Banning Eyre is a writer, guitarist, photographer and producer. He has written about international music, especially African music, since 1988. During all that time, he has been a lead producer for the syndicated, Peabody Award-winning public radio program Afropop Worldwide. He also comments and reports on music for National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and has contributed over the years to The Boston Phoenix, Guitar Player, Global Rhythm, fRoots (Folk Roots), Songlines, The Beat, CD Now, CMJ, salon.com, Music Alive, New Music Monthly, Music Hound and All Music Guides and other publications. He has traveled and done music research in 16 African countries, as well as in the Caribbean, South America and Europe. In 1995, Eyre co-authored AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music with Sean Barlow. Eyre's acclaimed book focussed on Malian guitar styles, In Griot Time, An American Guitarist in Mali, was released by Temple University Press (2000) and in the UK on Serpent's Tail (2002). The companion CD Eyre compiled, In Griot Time, String Music from Mali, was released on Stern's Africa.
Eyre spent a month in Zimbabwe in 2001--his fourth visit there--and wrote a report on music censorship there for the Danish human rights organization, Freemuse. The report, Playing With Fire, Fear and Self-Censorship in Zimbabwean Music, is available here. In Zimbabwe, Eyre has done especially deep research on the legendary bandleader, songwriter and music stylist Thomas Mapfumo--a figure of historic dimensions. All of this comes together in Eyre's 2015 book, Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe. Eyre has also produced a companion CD for the book--Thomas Mapfumo, Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe.
Eyre has a background in technology; he worked for 10 years as a software technical writer in the Boston high-tech industry (1985-1995). He brings all of his skills to bear in his current work as the Senior Editor at afropop.org.
Eyre has played guitar professionally since the mid '70s, working in genres as diverse as jazz, flamenco, dance-rock and reggae. In the 1980s, he played guitar, wrote songs, performed and recorded in New Mexico, Oregon and Boston with The Porcupines and that band's offshoot, The Strunk and White Band. For the past twenty-five years, Eyre has specialized in guitar styles from Africa. In the early 1990's , Eyre played in a series of Congolese dance bands in Boston: Freestyle, Rumbafrica, Kolo Mboka and Sankai, and in the West African folk ensemble Cora Connection. Later, based in New York, Eyre formed ongoing collaborations with guitarist/singers Abdoluaye "Djoss" Diabate (Mali) and Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure (Niger).
Eyre has also applied what he learned in Zimbabwe, largely with Thomas Mapfumo and the guitarists of Mapfumo's band The Blacks Unlimited. The Glamour Boys was a New York based acoustic ensemble that combined traditional mbira music from Zimbabwe with guitar. In 2000, that act evolved into what is now Eyre's principal group, Timbila, a one-of-a-kind fusion of roots music from Zimbabwe and Mozambique with a New York sensibility.
Eyre also continues to perform solo concerts blending original compositions and adaptations of traditional and popular music from all over Africa. He calls this show, in all its various forms, "A Guitar Tour of Africa."
During his travels, Eyre has performed with The Super Rail Band of Bamako, Djelimady Tounkar, and Sali Sidibe (all from Mali), Wendo Kolosoy (Congo), and with Ephat Mujuru, Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited and others in Zimbabwe. He has contributed guitar performances to a number of Thomas Mapfumo albums, notably Chimurenga '98 (aNOnym reCOrds, 1998), Chimurenga Explosion (aNOnym reCOrds, 2000), Toi Toi (aNOnym reCOrds, 2003), and Exile (Chimurenga Music Co., 2010). A song he created with Mapfumo and his band in 1998, "Ndiayani Wapuradza Musha (Who Has Destroyed My Home?), became a hit on Zimbabwean radio. Eyre also played on a track on Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate's Kulanjan (Hannibal, 1999), which was voted Folk Roots "Album of the Year" in the UK and cited by President Barack Obama as one of his favorite records.
Eyre teaches African guitar styles, both privately and in workshops. Eyre is also the author of an instructional book on African guitar called Guitar Atlas: Africa, published by Alfred in the summer of 2002.
Banner photo: Robert Ebstein