Starting out on vocals and percussion, Lionel Loueke picked up the guitar late, at age 17. After his initial to exposure to jazz in Benin, he left to attend the National Institute of Art in nearby Ivory Coast. In 1994 he left Africa to pursue jazz studies at the American School of Modern Music in Paris, then went to the U.S. on a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. From there, Loueke gained acceptance to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where he encountered his Gilfema bandmates Biolcati, Nemeth, Parlato and other musicians with whom he would form lasting creative relationships.
In 2008 and 2009, Lionel Loueke was picked as top Rising Star guitarist in DownBeat magazine's annual Critics Poll.
Praised by his mentor Herbie Hancock as "a musical painter," Lionel Loueke combines harmonic sophistication, soaring melody, a deep knowledge of African music, and conventional and extended guitar techniques to create a warm and evocative sound of his own. JazzTimes wrote "Loueke's lines are smartly formed and deftly executed. His ear-friendly melodicism draws both from traditional African sources and a lifetime of closely studying the likes of Jim Hall and George Benson, and his rhythmic shifts come quickly and packed with surprises."
After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Lionel Loueke was accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles where he had the opportunity to study his greatest mentors: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard.
Soon after his time at the Monk Institute, Lionel Loueke began focusing exclusively on nylon-string acoustic guitar, an instrument on which he's developed a signature voice.
Lionel Loueke released his first album In a Trance (2005) on Space Time Label, then three albums on Obliqsound Label as a leader (Virgin Forest - 2006) and with Gilfema (Gilfema - 2005, Gilfema + 2 - 2008)
His first release on Blue Note Label Karibu (2008), featuring the trio with Hancock and Wayne Shorter as special guests, won widespread critical praise.
His sophomore release for Blue Note, Mwaliko (2010), followed up acclaimed Karibu offered a series of searching, innovative, intimate duets with Angelique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona and Marcus Gilmore - artists and allies who continue to have a profound impact on Loueke's vision as a bandleader.
Hailed as a "gentle virtuoso" by Jon Pareles of The New York Times, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke follows up with Heritage (released in August 2012), co-produced by piano great and Blue Note label mate Robert Glasper. Lionel Loueke, long known for his nylon-string acoustic guitar, releases here a more electric album.
In 2015, Loueke chose to record Gaía, his remarkable rock-infused fourth Blue Note album, live in the studio with an intimate audience in attendance.
Loueke has appeared on numerous standout recordings such as Terence Blanchard’s Grammy-nominated Flow (2005) and Hancock’s Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters (2008). Lionel appeared on recordings by such legends as Jack DeJohnette (Sound Travels), Charlie Haden (Land of the Sun), Kenny Barron (The Traveler) and Gonzalo Rubalcaba (XXI Century). He has also appeared on recordings by Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano, Gretchen Parlato, Avishai Cohen, Kendrick Scott and other leading peers.
He has also toured the world as a member of Hancock’s band for more than ten years and starts touring with Chick Corea this year after recording his last album to be released.
Lionel Loueke is also a member of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary all-star band with Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire and Marcus Strickland.
These experiences all inform Loueke's extraordinary work as a leader.