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Banning Eyre

Banning Eyre is an author, guitarist, radio producer, journalist, photographer, and producer for the Peabody Award-winning public radio series Afropop Worldwide. His work has taken him to over 15 African countries to research local music, especially guitar styles. He comments on world music for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has published four books, the most recent book being Lion Songs, Thomas Mapfumo and the Music that Made Zimbabwe (Duke University Press, 2015).

“Guitar Voices of Africa: A Quest for Originality”
The guitar may be the most malleable and multifarious non-electronic instrument ever invented. It is found literally everywhere in the world, and in forms so diverse as to defy definition. Throughout 30 years of work in African music, I have found reinventions of guitars and guitar playing to be one of the most consistently surprising and satisfying avenues of research. Yet how many of those guitar styles can truly be called original? How many offer a uniquely local voice, expressing the history, culture, spirituality, and basic nature of their communities, rather than some refracted echo of music borrowed from abroad? Are the guitar heroes of northern Mali showcasing the roots of blues and rock, or simply mimicking it with a foreign accent? And what about the funky chippy-chop of rhythm guitars in Afrobeat in Nigeria, or in Senegalese mbalax with its mad crazy beats? Is rhythm alone enough to define an original guitar voice? Consider the clean, piercing, digitally delayed tone of the Congolese electric lead guitar, a sound so widely imitated in Africa and elsewhere as to be clichéd. But when played with just the right phrasing and articulation, we know instantly that the guitarist is Congolese, or else a well-studied poser. From the frantic finger-pickers of Madagascar, to the pointillist mosaic textures of flat pickers in Zimbabwe and Cameroon, to the near-worship of the Roland Jazz Chorus guitar amplifier in West Africa, this is a whirlwind tour of the post-colonial continent, and a quest to separate the innovators from the imitators. In the end, the real objective of these players may not be so much to project local identity, as to join the chorus of world pop culture, even as guitars are steadily being drowned out by a loud and ever growing chorus of electronica.


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