similarly magnificent soulful records from contemporary African music like Fatoumata Diawara and I am almost certain that it will age brilliantly, forcing listener to revisit and re-experience its immerse splendor.
Written by Hakeem Adam
Photo credit: Justice Mukheli