Here’s an assouf style – “desert blues” – bass line of West Africa, with a tablature, a bass backing track and a drum backing track you can access at the end of the article. I played the piece with a thumbpick & 3 fingerpicks. This Tuareg genre is popularized mostly by Malian artists like Tinariwen, Tartit or the late Ali Farke Touré, among others. If you have followed and acquired our previous bass/guitar lessons, there are a couple of relatively unusual aspects that you’ll notice right after you opened the tablature/sheet music. The 1st one is, it’s not in the usual 4/4 time; it’s in 6/8. The other thing is, even though the song is written in A major, it plays in the mode of B dorian, just like our previous West African bass lesson. It builds entirely from the ii and I (tonic) chords. Of course, in spite of the simple chord progression, it’s far from boring!
That about sums up the most representative features of the beginning part of the piece. You need to start with these string skipping octaves on the D and E strings (played in that order). While it starts out with it right away, syncopation will be present throughout the bass line right to the end. Playing consistently is very important in the first section, because each of the four repeats have to sound close enough to each other. It especially matters considering timing and groove placement within the pocket. The groove of this music is both laid back and assertive at the same time. There is an underlying fire in the genre that wants to come to the surface… but never quite does. If you can capture and express it with your playing, you have won half of the battle.
The next section start with octaves on the E and D strings again. This time however, it continues with steady sixteenth notes after every beginning low note. To ace this part of the riff, you have to get deep into the pulse of the groove. If you can manage to do so, these 16th notes won’t end up sounding overly robotic, and you can pat yourself in the back for the moment of artistic expression. How cool is that? -.- Anyway. The technical challenge lies in getting the melody line happening on the D and G strings right. What’s more, you have to pay attention to the small but important variation within this part through the 3rd repeat. If you look at the tab, it occurs first at the end of the 14th measure. The ending part of this section can also be difficult for the first couple of tries, because of the chromatic melody notes. This melody line also takes place on the D & G strings. You have to make sure that you put your fingers down on the required frets in time in this part, and for that, you’re going to have to use all four of your fretting fingers, from index to pinky. This can get tiring real quick with a string action higher than optimal, because of the increased finger pressure needed for fretting. So get your setup as comfortable as possible for your needs and personal playing style, especially if you choose to play the thumb pick + fingerpick style.