Originally from the West African nation of Benin, guitarist Lionel Loueke has enjoyed a
meteoric rise. In 2008 and 2009, he was recognized by DownBeat magazine as a
Rising Star in its annual Critics Poll. His sophomore release for Blue Note,
Mwaliko, follows up 2007's acclaimed Karibu, with a series of searching,
innovative, intimate duets with Angelique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, and
Marcus Gilmore. Mwaliko is also buoyed by Loueke's inspired mix of acoustic and
electric sound: vocals with layered harmonizer effects, nylon-string guitar with Whammy
pedal to create an organ-like sound during solos, and a new custom-made Rolf Spuler guitar
that enables him to access low bass tones, filling out the spectrum of sound.
Praised by his mentor Herbie Hancock as "a musical painter," Loueke combines harmonic
sophistication, soaring melody, a deep knowledge of African music, and conventional and
extended guitar techniques to create a warm and evocative sound of his own.
In addition to Loueke's recordings as a leader and with his collaborative trio project
Gilfema, he has appeared on Terence Blanchard's Grammy-nominated Flow (2005) and
Hancock's Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters (2008). He has also appeared on
recordings by such fellow rising stars as trumpeter Avishai Cohen, drummers Francisco Mela
and Kendrick Scott, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and more.
After his initial to exposure to jazz in Benin, Loueke left to attend the National
Institute of Art in nearby Ivory Coast. In 1994, he left Africa to pursue jazz studies at
the American School of Modern Music in Paris, before relocating to the US on a scholarship
to attend the Berklee College of Music. After graduating from Berklee, Loueke was accepted
to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles, where he had the opportunity to
study his greatest mentors: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Terence Blanchard.
Soon after his time at the Monk Institute, Loueke began focusing exclusively on
nylon-string acoustic guitar, an instrument on which he's developed a signature voice. As
his sound evolves, it still retains the qualities of immediacy, tenderness, and passion
that have made Loueke an influential force on the world stage in jazz and beyond.