Here’s an uptempo example of soukous bass guitar. This African musical style is recognizable from the sebene parts. These are fast, repeated rhythmic & melodic patterns that are usually played in the higher registers of stringed instruments. On the electric bass, it usually means somewhere around the octave of the neck. The piece is in G major, and the chord progression is I-IV-V-IV throughout the song… but with a twist! More on this below.
Play The Root Notes… NOT.
If you have been around bass players, at least the average ones, you have probably heard the advice: “just play the roots”. This tried and true method works for sure, but sometimes you need something more interesting. Something that turns heads, so to say. The above example demonstrates that you can get away with playing other notes to harmonize the chords of the tune. For the 1st IV chord, you’ll need to play the major second, for the 2nd IV, the major sixth will be played. Will it sound odd? You betcha. But the resolution that arrives in the sebene section will sound just that much more soothing. Besides this harmonic trick, the first, lower part of the song utilizes syncopation quite prominently. There are also those nasty phrase-starting sixteenth notes that you have to be tactical about, so you can land on the following notes in time. The usual mantra of “play it super slow and make no mistakes” works really effectively when you face such challenges.
This Sebene Will Be Heard
Yup. Constructing a recognizable, unique sebene bass line is not all that easy. At least not if you decide not to copy something that someone else already played… a million times. I hope I have accomplished this mission in the video. If not, well… I’ll be here all week, titting the waitress. Or something like that. -.- Anyway, you gotta make a long & bold shift slide from the lower fretboard area to enter the scene of where the 2nd part takes place. And this is where the money is. The sebene covers all four strings and includes a couple of steps that require you to skip adjacent strings. The closed palm fingerstyle comes really handy when you need to play such bass parts, because it’s relatively easy to do them this way. You’ll also have the attack of a pick if you play your bass with fingerpicks and a thumbpick like in the video. Just make sure that you mute the non-playing strings. Otherwise, it gets nasty real quick.