Louis Mhlanga, born 10 November 1956, is a South Africa-based Zimbabwean award-winning guitarist and producer. Mhlanga taught himself playing the guitar at a young age and is considered one of the best Southern African guitarists.
Mhlanga’s career began in the 1970s. Fronting many bands in Zimbabwe, he mixed American and Zimbabwean influences into his music.
Mhlanga became renowned for his guitar skills, and worked with Zimbabwean acts such as Shaka, Talking Drum, Ilanga, Mudzimu, and Oliver Mtukudzi.
Louis eventually headed to South Africa to pursue different musical opportunities, leading to collaborations with renowned South African artists such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri, Sipho Mabuse, Mlunhgisi Gegane, and Busi Mhlongo.
He admired the traditionally derived pop music of local luminaries such as Thomas Mapfumo. His first recording was not recognized for a whole decade until BMG released it in South Africa in the early ’90s.
However, his 2001 international debut, Shamwari, established him as a rare guitarist able to span African traditional pop and jazz.
In April 2000, Louis produced Mahlasela’s 4th album and featured on it. Before that, in 1999, a live duo recording with Mahlasela resulted in the album Vusi and Louis Live at the Bassline.
He was involved with Thandi Klaassen’s album Two of a kind, a project initiated by Dutch singer Stef Bos. Bos featured Louis on the album De Onderstroom, for which he co-wrote the music of the title song.
Louis is on the another album called Place of Hope, which is collaborations with George Duke, James Ingram, Al Jarreau, Diane Reeves, among others. Louis is also on Fire in the Engine Room by Andy Narell, and following their South African tour, they released the album Live in S.A.
Louis has recorded some work under his own name — his solo album Mukai and Music Ye Africa with Jethro Shsha, both at Shed Studios in Harare. In 2001, he put together a new group, The Louis Mhlanga Band, featuring musicians with a strong jazz influence.
They were invited by SAFM (one of South Africa’s national radio stations) to perform at the Grahamstown Standard Bank National Arts Festival. Subsequently the group released the album Shamwari, Louis’s debut release on the Sheer Sound label.
He has produced albums by Thomas Mapfumo, Nigerian King Sunny Adé, South African musician Vusi Mahalasela, and many other artists.
A former director of musical theatre, Mhlanga also ran Zimbabwe’s Ethnomusicology Trust, where he was in charge of developing national teaching programmes for traditional and contemporary Zimbabwean music.
He also spent a year in the Netherlands. As the musician-in-residence at the Royal Dutch Conservatory of Music, Mhlanga taught African guitar courses and eventually recorded several albums with bassist Eric Van Der Westen, one of which also included Malian guitarist and singer Habib Koité.