Observing other cultures can be enlightening – and fascinating!
By Jon Liebman
Week of August 17, 2020
We play bass in order to express a feeling. Wherever we grew up, that feeling was inspired by the music that was around us. Before the Internet, we were more heavily influenced by the music in our immediate surroundings – local bands, local radio stations, friends, schoolmates, etc. – than by the music from unfamiliar, far-off cultures.
Try to imagine how differently you would approach music, including learning bass, if you grew up someplace other than where you did? What if it was in an entirely different culture and you had a totally different set of resources available to you?
That topic is among the things I talked about in this week’s FBPO interview with Noor Che’ree, co-founder of Symphonic Planet, a California-based production company that travels around the world in search of unique sounds and instruments, often from far-off cultures. Symphonic Planet documents this music, then shares it with the world through various media. Their mission is truly fascinating.
According to Noor, since we’re trying to express a feeling, why not to look around the world and find people in different surroundings learning to express feelings in different ways, based on what resources and influences they have available to them?
“You need to explore different music with the instrument,” says Noor. “I have bass students in Africa that I mentor, and I learned from them, the way they approach the instrument. How are they creating that feeling? How are they approaching that? How did they learn to play that instrument? It opens up a whole new realm on how to play it. It’s not rocket science. It’s very basic.”
Noor’s philosophy is not unlike the approach we take with our students at FBPO. In addition to courses in basic technique, scales, theory, etc., our students are exposed to a wide variety of music from varying cultures, including Latin, reggae, even globally influenced components in jazz, blues, and rock.
“A lot of times we forget that there are great resources there, but people who learned to fall in love with bass found a way to play it themselves,” Noor says. “If you explore and research another person in another country that doesn’t have those resources, to them, it still goes back to the feeling.”
In exploring music from people who are not like us, from cultures that are far away and markedly different, there’s so much we can learn, including new ways of expressing feeling with the bass.
“There’s so much beauty in exploring their technique, their perspective,” says Noor. “How a person approaches your instrument differently than you is, I think one of the best ways to learn.”
How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, you can check out my interview with Noor here.
As a member of the ‘older’ generation, I grew up in the southern hemisphere in the days of Long Play records(LPs – pre CD and even 8-track). Everything was analog. We knew of all the great players in different genres and styles around the world, so many of us frequented the import record stores where many of us spent out hard-earned pay because they would cost up to three times as much. There were two predominant electric bassists then who stood out, not the thousands there are today. They were Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius. Jeff Berlin was around apparently, but we did not hear of him through distance until quite a while later. If you also played Upright (contrabass), then you knew of Steve Swallow who moved to electric permanently and others who dabbled in it that were mainly upright players.
I cannot count how many times and how many LPs I wore out listening and transcribing tunes which we’d then jam with our other friends and associates. If one of the icons we loved toured, it was funny because nearly every player I knew would be calling every other player to do their gig(s).
“Sorry man, I am going to see Miles, both nights.”
As for what I suggest the greatest thing my peers and I got from that musical distance, it was a developed ear, and for that I am eternally grateful.