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Franck Biyong

Cameroonian musician Franck Biyong, leader of the band Massak, is the creator of the "Afrolectric" sound. Afrolectric weds Afrobeat to vanguard jazz and electro-driven funk.

Born in Cameroon in 1973, Biyong's earlier years were also nomadic ones: his family lived in numerous places in West Africa including Nigeria, Gabon, and the Ivory Coast.

Biyong began playing music at a young age like many of his peers; his first instrument was piano, but he preferred drums and percussion instruments.

At 14, his family left Africa for Europe, where he received a wider musical education. While in France he joined a band as a bassist, though he was learning as he went. He also began recording his first demos, heavily influenced by the music of Fela Kuti, electric-era Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Prince, and others.

He sent his demos to numerous labels in France and England; English labels were more receptive and he relocated there, getting work as both a sessionman and composer, mainly for the Lumen label.

In the late '90s, he fell under the sway of the burgeoning U.K. electronica scene, but when Kuti passed in 1997, his music shifted again. He moved to France, and with the Nigerian "Black President" as an inspiration, began making a hybrid music of his own design that contained all of the previous sources woven together in a brand new way.

He formed his own label, Afrolectric Music, and his debut offering, Realms of Atlantis, was issued in 2006 with a very large band. Biyong not only composed, arranged, and produced the session but sang and played numerous instruments.

His sophomore effort, Haiti Market, was issued jointly by Le Son de Maquis and Afrolectric. The cast was marginally smaller, and Biyong added "mixing engineer" to his resume.

Spirits Into Sound was issued in 2008, again by Afrolectric, and was by and large a more driving, aggressive effort than either of its two predecessors. It became the template for many recordings to follow, including Rhythms of Our Memory (2009). In 2010, Biyong issued two albums that reflected different sides of his musical persona. Visions of Kamerun was recorded in his home nation and revealed the deep, cross-cultural ties between Cameroon and France; Biyong mixed the album with Grant Phabao of Paris DJs. The live Voodoolectric Ground wove together Biyong's deep love of Jimi Hendrix, Davis, and modal jazz.

2011's Meeting the Basic Needs of the People moved both backward and forward into electronic music, hardwiring it to modern Afrobeat and raw urban funk. This proved a precursor for Biyong's Afro-opera entitled Knowledge Identity Reconstruction, which was performed in Paris; the score was issued in 2012 as Jazz & Africa: Knowledge Identity Reconstruction. Ki i Ye Yi was billed to Biyong and the Diamane Bantu Messengers, essentially a variation on Massak with assistance from Paris DJs, who co-released the album with Afrolectric.

2013's 21.12.2012 (Truth or Lies?) was issued with many longtime collaborators in a wide variety of personnel settings. That same year, Biyong issued a 12" single cover of Fela's I.T.T. (International Thief Thief). He followed it with the single "Liyomba" in 2014, accompanied only by keyboardist./programmer Wanyoike Kimani and backing vocalist Millie Assagi. ~ Thom Jurek
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