Photo courtesy of Cascadia
Guitarist Pierre Bensusan explores a world of music.

By Marcy Stamper

World music has become the catchall term for non-Western music from places as diverse as Africa, Bulgaria and India.

But guitarist Pierre Bensusan has a personal claim to that category, as he blends his own Algerian-French heritage and his voracious interest in Irish, classical, and folk and traditional styles in a unique and distinctive style.

Bensusan — who will perform at 7 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 16) at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp — was born in Algeria and his family moved to Paris when he was 4. He started learning the piano at age 7 and had taught himself guitar by age 11.

Bensusan started winning awards at age 18 with his very first album, which snagged the Grand Prix du Disque in France. In the four decades since, he has won everything from “Best World Music Guitar Player” to “Best Live Album” to “Best Acoustic Album of All Times” for his complex and highly original compositions and adaptations.

Bensusan’s influences include the folk revival in the 1960s and his rich personal musical heritage, which he combines in an uncommonly innovative style. In addition to fingerstyle acoustic guitar, Bensusan straddles genres in his vocals, which are peppered with scat singing drawn from jazz tradition as well as whistles and improvisational vocalizations.

Bensusan is a proponent of alternate tunings for the guitar, which lend a hauntingly beautiful tonality to his playing. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of melodies from North African and Arabic music, but at other times it recalls the pipes played in Scottish and Irish music. He’s been called a “dazzling instrumentalist” with an “extraordinary touch and tone.”

Bensusan’s appearance, part of his 40th-anniversary world tour, is sponsored by Cascadia. Advance tickets are $20 through or by calling 997-9334 (call by Friday). Tickets at the door are $25.