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Review: Bob Brozman and the International Troupe

August 11, 1999

Full Circle


The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - but of course you'll never know if you don't climb over to see for yourself. Last summer I made my first trip to Quebec City, the capital of the French-speaking Canadian province best known for its unrelenting separatist movement. Every year for the past 32, the city has hosted the Festival d'Été de Québec. Unlike so many other major summer music events, which simply book whatever acts happen to be on the festival circuit at the time, Festival d'Été takes pride in its unique world music programming.

Music reviewers, especially in cosmopolitan crossroads cities like San Francisco, can be suckered into thinking we've heard it all. Festival d'Été banished that misconception from my jaded brain last year. Last month I made my return to Festival d'Été, which ran July 8 to 18 and featured more than 600 performers from 20 countries on five major outdoor stages in and around the old walled city. Admission to every show was granted to anyone wearing the $8 (Canadian) festival pin. Again I was greeted by a host of new "discoveries," like French ska, an Iranian family folk group, and an Argentinean tango orchestra. Whenever I could, either through the graces of the festival press liaisons or in the city's well-stocked record stores, I snapped up CDs to bring back home. Unlike some of the English-speaking acts at this year's festival, many Festival d'Été artists may never have the chance to break through the language and culture barriers that stand between them and crossover success in the U.S. pop market.

The most amazing concert I heard at Festival d'Été this year was masterminded by border-defying guitarist Bob Brozman, who conducted an unwieldy, laugh-filled, and thrilling Asian fusion showcase. Brozman played his Hawaiian, steel, and Weissenborn guitars in a large ensemble that featured the boggling Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya, Okinawan sanshin player Hirayasu Takashi, Chinese erhu master George Gao, and the Kiyoshi Nagata Taiko Ensemble. Brozman's latest collaborations (including tracks with Bhattacharya, Takashi, and Greek baclama player George Pilali) are available on his release, The Running Man. Brozman is based in Santa Cruz, which just goes to show that you never know what surprises are waiting in your own backyard. Of course, like Festival d'Été, you might have to expand your definition of backyard.

The 33rd annual Festival d'Été de Québec will take place July 6-16, 2000. For details call (418) 692-4540, send e-mail to, or check the Web site,

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