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Jean-Bosco Mwenda and Friends:
JEAN-BOSCO MWENDA AND THE CONGOLESE GUITAR MASTERS
Jean-Bosco Mwenda (known later in life as Mwenda Wa Bayeke) was the most famous and influential of the virtuoso fingerstyle guitarists who flourished in Southeastern Congo in the 1950s. His first recording, "Masanga," was imitated throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and he performed in the US and Europe. These recordings mostly date from the 1950s, with additional tracks from as late as the 1980s, and also include excellent performances by his frequent performing partners Losta Abelo and Edouard Masengo. For more information, go to the Congolese guitar page. (You can also check out my interview with Bosco.)
GEORGE MUKABI AND THE KENYA SOUND
George Mukabi's guitar style is somewhat similar to that of the Congolese greats, but with a distinct local flavor, and though he is less well known, his playing is as varied and exciting as anyone's in the genre and inspired generations of imitators. Meanwhile, the Kenyan recording industry went far beyond acoustic guitar, and a collection of 1950s-era Kikuyu recordings includes everything from yodeling cowboys to a cappella women's choruses accordionists reminiscent of Louisiana zydeco. For more information, please go to the Kenyan acoustic page.
OTHER CLASSIC AFRICAN GUITAR RECORDS:
As noted above, the great African acoustic guitarists are embarrassingly badly represented on CD. However, there is one superb series from the Dutch-based Sharp Wood label, which is reissuing many of Hugh Tracey's recordings. Tracey was the man who first recorded Jean-Bosco Mwenda and hundreds of other marvelous musicians, starting in the late 1940s. Sharp Wood has not yet done a Bosco set (though I have begged them to), but they have several collections that focus on guitar, as well as a lot of other great music of the period. The full catalog can be seen on the SWP web site, and the label's CDs are also available in stores and from Amazon. I particularly recommend:
SWP026 The Legendary George Sibanda. Sibanda, who is best known in the US for his song "Gwabi Gwabi" (or "Guabi Guabi"), which was recorded by Ramblin' Jack Elliott among others, was one of a group of excellent guitarists from Western Zimbabwe whose recordings in the late 1940s helped to inspire the great Zambian and Congolese wave that followed. This is the first full album of Sibanda's 78s, and is essential for any fan of African guitar music.
SWP015 Origins of Guitar Music: Southern Congo and Northern Zambia. Including one track from Bosco, along with other fine players recorded by Tracey in the 1950s, this is a fine sampler of the range of styles that flourished in the Copper Belt. I hope SWP will put out a lot more of this in the future...
SWP025 Forgotten Guitars from Mozambique. Mozambique did not produce an equivalent of the virtuoso fingerpicking heard in the Congo, Zimbabwe and Kenya, but its players were remarkably varied and rhythmically sophisticated, and this is an excellent introduction to their work.
There are also two videos that should be of interest to anyone who loves this music. African Guitar includes film of Jean-Bosco Mwenda and other African acoustic players, made by the Austrian musicologist Gerhard Kubik.
For guitarists who want to learn more about this style, African Fingerstyle Guitar is a fine guide to the techniques of Jean-Bosco Mwenda, Losta Abelo and George Mukabi, taught by John Low. Low studied with Bosco and Losta, and played with many of Mukabi's associates, and now that they are gone, his video is as close as you can get to studying with the masters themselves.
Though it is not a fingerstyle guitar album, I also recommend Songs of the African Coast: Cafe Music of Liberia, a charming collection of songs, many of them in Pidgin English, recorded in Liberia in 1948. You can learn more and hear sample tunes at Yarngo Music.
Then there is my good friend and sometime partner, Dominic Kakolobango, a fine Zambian singer, guitarist, and songwriter who got his start playing on the streets of Lubumbashi with Losta Abelo, and who was my host when I was studying with Bosco and Masengo. I worked with Dominic on this album, African Acoustic, a collection of original songs, versions of classic Congolese pieces, and even a Swahili version of a Mance Lipscomb blues. It is mostly acoustic, but also has some tasteful duets with the electric soukous player Dizzy Manjeku. It is available from Africassette, a small record company that also distributes a lot of great African music.
you want to pay by check, please send an email to
elijah(at)elijahwald.com, and I'll get you my address and any other