“Percussion is the bottom line. When you’re talking, crying, when it rains, there is percussion,” declared percussionist extraordinaire Mokhtar Samba. The African skinsman would know best. After all, he’s plied his trade professionally from 1977 and played with the likes of Carlos Santana, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorious, Jean Luc Ponty and Youssou N’Dour in that time.
Mokhtar was swayed by African rhythms from the time he was a young boy attending weddings with his Moroccan mother. But it was only when he landed in France as a 12-year-old that his interest for the drums truly ignited.
An education at the renowned Conservatoire de Fontenay- Sous-Bois, where he took classes with the venerable Guy Lefebvre, sent him headfirst into his life-long love for percussion instruments.
From his start at Hamsa Music to his more recent work with WDR Big Band, under the direction of hard bop trumpeter Michael Mossman, Mokhtar’s CV is bristling with musical activity of merit.
But his most recent endeavour, Racines (meaning “roots” in French), an album encompassing interpretations of great jazz standards, could be his best yet.
Racines was recorded in studio sessions with renowned international jazz artistes in New York City and Paris, and is a first foray into the international recording arena for label NBT Records.
“I’ve had this idea for 15 years now – reflections on how to play jazz standards without being boring. I didn’t want to play such great tunes in a traditional way, but in a more original way. All the standards are played by great drummers. If I played them in the traditional way, I wouldn’t be better than them,” reveals Mokhtar in an e-mail interview, acknowledging that he’s more for reinterpretations than note-perfect replication.
Racines, part of Mokhtar’s African Jazz Project, features the music of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Michael Brecker. Putting African rhythms to jazz music decidedly American was a challenge he relished.
“When I’m listening to jazz, I listen to the melody first. The concept is based on playing different, strong African rhythms and trying to adapt them to the melody,” he said, intimating that the main ingredient effected in the music is the time signature.
According to him, the African Jazz Project is about the relation between rhythm and melody. “Everything starts in Africa. Life starts with Africa. The music also. The jazz scene in Asia is very influenced by Western music. One of my wishes is to show Asian jazz musicians that there are other ways to express themselves,” he shared, explaining how he is trying to create an awareness for Asian jazz artistes to tap deeper into their cultural heritage through the project, in creating a whole new dimension to their interpretation of jazz.
Given his extensive travels, Mokhtar has been privy to percussion-driven music from various cultures, citing Africa, Cuba, Brazil, India and The Balkans as some of the most inspiring for the musical style.
Excerpt from interview with The Star, Oct 28, 2015
You can also buy the digital download on CD Baby.