If you haven’t heard Walter Strauss play, then you’ve never heard music like this before. This Californian guitarist’s songs are full of the groove and fire of a West African dance party, the dynamics and textures of a string orchestra, and the back-porch soul of American roots music. It’s out of this world music.
“A many-layered, multi-textured, one-man folk festival.” Maverick Magazine
Walter’s innovative guitar style layers on highly articulated melodies and harmonies, rhythms and counter-rhythms, giving the impression he is somehow playing several instruments at once. He blends his modern approach to the guitar with the ancient roots of global music traditions to create a truly singular style. Walter has “translated” music to guitar from the kora, the traditional 21-stringed harp of West Africa, and he integrates the tonal and rhythmic contours of instruments like the kamal’ngoni (a West African hunters harp) and the Indian sitar into his into his playing and compositions. His songs soulfully trace forgotten histories and life’s paradoxes in the 21st century, and his guitar interpretations of far-flung global music are showstoppers.
Walter has performed both solo and in collaborations throughout the US, UK, Ireland, and Canada, and in northern Europe and Mali, West Africa – at major venues and festivals like Kennedy Center, the Celtic Connections Festival in Scotland, and Le Diplomat in Bamako, Mali. His collaborations have spanned an impressive range of genres, from a duo with Grammy-winning Malian kora player Mamadou Diabate to American guitar maestro Alex de Grassi and Americana songsters The Burns Sisters.
“I am very impressed with the way Walter plays the kora’s sound with his guitar. It’s inspirational.” Toumani Diabaté
Walter’s exploration of West African music has spurred innovative cross-cultural projects. His current collaboration with Malian kora player Sidiki Diabaté, son of famed kora player Toumani Diabaté, began in 2012 when Toumani invited Walter to Mali to deepen his exploration of translating kora music to guitar. In Bamako, he learned from Toumani and other noted kora players, and explored the rich cultural roots of the music, playing with resident “djeli” musicians, the keepers of local stories and legends. Walter also travelled to traditional villages and played with hunters whose music, immersed in the ancient traditions of the bush, is thought to be the oldest in West Africa.
Toumani was so moved by the American guitarist’s unique style of playing and his connection to the West African traditions that he sought to bring Walter together to form a duo with his son Sidiki, a rising star and the 72nd in this esteemed lineage of musicians. The resulting collaboration not only represents a unique cultural confluence, but also a dialogue between two dynamic musical personalities driven by a similar creative impetus to innovate and transcend boundaries.
Walter and Sidiki unveiled their unique sound to spellbound audiences at the Celtic Connections International Festival in Scotland in January 2014, and delighted world music fans with a performance on BBC Radio 3’s World on 3 in the same month. The date for their CD release will be announced in the coming months.
“A fine player with a voice of his own in the world which is beautiful, fluid and sophisticated.” Martin Simpson
Walter’s cross-cultural collaborations are ongoing. He has toured in a duo with 2010 Grammy-winning kora player Mamadou Diabaté, as well as with Malian kamale ngoni player (hunters harp) Mamadou Sidibe. His other current collaboration, Mamajowali, unites him with Sidibe, who played with West African greats like Oumou Sangare and Coumba Sidibe, and American multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven, known for his longtime work with mandolinist David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, and a myriad of others . Mamajowali has been inspiring audiences and moving dancers at major American festivals like Wintergrass and Suwannee Springfest since 2012. The trio blends and overlays West African, Appalachian, and other western genres in an ecstatic groove-centered dialogue, a new “Afromericana” sound.
Walter has also teamed up with some of the world’s top acoustic guitarists, performing with players like Alex de Grassi, Tony McManus, and Bob Brozman. Currently, he is working on a collaborative recording with de Grassi, and the duo will be joining up for a series of concerts in 2015.
“Walter Strauss brings a whole new sonic dimension to the fingerstyle guitar scene with his signature West African influenced technique, heavily syncopated rhythms, and richly textured lines. Lyrical, totally grooving, and always from the heart, Walter is a true original and one of the most distinctive players today!” Alex de Grassi
His unique guitar style has drawn the admiration of international musicians ranging from UK guitar luminary Martin Simpson to legendary West African kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté. Avant-garde American guitarist David Torn calls him “super-freakin musical”.
In the US, Walter’s two solo CDs and extensive concert tours have built him an audience as both a consummate acoustic guitarist and songwriter. FAME credits him with a “crystalline beauty… a soulful journey of stellar guitar playing and songs suffused with tenderness and wit.” Rhythm and Roots calls him “one of the most completely original guitarists I’ve ever seen”. Walter’s debut solo album, a lushly rendered record of songs, Pulling Shadows introduced him to the UK with abundant airplay and a successful 22 show release tour, including a national appearance on BBC2’s legendary Bob Harris show. His follow up release, Planet Solitaire is solo in the true sense – a guitar focused album that showcases his innovations and extraordinary sensitivity on the instrument. Both UK releases garnered a hearty buzz throughout the Isles, and the accompanying tours included clubs, arts centers, and festivals everywhere from London to Limavady. Walter’s appearance on the UK scene was summed up by Welsh Taplas Magazine: “HOW has t innovative guitarist stayed off the radar for so long? Technically, stylistically and most important of all, passionately, he is up there with the greats.”
Famed British broadcaster “Whispering Bob” Harris gives Walter a big thumbs up, applauding “the master playing of Walter Strauss”, Acoustic Magazine calls him “truly extraordinary”, fRoots Magazine puts it simply, “The man is class.”
Both live and on disc, he communicates with infectious inspiration and skillful mastery. He renders whatever he does in 3-D – Walter colors outside the lines.