Everything Clicks for Benin-Born Guitarist Lionel Loueke
Like many artists who have explored and embraced music from across cultures, guitarist Lionel Loueke is wary about bringing exotic, unfamiliar sounds to mainstream audiences.
Of course, in his case the audience in question is in Benin, where Loueke was born and raised. And the sounds are those of the modern jazz he embraced as a music student in Paris in the mid-'90s and has personalized in the decade since moving to the U.S. to study at the Berklee College of Music and then at the Thelonious Monk Institute. That's all evolved further in gigs as a member of Herbie Hancock's band and regular work with Terence Blanchard and others, as Loueke has developed a distinctive sound with his low-tuned nylon string guitars.
Even with the great amount of African elements he's put in his music -- as heard to remarkable effect on his new album, 'Mwaliko,' being released by Blue Note on Feb. 9 -- he just feels he has to approach things differently when back in Benin.
"Oh, yes, I do," he says. "When I was home for the holidays and played a concert, I always do that. I play differently in a way. I don't play with the same musicians, for one thing. And jazz is not a music well known in Benin. So what I try to do is play mostly traditional songs people already know and make arrangements on top of it and show them the possibilities, what you can do with the simple traditional songs. The audience seems more connected. It's the best way to bring them music they don't know. Been doing that for 10 years now. It works."
Not that it's any easier when things are reversed.
"It's the other end," he says. "Same way when I'm here in the US, and people don't understand the other side. It's something new and different."
Arguably, though, the