b. Nicholas Kasanda Wa Mikalay, 1939, Luluaborg, Zaire, d. 1985, Kinshasa, Zaire. A member of Le Grande Kalle’s African Jazz in the early 60s, expert guitarist and composer Nico went on to be a founder member, with Rochereau, of African Fiesta, one of the most popular and influential Zairean bands of the mid and late 60s. He was born into a musical family, but later attended the Leopold II Institute, graduating as a technical teacher in 1957. Despite the qualification, he concentrated on music from then on, inspired by his accordion-playing father and guitarist brother (Mwamba Dechaud). Kasanda soon became a virtuoso guitar player himself, leading to his induction into African Jazz. His reputation among Congolese guitarists was second to none, and during African Jazz’s performance at the 1960 Zairean independence celebrations he was given his nickname, Dr. Nico. After joining African Fiesta in 1963 he maintained his popularity and gift for invention, recording hundreds of singles, many of which were local and pan-African hits. He then retired from the music scene in the early 70s, infuriated by the collapse of African Fiesta’s Belgian record company, feeling financially cheated. He played only a handful of shows over several quiet years before returning in 1983 with a new recording contract for Togo’s Africa New Sound label. Several albums were recorded, usually alongside his brother and with the backing of Les Redoubtables De Abeti. His first American albums followed for the African Music Gallery in Washington. However, this brief period of intense activity was ended by his sudden death (suspected to be alcohol-related) in 1985. His influence on African guitar playing, acknowledged by several experts as the most pivotal of all such innovations, lives on.
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