Masanga (Jean-Bosco Mwenda)

When I was in high school, I spent hundreds of hours at the public library, which was between the two high schools (Rindge Tech and Cambridge High & Latin), listening to records. Thanks to the music librarian, Ken Williams, that library had a terrific collection of jazz, blues, international and other LPs, and that was where I first heard Jean-Bosco Mwenda’s playing, on an LP called Guitars of Africa. Like everyone else who heard that record, I was blown away by his instrumental version of Masanga, and fortunately both Pete Seeger and Happy Traum had published tablature for it, so I managed to cobble together a half-assed version.

me and bosco with picture
Me and Jean-Bosco Mwenda, Lubumbashi, Zaire, 1990

In the 1980s, an English guitarist named John Low published a journal of his guitar studies in Lubumbashi, Zaire, and I learned that Bosco was still alive… so I spent six months busking on cafe terraces in Antwerp, Belgium, then caught an Aeroflot plane to Zimbabwe and hitchhiked through Zambia to Lubumbashi. I had written to Bosco a couple of months earlier, but got no reply, so I found a cab driver who knew his house, went there, and he invited me to come over twice a week for the next month or so, have lunch with him, and get a guitar lesson. (My letter finally arrived a week or so after our meeting.)

There’s more about Bosco and his music, including a short interview I did with him, on the African Acoustic Guitar page of my website.

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