Enigmatic and nimble fingered on the bass, soft-spoken Senegalese bassist and vocalist Alune Wade is a man of few words and a success career that spans over two decades. Cynthia Mukanzi caught up with him before his performance at Safaricom Jazz Lounge
Your music cuts across continents and defies language barriers. Did it ever occur to you that would hamper your growth in the art?
That thought never crossed my mind. I think it doesn’t matter which language you speak as long as your music connects with your listeners. That is what music is supposed to do; to speak and move people. I always strive to connect with my audience. I never worried my music would hit walls.
You’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years — how did your journey begin?
My father was a musician and he sort of pushed me in that direction when I was about six. I didn’t necessarily love music; I wanted to play football, become a star, but I later got magnetised into it. I started by playing drums, but found them too loud, so I learnt how to play the guitar.
Every member of my family is a musician except my mother. Music is an integral part of our culture, and when you come from a musical family, you are more likely to get influenced.
Would you say you are happy and satisfied in the craft?
Music is my life and hope. I feel it in my heart and soul. Yes, my father insisted I get into it, but my heart eventually warmed to it when I discovered that side of me and figured out which path I wanted to take. I never looked back.
So, when did you professionally start your artistry?
I think I was 13. After a while, I started jamming with bands. I loved playing the bass. By the time I was 17, we had already done tours and performed at a lot of events.
It must have been hard to juggle school and music.
Actually, I dropped out — I didn’t like it. When I started playing with bands, I left school and focused on music. That doesn’t mean I stopped learning. I was not one to sit down in a class, but I sometimes missed my friends. My mother was not happy with my decision, but she eventually understood I had to make my own choices.
Your album Havana-Paris-Dakar, in which you collaborated with Harold Lopez-Nussa, is streaked with Cuban music influences. Why?
In the 60s, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Congo had bands that played Afro-Cuban music or had influences in several aspects. They sometimes merged, their Rhumba making a lot of hits in the 70s.
In the 80s, almost every radio station played Afro-Cuban music. This is what influenced me to pair up with my good friend Lopez and come up with this set of music that throws us back to our musical history. We wanted to unite the Cuban sound to its African roots. This kind of music still resonates in the Western part of the continent.
What was the reception of the three albums in Cuba?
They loved and embraced the music. Cuban people had no idea that Africans know their music and so this came as a welcome surprise to them. They were happy.
In your album Ayo Nene, you seem to channel out a Yousou N’ Dour vibe that doesn’t go unnoticed. What do you think of being likened to such a legend?
It is humbling. Yousou N’ Dour is such a powerful figure in the African music story and for my work to be thought of as similar to his is amazing. Now that you mentioned it, allow me to stay this; Ayo Nene was my story and journey in music. I wanted to pay homage to African Rhumba and so I tried to do so in this album.
Talk to us about your hit Aminata.
Aminata is a love story. Even after being in rotation for years, it still makes powerful waves and that says a lot about making timeless music. It still stuns me. What makes jazz so special? Jazz originated from Africa, it has strong roots and regardless of the numbers, it will never die.
Your career took off at a very young age. Would you sum up your journey as successful?
I can say I am happy and lucky. I have come a long way and now have a dedicated band that I play with. I can say it has been a success earned through passion and hard work. I hope it becomes bigger — we are not halfway to where we want to be.
So, what’s next?
We keep playing and spreading the joy of music with each passing day as always. I hope to come back to play in Kenya again.