Guitar Tales: meet Josué Bananjos, Burkina Faso’s fingerstyle guitar prodigy
Burkina Faso might not be the first place you think of when you think of fingerstyle guitar, but this West African country is home to a hidden gem. Born in Ouagadougou, the young musician named Banazaro Thioro Josué – aka Josué Bananjos – is making waves across the continent with his extraordinary talents as a not just a fingerstyle virtuoso, but also as a luthier.
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Josué’s interest in guitar building was innate – his father was a respected luthier in the Ouagadougou community, and the young Banjanjos was immediately drawn to the enchanting sounds of the instruments being crafted by his father. It ignited a passion that would shape his future profoundly.
As he blossomed into adolescence, Josué joined his church choir, where his musical abilities truly flourished. He immersed himself in mastering various instruments – including guitar, piano, and ukulele – and honed his vocal prowess. This versatility allowed him to explore different genres and experiment with musical styles from the off.
Josué Bananjos. Image: Sir Opkins
It was during this period that Josué stumbled upon the fingerstyle method of guitar playing. Captivated by the technique, he began transposing piano music onto the guitar, a practice that ultimately led him to discover open tunings and the unique sound that would define his musical identity. Despite not knowing the music’s name at the time, Josué’s passion for fingerstyle was undeniable, and he decided to share his talent through amateur videos on social media platforms.
His dedication and ingenuity didn’t go unnoticed, and soon musicians from Burkina Faso and beyond discovered his remarkable fingerstyle compositions. Josué’s ability to infuse symphonic and polyphonic orchestras with African colors and rhythms, as well as elements of soul, jazz, classical, pop, and rock, set him apart as a truly distinctive artist.
Despite the challenges faced in Burkina Faso’s music scene, Josué continued to strive for recognition. He confronted skepticism from promoters who were unfamiliar with solo instrumental music, but it was something that resonated deeply with him and spoke to his soul, so he pressed onward, determined to make his mark.
Josué Bananjos. Image: Sir Opkins
This drive and ambition led to Josué participating in a prestigious fingerstyle competition in the United States, representing his country on an international platform. Though facing financial constraints, his unwavering passion and determination were evident in every note he played.
As a luthier and professional musician, Josué Bananjos established himself as a composer of numerous music pieces. His melodies have graced major albums and projects in the past five years, solidifying his position as one of Burkina Faso’s most promising guitarists.
“It’s very difficult to make a career in this field, because every time you do it, the first question promoters ask you is: ‘Don’t you sing?’” he tells me. “‘You need at least one percussionist to accompany you?’ In the end, you ask yourself: ‘Do these people know what we call listening music?’”
Josué Bananjos. Image: Niels Gether
Currently, Josué is eagerly working on his highly anticipated album, Fingerstyle, a project that promises to showcase his unique blend of African rhythms and captivating orchestral arrangements.
Despite the challenges of self-production and the current state of Burkina Faso’s cultural scene, Josué remains optimistic about the future. He believes that with the new regime in place, cultural activities will gradually regain momentum, allowing him to share his music with the world.
“We’re gradually picking up the slope, and activities aren’t picking up as much as we’d like, but we hope that things will be fine in the near future!” he explains.
In a message to his fellow guitar enthusiasts, Josué encourages them to embrace passion and hope – for it is these elements that fuel his own musical journey. It is a vital message to his people, and to all of us – I cannot wait to see what the future brings for this most promising virtuosos in the West African fingerpicking scene.
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