Who’s Herve Samb?
“I’m an urban African, man.” This musician has always said that the jungle he comes from is the asphalt one. Already at eleven years old he was deep into the blues and rock. So, logically, he put a band together in Dakar, a city that enthralled him. And luckily for him, at that early age, he met Pierre van Dormael, a Belgian guitarist who helped show him the way. “I was into the blues, and he introduced me to jazz. But it was more than that. He taught me how to learn.” In place of an academy Hervé preferred the street as his school, applying himself assiduously in the clubs. So at 19 he moved to Paris in 1988, where he immediately started making the rounds and was soon playing with everyone and everywhere, be it jams, clubs, concerts or recording sessions. By 2004 he was flying in and out of New York on a regular basis. “There’s an energy there. Something electric, a driving force. It makes you grow up musically.” Ten years down the road all of those musical influences flow through his fingers. “I found my style in a fusion of ethnic African with forms like jazz, rock, classical music…” That global mix processed by this prodigious versatile and gifted player has found its way onto more than a hundred albums, not too mention innumerable concerts these last twenty years. Which is no mean feat for someone only 35 years old. “Knowledge feeds me.” This view of the world of music and open-mindedness is all part of what makes what he does perpetually contemporary.
He is singular, applying himself to diversity, unique and polymorphous. “All that I’ve done is to sound like I want to, who I am: a multicultural musician.” This is the philosophy he’s lived by these last fifteen years. And there is no shortage of examples of his desire to play all styles. He made his first world tour with Amadou and Mariam, and then continued circling the globe with David Murray’s Gwo ka Masters project. The latter led to the album Gwotet, featuring Pharoah Sanders, for which he wrote a composition. Further demonstrating his range, he played alongside Oumou Sangaré on his major tour, accompanied Jacques Scharz-Bart across Europe, as well as the Moroccan singer Aziz Sahmaoui, with whom he’s maintained a long collaboration. Leaping into something entirely different, Hervé accompanied the legendary Jimmy Cliff on a duo tour to promote the Rebirth album. Finding another musical hat in his closet, Hervé wrote “Shirk” for a Meshell Ndegeocello album, on which he played alongside Pat Metheny. Recorded in L.A., the album’s title is an apt description of this polymath’s career: The World Has Made Me The Man of My Dreams. And that vision and eagerness to take in all that the world offers is what has helped him realize his childhood dreams. Who would have imagined that one day he’d be the artistic director of an album by Omar Pene, one of Senegal’s great musical dignitaries? Or that he would direct the recording sessions for Lisa Simone’s album, in which she steps out from the shadow of her illustrious mother? Just two more examples that illustrate Herve’s talents extend beyond the neck of his guitar.
Among those projects one stands apart. Stemming from his ties between Paris and New York, Africa and America, a cross-Atlantic project bathed in black rhythms, Crossover was released in 2009. The twelve tracks on the disc provide a showcase for Hervé’s talents as well as his sources. Reaction to the recording is reflected by the newspaper Libération: “Ancestral percussion, urban funk, blues, jazz and the Mandika culture respond with each other to merge into groove very much of today.” And then there’s the duo album “Kharit” drecorded with Daniel Moreno on Joe Clausel’s label. This unclassable creation, rightly titled on the Japanese remix as Sacred Rhythm Music, Music 4 Your Legs, was hailed by So Jazz as one of the records of the year. The most recent effort, Time To Feel, is Hervé’s quartet presenting what Jazz News called “a sophisticated epicurean jazz, a gilt-edged jazz.” Jazz Magazine referred to it as a synthesis of historic reference. “We find on Time to Feel all the ingredients that make Hervé one of the African continent’s greatest revelations at the beginning of the twenty-first century: softness and energy of a megamelodic technique, feline groove, M-Base-influenced meter and circularity, polymorphic sonority encompassing the history of jazz-rock-electro-bop-acoustic, the blues and a transfigured Africa.” And even if it doesn’t say it all, it does say a lot