Africa’s 21st Century Rock Guitar Hero
Growing up in Gabon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast before settling in the UK at age 14, Franck Biyong lived in households filled with good music. Little wonder why, at 40, the towering Cameroonian artist is a composer, arranger, lyricist, guitar player, singer, band leader, sound engineer and producer. This master of musical interpretation recalls African-American Jazz guitarist, Wes Montgomery’s “Canadian Sunset” as the song that set him down his musical path as a pre-teen.
Franck went on to cultivate a personal and passionate relationship with music, recognizing it as “spiritual food for the soul”. Receiving musical instruction and training at the National Institute of Arts in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), he scorched a brilliant path with his electric guitar and became a reporter of human emotions and feelings. Franck translated these experiences into several Afro Beat and Afro Jazz albums that made people move, laugh, dance, cry and meditate.
He has played at countless spots around the globe including the SOB's in New York City and the Jazz Café in London. Franck has also enjoyed European tours with music legends such as Nigerian master drummer, Tony Allen and Ghanaian Highlife guitarist, Ebo Taylor. Franck has also worked with Wyclef Jean, as well as Salif Keita, King Sunny Ade and Seun Anikulapo Kuti during his time as Music Director on Coke Studio Africa Season 1 & 2.
But Franck Biyong, a consummate performer and creator, has reinvented himself.
In 2014, Franck shared his vision for Alternative Afro-Electro-Rock and Crossover Music with the recording of LIYOMBA. This exciting single mines the link between rock and electro with dazzlingly good results. Clever use of Swahili lyrics makes it immediately familiar with fans in East Africa and the rest of the continent for whom this Bantu language resonates with many of their own.
This is in line with the Pan-African ideals underpinning Franck’s new sound. And, one of two logical evolutions of African Music; the other being creating musical forms that would appeal to diverse audiences regardless of their age and knowledge about new types of African music: “We have to adapt to change, not to dissolve totally our identity and unique approach to music, but to bridge the gap between where we were and where we should go.”....And, Franck is leading the pack.
Having been a musician for over a decade and with diverse influences and references (from Prince Nico Mbarga to Frank Zappa), Franck serves as a “filter” through which two different streams are passing. The first stream is represented by music of the past generation that he hopes to pass on to the next; stretched out, revamped and modernized. While the second is the modern urban sounds that he plans to incorporate, develop and confront—working with musical forms that do not belong together in the first place.
Another aspect of Franck’s futuristic idea of African Music is defined by artistic independence and total freedom of expression. This is a marked departure from the current strong push towards commercialization of music. Franck believes that when artists are free then they can truly explore the complex and scary realms of human sensibility and emotion.
Perhaps this is what will herald crossover exposure and success on the international scene. And, what may finally alter the perception of African Music and its musicians at large.
Franck Biyong’s tracks