Known as the "King of 6/8 Rhythm," Brice Wassy has had a profound effect on the music of West Africa.
The former bandleader for Manu Dibango and Salif Keita, Wassy has worked with both African artists such as Miriam Makeba, Mabi Thobejane, Madala Kunene, Toure Kunda, Doc Mthalane, Moses Molelekwa, and Busi Mhlongo, as well as non-African artists including French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, Cuban percussionist Changuito, and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. While the late Fela Kuti claimed that Wassy "opened our minds with the militancy of his message and our hearts to the rhythms of Afrobeat," www.jazzafrica.fsnet.co.uk praised him for his "melodious, subtly constructed, compositions built on the solid foundation of African tradition." A member of the Bamileke people, Wassy was drawn to music from earliest memory. As a child, he spent hours banging on pots and pans to recordings of American soul and R&B performers including James Brown, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett. His uncle, Moussy, provided him with his first formal lessons on the drums. By the age of five, he had begun playing with a 15-piece school band. Moving to Paris in 1974 to live with his father, older brother, and younger sister, Wassy was deeply inspired by the playing of jazz fusion drummers including Tony Williams, Steve Gadd, and Billy Cobham. After briefly working with Wally Badarou, Wassy accepted an invitation to join Manu Dibango's band. He remained with the group for six years, rising to the position of music director. His innovative playing on Dibango's 1981 dance hit "Mangambolo" drew attention to his mastery of the 6/8 rhythm. Wassy moved to Salif Keita's post-Les Ambassaeursgroup in 1984. During the six years he played with the band, he toured throughout the world and helped record several groundbreaking albums. It was natural that Wassy be recruited when Jean-Luc Ponty decided to record an African-influenced album in 1990. In addition to helping Ponty assemble the best African musicians in France, he served as a co-producer on Ponty's album Tchokola. While touring in Lagos, Nigeria, with Miriam Makeba in 1992, Wassy was profoundly inspired by a visit to Keita's Shrine Club. Four years later, he recalled the experience when he entered Real World studios to record Shrine Dance with accompaniment by top-notch European and Latin-American jazz musicians including Changuito and Airto Moreira. Refocusing his attention on his homeland, Wassy recorded Belengu Village in 1999. The same year, he toured the United Kingdom with his African Rhythms Orchestra and French jazz musician Claude Deppa's band. Wassy is the author of an instructive method book, Rhythms Of Cameroon. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi