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Review: Bob Brozman

August 1999

Globetrotter with a Guitar


Bob Brozman has followed the steel-guitar trail from the Mississippi Delta to Hawaii and India, stopping along the way to explore musical traditions from Trinidad to Tahiti. A onetime member of R. Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders, he recently collaborated with Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Cyril Pahinui (the son of slack-key legend Gabby Pahinui) on the album Four Hands Sweet & Hot (Dancing Cat). His work appears on both major labels and indies. He leads his own band, The Thieves of Sleep, and also tours as a solo artist, performing what he describes as "sort of a one-man guitar world-music festival."

Long recognized among aficionados as one of the foremost folk-guitar virtuosos, collectors, and scholars, Brozman remains little known in the U.S., performing and recording mostly for the European market. Maybe that's because he resists easy categorization or because, for him, "rock and its dumb cousin, disco, are the most boring, predictable beats ever devised by man." He does appreciate hip-hop, however, creating faux electronic grooves using acoustic instruments, including his vintage Weissenborn slide guitar.

"I was attracted to country blues and anything to do with guitar or slide guitar at an early age," says Brozman, who took up guitar at age 6 and National steel at 13. "I was attracted to Hawaiian music, Caribbean music, Okinawan music - music that comes from interaction between the First and Third World."

Brozman amassed one of the world's greatest collections of Hawaiian 78s but never visited Hawaii until 1986, when he was invited to a steel-guitar festival and met slack-key master Ledward Kaapana. Their near-telepathic interplay is captured on Kika Kila Meets Ki Ho'Alu (Dancing Cat). "In our live shows we start with a hula," Brozman says. "Either guy can change to a different song at any time, and the other one is there, just instantly."

In 1988 he recorded The Tau Moe Family with Bob Brozman (Rounder), featuring the troupe of traditional Hawaiian musicians who'd made 78s in the 1920s and toured throughout Asia and Europe. "I had to be the steel player from 1929 with these 80-year- old Hawaiians," Brozman recounts.

Tau Moe himself led a band in Calcutta, inspiring Garney Nyss, the first Indian musician to play Hawaiian music. Nyss was the teacher of Brij Bhusan Kabra, the first Indian to play Indian music on a Hawaiian slide guitar, who in turn taught Debashish Bhattacharya, Brozman's collaborator on the album Sunrise (Sagarika), recorded in Calcutta. "His movement with the bar is so different than Hawaiian," Brozman says, "and it's just lightning fast."

Having just recorded a collaboration with Takashi Hirayasu, a colleague of Okinawan legend Shoukichi Kina, for a Japanese label, Brozman is now working on his "Islands" project, a CD featuring musicians from such islands as Okinawa, Guadaloupe, Cuba, Tahiti, and Réunion. At this summer's Festival d'Été in Quebec City, Canada, he performed a live preview of the project, doing duets with Hirayasu, Réunion's René Lacaille, and Cuba's La Familia Valera Miranda, as well as Bhattacharya and musicians from France and Greece. "I'm really getting around," he says, "and I'm having more fun than I ever had."

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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