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Interview: Bob Brozman

1 February, 2001

National Service


Bob Brozman does extraordinary things with his steel guitar,

A Bob Brozman concert is much more than a bloke with a shiny guitar and a bunch of songs. It's a guided tour of all the music associated with the National steel guitar, and a tour of Brozman - the man and his ideas.

National steel guitars are the striking acoustic ones that look like polished silver - in fact it's nickel-coated brass - and are mostly played with a slide. Brozman fell in love with them when he was 13 and the affair still burns brightly.

"What makes then unique is not just the tonal quality," he enthuses, "but most particularly the dynamic range - in other words, the difference between soft and loud.

"It's actually greater on a National than it is on a conventional acoustic guitar or an electric. The difference between your softest touch and your hardest hit is quite dramatic…So it just enables me to paint with more colours."

The blues may be the music most associated with the instrument, but Brozman is equally expert when it comes to traditional Hawaiian music, and has collaborated with players from all over the world, the National seemingly as versatile an instrument as a hand drum.

"The hidden message is it's all music," he says. "The guy who invented categories of music probably owned a record store…What I discovered is that all the good music happens at the frontiers of colonialism, where Western instruments get put in the hands of local people who use then for more interesting purposes…

"I think it's critical to give people new flavours of sound. There are records being produced by a guy sitting in front of a computer and a fashion model, and then another guy sitting in front of a computer to tune all the out-of-tune vocals!"

Brozman is especially disheartened by the imperialist role in the dulling down of music. "If you imagine every country's musical culture as being a guy up on a soap box, the American guy is standing on a giant skyscraper covered with loud-speakers and with money flying out from it everywhere."

He is more concerned with getting into what he calls "the magic zone" every time he plays. "It's to do with being in the present and surrendering your intellect…I think true musical transportation happens when the intellect disengages…

"I want to send people home at the very least having forgotten their troubles for a couple of hours; and at the very most maybe opening their minds and hearts a little bit."

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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