Hongo Calling - Blick Bassy
If there was ever a shred of doubt surrounding the importance of music as a chronicle of human history, one need only chart the course of the slave trade. There have been valiant attempts in the past by artists like Angelique Kidjo to explore the musical links between Africa and the new world, but none so exacting (in my recollection) as Hongo Calling from Blick Bassy. Passionately attuned to his own ancestry in Cameroon, Bassy’s second album maps an infamous journey that spirited away a free and proud people from West Central Africa, through Benin, across to Cape Verde, to reach the new world in Brazil and throughout the Americas as slaves. Among their legacies are the rhythms they brought with them to be adopted and appropriated along the way; ever changing but intuitively related. Much of Hongo Callling was recorded in Rio, but the West African roots ripple throughout the melodies. Oddly or not, the central stop on the passage, Cape Verde seems to me to resonate loudest on the recording. The Brazilian touches are less subtle. The samba beat with the cuica friction drum teleports the listener immediately to the Copa, though research will reveal striking similarities between samba and Cameroon’s assiko back where the voyage began. Acoustic, breezy and soulful, Bassy’s compositions and styling could recall other modern troubadours from the Southern Hemisphere like Seu Jorge, though the former’s voice is higher, airier and distinctly African. Another Brazilian modern pioneer, Lenine guests on two of the songs. Bassy explains, “The soul of my music isn’t so much the words, it’s in the way of singing.” Certainly, his soulful, nearly breathless delivery and agile fretwork are front and center on the disc, sometimes, to my ears at the expense of the ornate arrangements around him. The result can sound at times as if he’s performing with a backing track rather than settled into the mix. Standouts appear in the middle the set with track 5, ‘Bolo Mo’ and track 6, ‘Ndjéck’. The contemporary urban cover portrait belays the history in the album title. Hongo Calling references his own ancestors, the Bassa people Cameroon. In their ancient tradition, Hongo was the name given music set apart for daily rejoicing.