Louis Mhlanga was born on the November 10, 1956, in Harare, Zimbabwe. He started playing guitar at the age of ten. Being completely self-taught, he mastered the instrument by copying from records by Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and many other bands that were very influential in the late '60s and early '70s.
Besides the Western influences through radio broadcasts, Louis investigated and studied the southern and West African guitar tradition intensively. He transferred the traditional mbira patterns, which are well known all over Africa, into a unique way of playing the guitar in an eclectic, modern way.
During his career, Louis has worked and recorded with a number of accomplished and recognized musicians. He worked with King Sunny Ade in Lagos, Nigeria, and also produced some artists connected to King Sunny Ade. This proved to be a great starting point and a solid base for his ongoing musical career. More recently, he's worked with Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri, Busi Mhlongo, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbuli, Jonas Gwangwa, Sibongile Khumalo and Vusi Mahlasela.
In April 2000, Louis produced Mahlasela's 4th album and featured on it. Before that, in 1999, a live duo recording with Mahlasela resulted in the album Vusi and Louis Live at the Bassline. He was involved with Thandi Klaassen's album Two of a kind, a project initiated by Dutch singer Stef Bos. Bos featured Louis on the album De Onderstroom, for which he co-wrote the music of the title song. Louis is to be found on another album called Place of Hope, which is collaborations with George Duke, James Ingram, Al Jarreau, Diane Reeves, among others. Louis can also be heard on Fire in the Engine Room by Andy Narell, and following their South African tour, they released the album Live in S.A.
Louis recorded some great work under his own name his solo album Mukai and Music Ye Africa. In 2001, he put together a new group, The Louis Mhlanga Band, featuring musicians with a strong jazz influence. They were invited by SAFM (one of South Africa's national radio stations) to perform at the Grahamstown Standard Bank National Arts Festival. The recording in July 2001 has resulted in the release of Shamwari, Louis's debut release on the Sheer Sound label.
In 1998 he went to Europe to give workshops at several conservatories to teach his mbira-transferred material to students. There he met double bassist Eric van der Westen, with whom he recorded in 1999 a beautiful duo album (dedicated to his daughter), Song for Nomsa. It was the first time that Louis could be heard in such a spacious acoustic setting. From that album, the song "Zvinoshamisa" was selected as the soundtrack of a video clip produced by Education International and NOVIB for their "Global Campaign Against Child Labor and The Right for All Children to Education."
Through this connection with the Netherlands, Louis came across less common ground when he started to play in a jazz setting with the famous Dutch jazz group The Paul van Kemenade Quintet. He recorded the album Zvinoshamisa with them (containing the title song of course) and toured The Netherlands in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Louis' outstanding feel and touch have taken him all over the world. He has performed at major festivals like: The Sunsplash in Austria, Music Metisses in France, Rudelstadt in Germany, Masa in Ivory Coast, Dranouter in Belgium, Tribute concert for Lady Di in England, Stranger than Paranoia and Mundial in The Netherlands.
Courtesy Calabash Music