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Soukous Guitar Lesson: Diblo Dibala “Super K” Part 1

Learn about West Africa’s soukous guitar style through this tutorial of Diblo Dibala’s “Super K.” This is part one of a nine part series.


September 11, 2020
Written by
Suavecito_91

Kwassa kwassa (otherwise known as soukous) is a style of music born in the Congolese Basin, evolved from Congolese rumba, and deriving from Afro-Cuban influence—eventually inspiring many guitar styles we hear all over the world today, including Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”

Since the inception of She Shreds, we’ve been exploring how music education plays a role in our understanding of how to play, who decides what that looks and sounds like, and the ways in which music education raises a certain culture in that generation of players. There is such a rich history to the development of contemporary guitar music, often used as a tool to voice resistance and resilience, and almost always (whether conscious or not) the foundation of that influence is African. And yet, I was only ever given the option to learn from The Beatles, ZZ Top, or Joan Jett when growing up It makes me wonder what we, as a culture, would be like if we normalized learning and teaching the sounds of African joy, resistance, and revolution. We’ve always known that if we want change of any kind—particularly as it pertains to decolonization—we need to change the process and practice of our education system that too often neglects the needs of women and BIPOC.

Learning about international styles of music and their origins through physical practice and dedication to their specific sounds is an amazing way to broaden our understanding of what “guitar music” sounds like. It’s also important to continue to find and give credit back to those who originally founded some of the sounds we love today. In this lesson, I’ll be teaching what I’ve learned so far from Diblo Dibala’s “Super K,” off  his 1989 album, Super Soukous.

Where to Begin?

I used a Fender Mustang Player Series electric guitar >> through a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner >> with a Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb pedal >>> coming out of a 2020 Twin Reverb Fender amp. If you’re looking to get the same well-rounded tone with hints of surfy twang and wavy vibes, I would recommend a spring reverb and a mid-level EQ on your amp with an extra boost in the treble.

For the best results, you’ll need to get the following ready:

Patience
Comfortable seat
Metronome (any free metronome app will do) 
Electric guitar
Light to medium-weight guitar pick (for reference, I’m using a size .60 mm Dunlop pick))
Amp (optional)

Below is a backing track I created to practice with once you feel ready to take the song on at 135 BPM! If you’d rather follow along with the TAB only, feel free to download it here: Diblo Dibala TAB

Transformative Tips

Before you get started, let me fill you in on some easy but transformative tips that helped me to get to the 135 BPM speed that this tune requires.

Pace:

To really get this song down without hurting yourself, it’s important to start at a slow BPM of around 70 and gradually work your way up to 135 BPM. This is where your patience and metronome will become your best friends.

Strings:

The lighter the string gauge, the easier it may be to develop strength in your hammer on/offs and left-hand speed. I typically use .011 gauge strings, but for this lesson I switched to Fender’s nickel-plated steel strings (.010-.046 gauges). I’ve found that, perhaps due to my extremely thin and small fingers, .009 tend to slip off and .011 or thicker create more tension in the action than what I’m comfortable with for speed. Learn more about string options here.

Picks: 

I recommend experimenting with light to medium-weight picks. Typically I use a medium pick, but found that a lightweight pick allowed me to move through the notes faster. Learn more about picks here.

Part 1: Let’s Get Started 

It can be hard for anyone to know where to start on a tune like this. What I found so essential to bringing this piece justice is not only getting up to the required speed, but listening to and understanding the feel. What helps me keep speed vs. feel balance is to break up the song into Parts, Phrases, and Riffs. In this case, I’m defining a phrase as a major character change within the whole segment of music we’re learning, and a riff as a packaged sequence of notes that builds the character within the phrase.

According to one of the very few transcriptions I found, this Diblo Dibala track has nine parts. This lesson will focus on part one. To further break it down:

1. Part one of this song features five phrases
2. Each phrase includes one to seven riffs 
3. Start each phrase at 70 BPM or slower
4. Increase from there once you’ve played each phrase successfully five times.

At 135 BPM, all phrases and riffs played together will create part one and sound like this:

Part 1, Phrases 1 

Play Video

Part 1, Phrase 2

Play Video

Part 1, Phrase 3

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Part 1, Phrase 4

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Part 1, Phrase 5

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