lionel.jpgLoueke’s story begins in Benin, a small country in West Africa, where he was born to parents that he describes as “intellectual,” adding that “music was part of everyday life, but not in the family.” Fortunately an older brother played guitar and was part of a band that played Afro-Pop music in the style of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. “I remember when I was 11 or 12 I was going to see my brother perform. I would be listening from 10pm to 3am in the morning, just looking at him playing, listening to the music.”

Finally when Loueke was 17 years old, his brother let him pick up his guitar, and he quickly realized that he had a great facility for the instrument. Besides the Afro-Pop music that he heard his brother performing, Loueke also began to be enamored with the traditional African music of Benin, as well as Nigeria, Congo, Zaire, Mali and Senegal. However, it was an encounter with Jazz music that would set Loueke on a different course. A friend of his brother’s came to visit from Paris, bringing with him a CD of guitarist George Benson.
“I listened to that and it was unreal for me. I had to transcribe every single line trying to play like him. Then I tried to check out what happened before him, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass.”

Loueke finally decided to pursue music more seriously and left Benin to attend the National Institute of Art in the Ivory Coast. Short of money, Loueke stumbled fortuitously into his first professional gig. He explains: “I was a student, and I couldn’t pay my rent so they kicked me out, and I needed to get a gig so bad. So there was a club, and I tried so many times to get a gig there. So one night I just went to the club because I was desperate. I didn’t have anything. I needed money to survive. The band took a break, during the break I went on stage, I picked up the guy’s guitar and I start playing. They came to me and tried to grab back the instrument. And the manager said ‘No, let him play.’ So after I played the manager said ‘Man, you want a gig?!’ [laughs] That was my first gig, and I carried that gig for two years!”