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Soro Solo & Big African Sound
For Gnenemon “Solo” Soro, the release of Fraternité is the highlight of a career that is full of them.
Solo’s fascinating life journey began in Côte d’Ivoire where he began teaching himself djembe rhythms on steel cans in 1985. He began playing actual drums six years later and apprenticed under the tutelage of Côte d’Ivoire masters such as Madou Dembele, Baba Touré, Kofi Djembe, Haruna Dembele and Toumani Kouyate from Mali. He also learned how to play the Balafon (African xylophone) as well as the Doundoun and Ngoni.
A thrilling opportunity to tour the USA with an Ivory Coast dance group, Sholah, changed the course of Solo’s life. Soon after, he had formed his own Ivory Coast Group which accompanied the performing troupe UniverSoul Circus during a tour of the United States. Over the next two years, UniverSoul toured its warrior show in North America which, in turn, led to an invitation for Solo to perform with the group Kobake in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom shows.
Capitalizing on the burgeoning appetite for World Music in the USA, Solo began to impart his drumming expertise to American students. By now, he was regularly performing with various orchestras and musical combos at prestigious Los Angeles venues such as The Hollywood Bowl. The growing demand for Solo’s services included a stint as a drummer in the band that performed alongside singer John Legend at 2009 The Academy Awards, a musical performance on Oprah, and even an appearance in Shakira’s music video for the official 2010 Soccer World Cup theme song.
Solo’s growing network of connections led to an introduction to Andrew Zupsich, a full-time fitness trainer who plays Caribbean-influenced rhythm guitar and studies percussion in his spare time. Zupsich felt an instant rapport with Solo. “He looks like a powerlifter but he is as gentle as a lamb,” says Zupsich, who began to encourage Solo to focus on songwriting. The nucleus of a nascent band was rounded out by Morgan Stern, a funk-influenced bass player who has lived in Brazil and traveled through West Africa, and Bobby Wilmore, a Los Angeles drummer who specializes in Afro-Cuban percussion.
But in order to start playing shows, the band still needed a lead guitarist. Enter Huit Kilos. The guitarist, recommended to Zupsich by a mutual friend, contributed a lilting style of playing that is steeped in the tradition of Congolese rumba (more commonly known as Soukous). Like Soro, Huit-kilos stared music young. He constructed his own rudimentary guitar from a piece of wood and an oil can and taught himself how to play. At age 10, a group recruited Huit to play with them at a band competition in Kinshasa. Though the young boy didn’t know the band’s songs, he improvised with licks he’d learned by playing along to James Brown records. Result: the band won the competition. When Huit returned home with the money he’d won, his parents didn’t believe his story. They thought he’d stolen the money! Fortunately, Huit had proof of his story: His six-string exploits were broadcast on television.
Before long, the young guitarist was playing with Congo superstars such as Papa Wemba, Tabu Ley Rocherau, and Koffi Olomide. He has also been lead guitarist for the likes of Ricardo Lemvo, King Kester, Dindo Yogo, Ngouma Lokito and Langa Langa Stars. Following a series of international tours, Huit settled in Southern California. He also plays guitar in a popular Afro-Cuban salsa band, Makina Loca.
The final element of the band—a key one, too—was the addition of singer Mary Ngozi Akpa. One of the few singers to be accepted into the prestigious Ethnomusicology program at the University of California, Los Angeles, the jazzy-voiced Nigerian is also a member of Kinfolk 9, a professional nine-person a cappella troupe. In the fall of 2011, Kinfolk 9 was one of 16 a cappella groups to compete on NBC’s hit reality TV show, The Sing Off.
Following a rousing reception at a number of shows in the Los Angeles area, Soro Solo & Big African Sound are elated with the results of their debut album.
Fraternité marries the sound of pop traditions from Congo, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. It also boasts more languages than the tower of Babel: Igbo (Nigeria), Lingala from (Congo) Bamana (West Africa), Baoulé (Ivory Coast), French, a little bit of English and French slang. Yet the music on Fraternité transcends all language barriers thanks to its palpable joy and soul.
For more information contact, including booking shows:
Andrew Zupsich at firstname.lastname@example.org
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