Play Me Something I Don’t Already Know!

Africa’s finest: The eternal Dr. Nico.

Looking for some cool new stuff to listen to? Or some cool old stuff that just happens to be new to you? Me too!

This thread’s goal is to share some personal guitar or bass favorites that aren’t as well known as they should be. You know — the sort of stuff you play for your best musician friends after murmuring “Oh man, you are not going to believe this!”

This is not a contest. There are no rules. You can share anything in any musical style. It can be virtuosic or primitive. It can be new or ancient. It can even be something widely known, so long as you suspect it may be new to some of your fellow readers. Anything cool and inspiring is welcome.

And as if to prove that there are no rules. I’m going to start the ball rolling with two favorite guitarists who were big stars — just not in English-speaking world.

First up: Brazil’s Raphael Rabello, who, during his brief life, reigned as one of the planet’s most technically gifted guitarists. He wasn’t the first of his countrymen to straddle the worlds of classical, jazz, and Brazilian music, but man, he took it to such heights!

Check out Rabello performing this A.C. Jobim tune on his trademark 7-string classical guitar:

Where to start? The astounding right-hand virtuosity? The breathtaking dynamics? The pianistic harmonies?The seamless integration of composition and improv? The mind boggles.

Here’s another awesome one: Rabello performing “Cry Me a River” with Marisa Monte. Don’t miss the solo that starts three minutes in!

Rabello did get plenty of recognition in his lifetime — check out the expression on Paco de Lucia’s face in this TV interview. (This, BTW, is the same Jobim tune from the first clip, and a great example of Rabello’s phenomenal improv skills.)

So what happened to him? Awful stuff! He injured his arm in a car wreck, and then contracted HIV from the blood transfusion. He died in 1995 in a haze of drugs and booze. He was 32.

Want to hear more? There’s a YouTube channel dedicated to this 7-string genius.

Next up is a less virtuosic, but equally inventive player: Nico Kasanda, better known as Docteur Nico. Dr. Nico was the best-known player to emerge from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the vast Central African nation that was known as the Belgian Congo and Zaire during Nico’s lifetime. He rose to fame in the early ’60s with the band African Jazz, and played with various groups for the next two decades, inventing and refining one of Africa’s richest music traditions: the lilting, multi-guitar pop style known variously as soukous, Congolese, and African rumba.

Here’s an example (audio only):

Like most African players, Nico had to rely on trashy imported guitars, ad hoc amplification, and crude recording techniques. Check out this old photo of one of Nico’s rigs:

Not that that’s a bad thing, musically speaking. To my ear, at least, the sketchy intonation, plonky pickups, and crude delay effects are a big part of the Docteur’s charm. How can you not love this extreme vibrato effect on this rare instrumental-only track?

Even the experts have a difficult time pinning down where tradition and innovation meet in Nico’s guitar work. Congolese music is a Gordian knot of musical influences. Many of the guitar techniques are inspired by indigenous thumb piano styles. Another huge influence is Cuban music, so much so that Congolese bands recorded many discs in Spanish, even though French is the colonial language in that part of Africa. But then, of course, Cuban music is itself 90% African. Talk about feedback loops!

But however the musicologists slice and dice it, there no denying that just about every Dr. Nico recording boasts sublimely lyrical guitar work, full of imaginative melodies, sensitive counterpoint, and tones of raw beauty.

Here are a few more pretty ones:

This one’s older — presumably from before Nico and slapback delay fell in love with each other. It’s a great example of his lovely harmonized melodies. I love what he does with those parallel thirds and sixths!

There’s not a lot of video featuring Nico, who passed away in 1985 at age 46, though I did uncover this 1970s performance on YouTube. It’s a total Congolese clusterf___, but it gives you a sense of how all those densely interlocking guitar lines work. Nico is the slender guy playing the Ibanez something-or-other. Dig the other hacked-together guitars, plus that amazing back line of amps! (The guitars really start rocking about six minutes in.)

But enough of my yakkin’ — let’s hear some of your under-appreciated faves. If you can provide an audio or video link, so much the better!

34 comments to Play Me Something I Don’t Already Know!

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