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Mahima - Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman
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May 2, 2003

Brozman's a very cultured guitarist

Martin Longley finds guitarist Bob Brozman is on a search for the musical things which connect us all


The California-based Bob Brozman has become something of a serial collaborator in recent years. Although rooted in the American blues tradition, he's developed a deep love for all global manifestations of the sliding guitar.

Basically, Bob loves any note that slides, and is accustomed to touring with two National steel guitars, a Hawaiian guitar and a tiny armadillo-shelled charango. "I started playing guitar when I was five," he explains.

"I basically started playing slide guitar almost right away. I discovered it myself and then got into the blues. Basically, you take a human being, a string and a hard object, and eventually they'll slide it. It's just a natural thing to want to do."

In 2000, Brozman was at the WOMAD festival with Okinawan sanshin player Takashi Hirayasu. The duo released an album the following year and in 2002 Brozman continued his series on Riverboat Records with Digdig, a collaboration with Rene Lacaille.

Next month, Brozman releases MAHIMA, the latest in this unofficial series of collaborations.

This time, Bob's working with Debashish Bhattacharya, from Kolkata (Calcutta), India, who he describes as the greatest slide guitarist in the world (and the maestro is still barely 40 years old). The album matches Indian, Hawaiian and blues stylings, concentrating on concise song-structures. It's also a family affair, featuring the flighty vocals of Sutapa Bhattacharya and speedy tabla patterings from Subhashis Bhattacharya.

Bob hasn't exactly given up playing solo, though. There's also a new disc just out, called METRIC TIME, which he describes as "rootsy grooving and trippy sounds, with real-time sampling/looping of organic acoustic slide playing."

In Lichfield on Saturday night, Brozman will be playing a solo show. This is the side of his constant touring life which tends to highlight the blues music that was his main obsession in the early days.

"Blues was the first ethnic music that I ran into," explains Bob. "I present some of that, and from there I move into Hawaiian, Caribbean, some African-based stuff, some Malagasy-based things, just mixing it all up."

Brozman's love of Hawaiian music provided the initial impetus for his more globally-aware collaborations. "The first time I did it was in 1989, with the Tau Moe Family, a family that left Hawaii in 1928, made their first records in 1929, toured the world for six decades, came home, and made their last record with me."

As well as coping with a ceaseless touring regime, Brozman now has a position at Macquarie University in Sydney - "I'll be lecturing there sometimes, but mainly what I'll be doing is more remote recording collaborations. I'm an adjunct professor in the music department and they want me because of the projects I can create. Also as an anthropologist and an ethnomusicologist I'm developing radical new theories and they'd like to be a part of that. In a nutshell, often the work of anthropologists and ethnomusicologists is to look at the differences between cultures, and I'm actually going sort of the other way - looking for the things that are universal in all human beings, musically.

"That points you to neuro-biology. I'm working on a unified theory that connects language, culture, music, evolution and brain function. I've made interesting observations about colonization and rhythm.

"As Britain is a coloniser rather than the colonised, the things I have to say are pretty interesting to British audiences."

A common link between many of Bob's collaborations is his investigation of indigenous music made on very small islands.

"Basically, islands of under, say, 150 miles in diameter never make empires, they never make armies, never make business. They're basically involved with food, nature and music. Music is considered a much higher priority."

Over the last year, Brozman has hardly unpacked his bags, touring around 12 countries in East Africa, travelling from Djibouti right down to Mozambique, South Africa, and across to Madagascar. "It's a one-man tour of the world," he enthuses.

Brozman is now involved with setting up a non-profit foundation to get instruments distributed to Third World countries. "Where they are really needed," he says. "I saw incredibly heartbreaking scenes, yet also found Africa very inspiring."

He's also played at WOMAD festivals in Singapore, Adelaide and New Zealand. "There are massive cultural exchanges. I get to be the glue between Western and African/Asian musicians."

Right now, Brozman is burning up with sheer motivational energy, feeling that his playing has reached a peak. "My music is constantly expanding. I find a level of freedom in playing that I haven't had before, and I've been playing for 43 years, so I think my rate of discovery is actually increasing rather than decreasing.

"For me, the process of music-making has become so integrated into my whole self that my intellect switches right off when I'm playing.

"I really am in musically and physically fit condition after all this touring, with lots of new influences and even more freedom of rhythm than I had last year."

Bob Brozman slides into The Guildhall, Lichfield, on Saturday at 8.30pm

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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