December 8, 2017 – Vincent Nguini (Guitarist For Paul Simon) was born in Obala, Cameroon, West Africa in July 1952. Music and the understanding of it was the driving force behind his life’s ambitions from very early on.
He traveled around Africa in the early and mid-1970s, learning many regional guitar styles, before relocating to Paris in 1978. In Paris, long a recording center for music from French-speaking Africa, he studied music and did studio work with many African musicians. He joined the band of the Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, who had an international hit in 1972 with “Soul Makossa,” and soon became its musical director.
When I was little, I listened to Bo’o Jeannot with Anne Marie Nzié, I listened to Cher Ami de la Capitale, Kamdem Irénée, Tchana Pierre. Later I listened to the Cubans, but also Duke Ellington, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Hendrix, The Beatles, James Brown, Sam Cooke. It is with all that that we build a career. I also listened to the beginning of French rock with Johnny Hallyday, Claude François. I listened to great American singers like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder. That’s what inspired me and made me understand that we had to work to reach a certain level. But my big influences were in jazz with John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Barney Kessel, Duke Ellington, Basie Count, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith …
On guitar masters:
I did a piece for Jimmy Hendrix in “Ode to Hendrix” on the album “Afro Train”. It’s true that I do not play like him, but that’s when I start researching. It’s not just him that I imitated, there are great guitarists like John McLaughlin, Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee. Not to mention the blues that also had a big impact on me with BB King and the greatest for me personally, who were Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
By the time he moved to New York in 1987, Nguini mastered styles from all around Africa and the Americas and was fluent in jazz, blues, salsa, samba, bikutsi and makossa from Cameroon, highlife from Ghana, juju from Nigeria, soukous from Congo and mbaqanga from South Africa.
In New York he was introduced to Paul Simon by South African trumpeteer Hugh Masekela (who sadly passed away in January 2018). They soon started collaborating and over time developed a deep friendship. He plays in Simon’s band since the ‘Born at the right time tour’ in 1991 non-stop. His most famous part is the melodic guitar lick for ‘The Coast’, which he wrote. Vincent is also the only band member who appeared on all albums since 1991, notably the masterpiece Rhythm of the Saints, The Capeman, You’re the One and Surprise. He also played on all eleven Simon tours.
In between the commitments he often returned to Cameroon to generate ideas.
I never miss an opportunity, if I have three weeks, a month off, to come and relax at home, to see friends, to see the family. Inspiration is not just listening to a melody, it’s also hearing people talking, talking, listening to noises at the market. All this is a set that inspires musically.
He was also in demand for recording sessions. Among other artists he backed were Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Josh Groban and Angelique Kidjo. In the 1990s and 2000s he released albums as a leader on his own label, Vincent Nguini Records, which mingled intricately layered, globe-hopping instrumentals with amiable Afropop songs topped by his own lead vocals. He continued to release new music well into 2017.
Vincent Nguini, guitarist for Paul Simon for the last 30 years, died on December 8 in Abadiânia, Brazil at the age of 65. He had been suffering from liver cancer and the city is dubiously promoted as the City of Spiritual Cures, because of the presence of psychic healer, João de Deus, who attracts many national and international tourists seeking cures for their maladies.
Simon said of the guitarist, “Vincent Nguini is the most creative musician I’ve ever worked with”, elaborating for the New York Times that he was “an extraordinarily melodic rhythm guitarist. By that I mean his rhythm parts were usually repetitive lines — very West African — rather than strumming chords. His style was unique and can’t be fully understood except by the most sophisticated players.”
Nguini said of Paul Simon: “I have been working with him for years, he is a very good musician. There are others who feel like him, like Peter Gabriel and even Sting. But no one has reached the dimension of Paul Simon, because he is a precursor.”