Monday, February 16, 2015

Funkiest Female Bass Players

Bassist Yolanda Charles layin' down some dirty funk
As in hard rock, funk music has been a largely male-dominated field; however, over the years, a number of talented female artists have distinguished themselves in these respective genres with their considerable chops and undeniable musical gifts. And this can definitely be seen among female bass players in the funk world. There are a number of badass female bassists out there who can get down just as funky as the boys—and sometimes even out-funking their male counterparts.

So in recognition of these talented players, I’ve made up a list of my seven funkiest female bassists. And in addition to their impeccable technical prowess on the bass, all the players on my list have a natural feel for the instrument and bring tons of soul, passion and funk to their playing—because it’s not just about the notes you hit but the feeling you bring to them. So without further ado, here are my top seven funkiest female bass players in no particular order:

Alissia Benveniste

Bassist Alissia Benveniste has been capturing the attention of funk and R&B fans with her ace bass-playing chops and impressive skills as a live performer. And in addition to being a great bassist, the Swiss-born musician is also a talented singer, songwriter, arranger, producer and bandleader. She and her band, Alissia and the Funketeers, have been thrilling audiences with their dynamic funk sound and electrifying live shows. The video of the band performing Benveniste’s super-funky original track “Let it Out” at Berklee College of Music has been creating quite a buzz and currently has more than a million views on Youtube.

The young Berklee student’s career has really been blowing up of late. She was recently featured on the cover of Bass Quarterly Magazine and has worked with acclaimed hip-hop artist Q-Tip, as well as recorded for rap superstar Kanye West. And she is currently working on her solo debut album, which is set to drop sometime this year, according to her website.




L’dia on Bass

L’dia on Bass (aka Lydia Kaboesj) has funk running through her veins. She lives and breathes it. The Dutch musician is one of the baddest bass players on the scene right now. When she gets busy on the bass, you don’t just hear it—you feel it. And she’s a very well-rounded bassist, playing with smoothness, dexterity and finesse on jazzy/soul tracks and with a raw ferocity on the hard-hittin’ funk cuts.

In addition to being a skilled bassist, she’s an accomplished singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. She formed the Level 42 tribute band, Heathrow, several years ago, and they tore it up every time they hit the stage. Moreover, she has toured extensively throughout Europe with various talented music acts, including acclaimed saxophonist Candy Dulfer; and she even had the opportunity to jam on stage with bass legend Larry Graham.

And L’dia has not only been getting love from funk fans but also from noted musicians. For instance, celebrated bassist Marcus Miller (who’s her idol and one of her biggest influences) said the following about her: “L’dia Kills it. Her playing is joyful and fonky!” That’s high praise indeed from the bass master. L’dia also holds bass workshops, which include slapping tha bass and masterclass. And she’s currently working on some new workshops.

Additionally, she performs one-woman live shows using a loop station, which enables her to build a groove onstage on her own through the looping of different instrumental parts. The shows are called L’dia Goes Loopy. Her next one-woman loop concert is scheduled for February 28, 2015, according to her facebook page. The multitalented musician has released two albums Suleika (“Hop-‘o-my-thumb”) and Plonkay!  And in 2012, she released the original single “Little Bro,” which is a terrific slice of R&B/funk.



Plonkay! EP at Amazon


Nik West

Phoenix, Arizona native Nik West has been setting the funk world on fire with her sterling bass skills. West’s bass playing is dynamic, rock-solid and extremely funky. The musician comes from a musical family and originally played guitar. But that all changed when she discovered the bass in high school, and she has never looked back. And in addition to her gifts as a bassist, she’s a talented vocalist who possesses a powerful and soulful singing voice. West specializes in funk, rock and soul. And she has worked with music powerhouses such as Prince, Marcus Miller, Lenny Kravitz, Steven Tyler, John Mayer and Dave Stewart—all of whom have sung her praises. Legendary funkster and bass lord Bootsy Collins had this to say about her: “Nik West is definitely bringing back the funk groovement, and I love everything about what she stands for!”

