Who is Habib Faye?
Bass player, guitar player, keyboardist, composer and Grammy-nominated producer, Habib Faye has been the musical director for the Youssou N’Dour band for the past 25 years or so. He has arranged and produced most of the band’s albums since 1986. A celebrated African bass player, who counts Brandford Marsalis, Joe Zawinul and Darryl Jones among his fans, Faye has gigged, recorded and/or toured with renowned artists such as Mickey Hart, Manu Katché, Joe Zawinul, Paco Sery, Gilberto Gil, Chet Atkins, Mark Knopfler, Brandford Marsalis, Poogie Bell, David Sancious, Lionel Loueke, Tania St. Val, Jacob Desvarieux, David Sanborn, Mokhtar Samba, Carlinhos Brown and Angélique Kidjo. The list is long. Additionally, his imprint on Senegalese music is indelible and is evidenced by the scores of albums he produced or co-produced with Senegalese artists such as Kine Lam, Ndongo Lo, Viviane Chedid N’Dour, just to name a few. Known as one of the most gifted African bass players of the last couple of decades, he is one of the champions of a new type of fusion that blends jazz with African rhythms to attain a more accessible sound without profaning the spirit of jazz. Habib Faye follows in the footsteps of fellow African bass players, Richard Bona and MBappé, who have taken the sounds of Cameroon beyond its borders and expose them to other rhythms and tempos.
An amazing talent
Habib grew up in Dakar, Senegal, within a family of musicians. His dad, a teacher, played the guitar as a hobby. His brothers are well known musicians in Senegal. Lamine Faye is one of the most popular and respected guitarists in the country. Adama Faye is one of the pioneers of keyboard playing in the West African country. Moustapha Faye is a keyboardist. Vieux Mac Faye, an accomplished guitarist and pioneer of “Joolof blues” (cocktail of African melodies and blues, taught Habib to play the guitar at age 9 and set off his musical exploration. Habib then picked up the bass at age 13.
He soon became the talk of the town as mainstream artists started taking notice of his talent. But it was his impromptu and no less mesmerizing performance at a Toure Kunda concert in Dakar in the early 80’s that introduced him to the public. That day, he came to the concert as a spectator but ended up subbing for Super Diamono star bass player, Bob Sene at the request of Ismaël Lo and his brother Lamine Faye. He was 15. His performance generated a lot of buzz and Youssou N’Dour was listening.
25 years with Youssou N’Dour
In 1984, just days before graduating from highschool, Habib got an offer he could not resist and that came from none other than African super star Youssou N’Dour. Habib Faye joined the Youssou N’Dour band, Super Etoile, as bass player and quickly became the band’s arranger/producer. With Habib, Super Etoile revolutionized Senegalese music, refined and modernized the sound of Mbalax, the national popular dance music of Senegal derived from “sabar” drumming. The band created a rootsy Afropop sound with jazz, rock, soul and funk undertones that has proven to be the most popular music style in the country. Habib has arranged/produced most of Super Etoile’s work.
Music critic Robert Christgau called Super Etoile “the best live band in the world.” The band has performed all over the world for the past 25 years or so, headlining concerts, opening for Peter Gabriel during his European/American tour in 1987 and playing at the Woodstock Festival in 1994. The band also played along side Sting, Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen during Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now tour. Habib has called this experience life-altering musically as it made him a better musician.
A passionate musician
In addition to his work with Super Etoile, Habib Faye has focused on some solo projects over the years. He launched a jazz project through the Habib Faye Quartet in 2005 which modeled after Weather Report and bass legend Jaco Pastorius, his reference to whom he dedicated a live album, Live at Central Park – Tribute to Jaco Pastorius. This live album recorded in Dakar with European and Senegalese musicians was not released internationally.
Around the same time, Habib started Spectr’Arts, a promotion company, and founded a local label, Cool Music centered around his recording studio, Coco Records, which sports the latest technology in recording. He launched Sen Event Jazz Festival in Paris before moving it to Dakar. In the Senegalese capital, he hosted various events such as the “Live de Habib Faye,” with guitarist Lionel Loueke (who also plays with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter) and drummer Mokhtar Samba (who has played Joe Zawinul, Carlos Santana, Jaco Pastorius and Salif Keita).
Habib Faye has been very active in instituting an alternative stage in Dakar, in an effort to free the Senegalese musical landscape from the grips of mainstream Mbalax which has suffered a creativity gap in the past few years. An accomplished musician, multi-instrumentalist and perfectionist, Habib is always exploring new ways of making African music “elaborate, well-thought out and unadulterated,” as he puts it. His work has already been recognized as he was awarded the much coveted Chevalier de l’Ordre du Lion, Senegal’s highest civil honor, for his distinguished service to the nation in the arts.
H2O, the debut album
H2O began taking shape in 2008. This offering, Habib Faye’s first, is a presentation of the diversity of Senegalese and African traditional rhythms through the prism of jazz. H2O is the culmination of years of experience and exploration collaborating and touring with top artists. This fusion-infused album captures Habib Faye at his prime as he lays out his vision of music. “I have this strong desire to rid jazz of its elitist image and want to make it part and parcel of musical culture,” he said in 2008. “I do not want my music to have a jazz connotation exclusively. I want to make world music, i.e. take African rhythms and give them other flavors. Some musicians want to do the same thing over and over again; I like to think outside the box,” he added.
H2O is an infectious blend of African sonorities with powerful jazz overtones. One can hear the intricate sounds of Casamance and Sine Saloum injected into some spirited jazz giving it a whole new stature. Besides, this album is ripe with bass slapping, popping, strumming and some quintessentially African grooving; something bass enthusiasts will be very pleased with. Furthermore, Habib Faye’s fretless work on this record is quite remarkable. He makes no secret of the fact that he is a huge Jaco Pastorius fan and learned the bass listening to Weather Report albums.
Habib Faye sings on all 13 tracks and duets with notable guests such as Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Julia Sarr and Idrissa Diop. Cameroonian saxophone patriarch and Soul Makossa guru Manu Dibango as well as drummer Mokhtar Samba and French keyboardist Jean-Philippe Rykiel also appear on this album.
H2O is released on March 5, 2012 by Montreux (Switzerland)-based Odaras Productions, a label/management agency founded by Carlos Rodrigues who signed Habib Faye after meeting him in October 2010. As of February 2011 Odaras Productions takes care of all of Habib Faye’s booking and management. The album was recorded and mixed between Paris, Geneva and Dakar, Habib Faye’s home base. It is now available in all digital media stores such as iTunes, Amazon, Fnac Music, Spotify, Virgin Mega and Deezer. On March 14, he performed with his band at the legendary New Morning in Paris. Habib Faye is among the acts playing at the Afrique dans tous les sens festival in May 2012. A string of appearances to support the album are being planned. So stay tuned.
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