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Review: Bob Brozman

August 1999

Bob Brozman:
World Class Guitarist at Nuits d'Afrique


At the festival Nuits d'Afrique, it is not a question of 'good' or 'bad' music. It is a question of discovering musical tastes you never thought existed. No one exemplifies the Gulliver's Travels-like exploration of music better than guitarist Bob Brozman, who performed with Rene Lacaille and Djeli Moussa Diawara at Café Campus on July 19th and 20th.

Sitting in a yoga position on the stage, dwarfed by his harp-like guitar, Djeli Moussa Diawara plucked at his Malian instrument. Brozman kept his guitar silent, nodding to the beat. Without cue, he joined in: mostly by improvisation, Brozman plucked, banged, twiddled and slid along the strings to music that had no apparent melody. This improbable duo was making music.

Bob Brozman, guitarist, ethnomusicologist, teacher, and performer, is living proof that music is a universal language. In a world where rhythm and song are increasingly dominated by the internet and at a time when folk music from across the globe is as accessible a local bands, Brozman could easily become a figure-head for a new generation of musicians. Performers such as the Chemical Brothers and Beck dub and mix styles from past and present but Brozman prefers to think of his work as live dubbing which imitates music made in the flesh. "Elsewhere, with other musicians, I'm trying to use rhythms that have never been hip-hopped before. I've got a hip-hop bolero, tango, a super slow six eight, you know?"

At age 6, Brozman was already experimenting with the guitar. When at age 14 he discovered the Dobro, or National Resonator guitar, he realized he had found his passion. "The sound of the National sculpted my musical sensibilities and the way I perceive music," says Brozman. He has written an internationally acclaimed work, The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments and has built a large collection of these art deco era instruments, which includes nickle-silver mandolins, tenor guitars, and a ukulele. Dobros were created to satisfy the need for louder instruments in jazz and American/Hawaiian folk folk music, but were made obsolete by electric guitars. Brozman's love of the instruments stems from their flexibility and range of sounds, both of which were in stunning evidence at his Nuits d'Afrique performances.

Bob Brozman is undoubtedly a master of the guitar, but he is more likely to say that he is a student of music. At Washington University, Brozman studied ethnomusicology; the focus of his research was the roots of Hawaiian folk music. Based on sources which included rare vinyl recordings, family anecdotes, and informal interviews, he released an album in 1989 which traces the history and evolution of Hawaiian folk music. He tours frequently to experience music in its local setting and to fuel his ongoing study of global rhythms.

The worldly guitarist picks up new ideas wherever he goes. Studying the guitar in Réunion, Greece, India, Hawaii and Okinawa, he has developed an unrivaled range of techniques. One of his favorite techniques, the 'slide', was invented in Hawaii in 1897 and was used liberally at the Nuits d'Afrique performance. Now familiar to many, the move consists of sliding a piece of metal up and down the guitar strings.

Brozman borrows techniques from the cultures he visits and yet it is hard to think of an artist who plays with more authenticity.

Bob Brozman is more than an exotic blend of cultures and genres - he harbours a deep understanding of music, an understanding that crosses all cultural borders.

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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