African Guitar Legends (pt. 1)


François Luambo Makiadi (Franco)

by Dan Rosenberg, from “The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends” (World Music Network):

It would be hard to find a musical instrument that has done more to shape the music of the planet than the guitar. The six-stringed guitar has had a profound impact on the music of six continents.  While scholars have found evidence of guitar-like instruments as far back as ancient Persia, what we now know as the modern European guitar can be traced directly to Africa. It was the Moorish invasion in the eighth century that brought the guitar from Africa to Spain, which centuries later led to Flamenco and literally thousands of styles of music across the globe.

The slave trade led to the creation of American blues, and it doesn’t take an ethnomusicologist to recognize the blues’ connection to the guitar styles of legends like Mali’s Ali Farka Touré. The Spanish conquest brought the guitar to Latin America, and led to styles like the Cuban son
In an odd historical quirk, Afro-Cuban music made its way back across the Atlantic in the early twentieth century, and led to new styles such as Congolese rumba. Although artists like Trio Matamoros, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz and Ray Baretto didn’t tour Africa, their records certainly did – their vinyl LPs made it to DJs across the continent, and it was thoserecords that helped shape the styles of artists like Franco and Djelimady Tounkara.
A strong argument could be made that, as far back as the 1940s the musical capital of Africa was Leopoldville, the former colonial capital of Belgian Congo (the city now called Kinshasa). The city was the ultimate Afro-pop melting pot, as sounds like Ghanaian highlife, Cuban son and a host of Congolese folk rhythms could be heard over the airwaves and in local clubs.
These styles, and others, collided to form the Congolese rumba. Stars like Joseph Kabasele (known as ‘Le Grand Kalle’) and Franco created rumba supergroups (sometimes with as many as thirty musicians). Their guitar wizardry, sweet, touching vocals and lilting rhythms soon captivated great portions of the continent, especially across East Africa.

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