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. 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.
In addition to his own critically acclaimed albums, Loueke has appeared on numerous standout recordings such as Terence Blanchard’s GRAMMY-nominated Flow (2005) and Herbie 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 toured the world as a member of Herbie Hancock’s band for more than ten years and began touring with Chick Corea in 2017.