Mbalax African Bass Lesson & Tablature – 13

Here’s a West African mbalax bass line, with the brief tutorial and the tab you can download below! Mbalax is an African fusion genre. Since it originates from West Africa, namely from the countries The Gambia and Senegal, you could make comparisons with other West African styles, for example the assouf we’ve already covered in a couple lessons. If you choose to do so, you’ll find similarities and differences as well. Mbalax in general has more Latin American and North American influence, and it also has some Congolese rumba aka soukous in it, to some degree. Besides the traditional West African music styles, it has everything in it from jazz through R&B to funk, as well as modern hip-hop. The piece above has mainly Latin and funk elements, as you may recognize. It’s written in 3/4 time in the key of A major, but it’s actually in E mixolydian mode. Therefore, the chord progression can be written as V-IV-V-ii-I-ii, V-ii-ii.

Funky Groove With Open Strings

The first part of the tune requires quite some fretting hand coordination. It’s a useful skill if you want to mute the strings in time, and play the notes as short as it’s written in the tablature. It’s especially crucial if just like me, you also choose to play with a thumb pick and fingerpicks. It’s one of those bass lines that are quite challenging to get right, in spite of the relatively moderate tempo. I recommend starting with a carefully slow practice tempo, and increase gradually from there, once you can play it without mistakes.

Quick Fifths & Octaves

bass tab example

Even though the 1st part already used the above mentioned intervals, it’s mainly the second section where they get truly prominent. This part of the tune spans across all four strings of the bass. The dynamic 8th and 16th notes create a funky mood in this section as well, but with the groove of some Latin influence, and the harmonic feel of West African music. The string skipping fifths and octaves help maintaining the rhythmic pulse. In the phrase that ends this part, there’s a somewhat difficult fretting move, where you need to come down from the A string 7th fret to the same fret on the E string with your index finger. Once you get it right, you’ll be able to land on the lower string in time, without letting the A string ring past its required duration.

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