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Louis Mhlanga

Louis Mhlanga

Guitarist Louis Mhlanga’s story might almost be the story of the instrument he plays. The lanky, soft-spoken player is a South African, but he was raised in Zimbabwe (“Listening to rock ‘n’ roll and Jimi Hendrix,” he says, “and a lot of Congolese music, too”), schooled in Botswana (“We had a smanje-manje band, copying Zulu pop music from South Africa”) and a regular visitor to cousins in Mozambique.

Studies in London exposed Mhlanga to West African music, which he followed up with a residency at King Sunny Ade’s Nigerian studio before returning to Zimbabwe and then settling in South Africa. He’s been a sideman for artists like Thomas Mapfumo, Miriam Makeba and Andy Narell and has collaborated with others as diverse as Malian singer Habib Koite and Dutch free jazzer Paul van Kemenade; he’s contributed music to film and ballet projects as well. Mhlanga’s just released his third album as leader, Tinganekwane (Sheer Sound), which means “once upon a time.”

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