The striking, statuesque musician is also an accomplished print and runway model and has graced the cover of Bass Musician Magazine twice and was featured in Bass Player, Bass Quarterly Germany and Bass Magazine Japan.  She also made the cover of Image & Style Magazine and landed endorsement deals with Fender and SWR Sound Corporation. And she even appeared on Glee.

West released her first album, Just In The Nik of Time, in 2011, and she recently dropped her new EP Say Somethin’, which is a superb collection of funk, soul and rock. And guitar phenom Orianthi is featured on the track “My Relationship.” Learn more about West at her website.



Say Somethin' at Amazon


Yolanda Charles

Yolanda Charles picked up the bass at age 15 and hasn’t put it down since. The talented London-born musician kicked off her career as a bassist for Jimmy Somerville from the Communards and within London bands Urban Species and Raw Sylus. And she has played in various soul, reggae and funk bands where she honed her chops in those styles.

Charles has made a name for herself doing session work for a number of distinguished, high-profile artists, including Paul Weller, Alison Moyet, Van Morrison, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Roger Daltry and Robbie Williams. And she has performed live with people like Sinead O'Connor, Natasha Bedingfield, Daryl Hall and Dave Stewart. It’s a testament to Charles’ prodigious skills and versatility on the instrument that so many acclaimed and legendary artists have recruited her to provide bass for their tracks. Her playing is marked by impeccable timing, precision and pure funkiness.

Moreover, Charles is a talented singer/songwriter and has been penning songs for almost as long as she’s been playing bass. And in addition to her session work, Charles leads the funk-fusion band The Deep MO. In 2009, the band released its self-titled EP on Charles’ label Groove4dayz Records and dropped a full album in 2012 entitled Funk in the 3rd Quarter. Charles wrote and arranged all the tracks on the terrific 10-song collection. She is currently recording an EP of vocal and instrumental tracks and has brought in some top musicians from the UK and France for the project. Check out some of The Deep Mo's music at their website.




Rhonda Smith

Bass dynamo Rhonda Smith brought truckloads of funk, style and attitude to the fold as a member of Prince’s band, the New Power Generation. It pretty much goes without saying that Smith’s a phenomenal bass player considering that she was a member of NPG—one of the tightest groove outfits on the planet—for nearly ten years. 

Smith was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and her family moved to Montreal when she was still a child. She grew up in a very musical environment and became interested in the bass. She went on to study jazz performance at McGill University in Montreal and began touring the local rock circuit with a small group of female musicians while still a student. This gigging experience helped significantly sharpen her bass chops.

Once she graduated, she was ready to set the world on fire with her bass skills and began working with prominent Canadian artists, including Claude Dubois, Daniel Lavoie, Robert Charlebois, and Joanne Blouin. And she won the prestigious Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for her work with Jim Hillman and The Merlin Factor.

Smith met acclaimed drummer and percussionist Sheila E. at a music convention in Germany, which led to her auditioning for a spot in Prince’s band, the New Power Generation. The Purple One liked what he heard and hired Smith on the spot; he immediately had her in the studio laying down bass parts on tracks for his upcoming three-disc album Emancipation, which was released in November of ‘96. And in addition to her work with the New Power Generation, Smith has performed with a veritable who’s who of music heavyweights, including Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, T. I., Erykah Badu, Patti Austin, Patrice Rushen, Brenda Russell, Lee Ritenour, Larry Graham, Patti Labelle, Little Richard, Najee, Candy Dulfer, Rachel Farrell, Kirk Whalum and George Clinton.

Smith is also a talented singer/songwriter and has released two solo albums: Intellipop (2000) and RS2 (2006). She wrote or co-wrote all the tracks on both collections. Additionally, Smith’s a member of the all-female band C.O.E.D. (Chronicles of Every Diva), which includes Shelia E. and acclaimed guitarist/vocalist/composer Kat Dyson. And Smith plays bass in Jeff Beck’s band. The band has a tour scheduled for this year, which is set to kick off on April 13, 2015 at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Check out Smith's website for more tour date info and other news about the musician.



RS2 at Amazon


Me'Shell NdegéOcello

There weren’t many prominent female funk bass players on the scene when Me'Shell NdegéOcello blew up in the early ‘90. The sultry-voiced soulster brought female funk bass players to the forefront with her tremendous bass skills, charisma and undeniable swag.  And in addition to her bass-playing abilities, she’s an accomplished vocalist, songwriter and rapper. Her sound is a unique mélange of funk, jazz, reggae, soul, rock and hip hop; some of the themes she takes on in song include race, politics, religion, homophobia and sexuality. And the multitalented artist is credited as having helped ignite the neo-soul movement that swept the music scene in the mid ‘90s. Moreover, her success no doubt has inspired girls and young women to pick up the bass.

NdegéOcello was born Michelle Lynn Johnson in Berlin, Germany. Her father, Jacques Johnson, was an army Sergeant Major and an accomplished saxophonist. She spent a few years in Germany before her family relocated in to Virginia and then Washington, D.C. And while growing up in D.C., she developed a deep interest in music and attended Duke Ellington School of Arts.  After that, the young bassist sharpened her funk chops through playing D.C.’s go-go circuit in the late ‘80s. During this period, she played with various go-go bands, including Prophecy, Little Bennie and the Masters, and Rare Experience. And after a stint at Howard University, NdegéOcello settled in New York to check out what the music scene in the Big Apple had to offer.

She was eventually signed to Madonna’s label Maverick Records, where she released her debut album, Plantation Lullabies, in 1993.  She was one of the first artists to be signed to the new label. The stellar collection of soul, funk and jazz cuts received high marks from noted music publications and earned her three Grammy nominations. The album climbed to #35 on U.S. R&B charts, and her single "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" peaked at #73 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album put NdegéOcello firmly on the map in the R&B music scene. The following year, she recorded a duet with John Mellencamp for a cover of Van Morrison’s song “Wild Night.” It peaked at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and broke NdegéOcello into the mainstream. Some of the other noted artists with whom she has collaborated include Chaka Khan, Billy Preston and Herbie Hancock.

NdegéOcello has released eleven albums over the years and dropped her most recent album, Comet, Come to Me, in 2014.  She has received ten career Grammy nominations, and her music has also been featured on a number of film soundtracks.



Comet, Come to Me at Amazon


Ida Nielsen

Prince has always recruited the baddest and most talented female players for his bands, a practice that dates back to the early 1980s with his band the Revolution, which included members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. And he continues this practice with Ida Nielsen, who plays in his band the New Power Generation. She’s also a member of the Purple One’s newly formed all-female band 3rdEyeGirl. The talented Danish bassist, vocalist and composer has been funkin’ up a storm as a member of these two bands.  Her playing is massively funky, and she can thump and pluck like nobody’s business—hence her nicknames Ida Funkhouser and BASSIDA.

Nielsen began her funky journey at the age of 16 when she first picked up the bass. She attended the Royal Danish Academy of Music where she earned a diploma in electric bass. After that, she played with a number of bands before joining up with Prince; some of those bands included Zap Mama and MLTR. In 2010, Prince saw her MySpace page and was so impressed with her bass skills that he had his manager invite her to Minneapolis for a jam session. The jam session turned out well, with Nielsen becoming the New Power Generation's new bass player.

And in 2013, Nielsen became a member of the newly formed 3rdEyeGirl. She played bass on Prince’s recent album Art Official Age, as well as 3rdEyeGirl’s debut album PLECTRUMELECTRUM. The albums were released simultaneously on September 30, 2014. Nielsen has released two solo albums, Marmelade (2008) and Sometimes a Girl Needs Some Sugar Too (2011). Learn more about this talented funkster at her facebook page.




Super-funky cut by Ida from 2011


Sometimes a girl needs some sugar too (album at Amazon)


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