This is Part Two of an interview I conducted with Bob Brozman, I recommend reading Part One first.
You're not shy about voicing some pretty strong opinions on the state of music today. To be honest, most Rock and Roll guitar playing leaves me cold and bored – it becomes only noise and no passion. That's what I loved about punk for about the two weeks before they too were co–opted – Bands like the Clash and the Pogues managed to stay outside for longer – Bob Marley and especially Peter Tosh didn't make many concessions, but that’s ancient history. Rap got turned into a minstrel show for white boys from the suburbs and has become misogynist and homophobic – It's not the music of Gil Scott Herron, Grandmaster Flash, or Afrika Bambata anymore. What do you think pop music needs to do to revitalize itself to stop being so damned boring?
Personally I must challenge myself every day in order to sleep at night, as an artist. My biggest gripe about rock and pop is that it is often artistically lazy and musically very conservative, actually. I tire of artists who simply re-do what they have been doing for 35 years, without risk-taking. I mean, after one has gained the fame and the money, can you think of a SAFER time to take some artistic risk?
Another problem I see with pop culture is that, since the 70s, it just keeps re-hashing the last few decades — it seems there is not a lot of radically NEW music happening. To clarify, it was a big leap from swing to r&b to rock & roll, but it was NOT a big leap from rock to metal to grunge, art-punk to non-art punk, house to jungle…. I don’t expect to see any really big leaps in the future of pop, because big commerce always makes art more conservative.
Having said all that, my life and workload have never been better, because there will always be some people interested in art with a little more substance. When I am onstage, it is obvious that I am just a regular human being doing real things with passion. It’s also evident that onstage I am fully committed with every cell in my body.
I find it interesting indeed that since the advent of Youtube, my concert attendances have shot up, and all the newer concertgoers at my shows are under 25 years old. And many come up and say they find my way of playing AND my attitude to be refreshing and, more importantly, inspiring. I cannot identify it exactly, but there must be something I am doing right.
RISK and CURIOSITY! That is all you really need to get interesting and challenging art, I think. Pretty easy really — it’s just that in modern life there are strong social-marketing-mis-education forces at work killing curiosity and discourse… I urge people to FIGHT back with independent thinking.
You mention rap and hip-hop. But you did not mention the one other thing hip-hop has become: a 24/7 advertisement for materialism, thus the revolution got a little co-opted. These famous guys crave all the same Rolex, Gucci, Escalade crap that the establishment craves. What about using that microphone to help the neighbourhood where you came from? Come on, boys, don’t be so selfish — the bad guys have their microphones on ALL the time! (TV)
Another problem I see is that the concept of “fame” has been pumped up to a ridiculous degree. Celebrity used to be attached to accomplishment. Now it is often pre-made, and simply used to distract the masses from more important news about urgent real things in this world.
Part of my success has simply been trying to get BETTER, not bigger.
I heard you being interviewed about a program where you were trying to get guitars to people in impoverished villages – can you tell us about that?
Well, I have travelled a lot in the third world, and it is hard for westerners who haven’t done so to really understand how difficult things are there. After meeting US guitar collectors who own 500+ guitars, and then meeting a man in Rwanda who is trying to teach 500+ orphans to play guitar… with ONE guitar, I decided to start the Global Music Aid Foundation. In many developing countries, any common thing you can think of — they don’t have it! So musicians struggle to have strings and decent instruments to play.
The idea of the Global Music Aid Foundation is to transfer some of the musical surplus of the West (guitars, ukes, strings, and other musical basics) directly to musicians in developing countries. What little leverage I have in the guitar and music world can be used to better the world in a tiny way. Getting non-profit status is difficult in the US, so we have decided to work independently. We can thus accept materials donated, but no money donations. Now that I am doing well enough to do good, this is just something I want to do. I figure every time a new musician is created, that’s one less criminal, except possibly for Michael Jackson!
What type of role do you see yourself as a musician playing in society today? Are you strictly an Entertainer – which I don't think there is anything wrong with by the way; people need to be entertained intelligently.
Well, first, I don’t feel important, just another fella doing honest work. Second, I do think of myself as someone who breaks false myths for audiences, about show biz, myths about guitar virtuosity, and myths about a supposed “wall” between performer and audience, especially for younger people. I like to say, “This is not a concert. It is just an evening of life, together.”
I think I am becoming a kind of teacher, too, simply because I see so many people struggling with music and I just want to help. That is the impetus for all the workshops I conduct around the world, and for my teaching DVDs, to give back some of what has been given to me.
Third, I guess I have evolved slowly into a bit of a socio-political raconteur. While there are people who don’t want an artist to talk about much onstage (shut up and play), I disagree. Artists, by definition, have sensitive perceptual antennae, thus we are something like the canaries in the mineshaft of society, an early warning system — our bullshit detectors are turned up full. I would also like to say that the concert ticket may RENT the artist for a night, but it does not BUY him!
But mainly, I see myself dealing in brain-chemistry alteration, using moving air waves! I love the grey zone between biochemical-neurological reactions to sound waves, and human feeling/meaning derived from music! It is an endlessly fascinating area of thought. I see people at the end of my shows, smiling and talking excitedly. I love to stimulate, light a fire under people, and just transfer some of my deep and passionate love of life and music!
Sometimes when I happen to hear today's popular music or hear about what's popular on TV I get the feeling the last thing people want to do is think. Everything seems to be geared towards escapism and stopping people from thinking. You've seen a lot of music all over the world and played with a lot of musicians, in your opinion is this something particular to our society or do elements of it exist everywhere?
Well, as I said above, commerce tends to ruin art. Great forces have been at work for the last 35 years, to stop critical thinking, and discourse, in the US especially.
- Slashing education,
- increasing greed and materialism while jobs evaporate
- ever-increasing pop & celebrity culture
- declining access to international and economic information
- fear of terrorism
- fear of losing your job
- constant media noise and distraction
- overuse of pharmaceuticals
- choppy MTV editing style killing the ability to think in paragraphs
It is a long list. But the result has been disastrous, as all can plainly see. In thousands of generations of humanity, these processes are very recent and their effects are not fully understood, especially by the victims. It is why I fight so passionately to help the young think for themselves.
Language needs translation, but music does not. I think music’s ancient original purpose in our evolution was to engender co-operation between people. It provides a window into another person’s mind, with a much smaller error rate than language.
Globalism (American corporatism) is indeed spreading everywhere, regrettably. The advertisers of the (non-existent) American dream are powerful. The US may be a rich country, but I think it has a poverty of empathy. Sometimes I think the poorest music comes from the richest countries. Is it just that the top 1% wealthiest, who essentially run everything, are simply NOT funky?
You did a lot of what people like to call world music, and now you're doing a style people will call Blues for the sake of giving it a label – where do you see yourself moving musically in the future, or is that even something you've given much thought?
Well, actually I have been doing both for a very long time. Lumière, which you have recently reviewed, represents a summation and full development of my adventures in world music up to now. My next blues record (Post-Industrial Blues — releases on Ruf, in October 2007) takes my blues side further than ever, with a few new instruments, as well as a LOT of new original songs, some of a very socio-political nature, for the first time. There is a lot of risk on this record — as a songwriter/lyricist, and with new risky ways of singing. I’ll be very curious to see the reaction it gets.
For 2008 and beyond, there are a lot of new projects in the hopper, but I am not ready to discuss them yet.
One last question, if there was one place in the whole world you could go and play with another group of musicians right now, just for fun where would that be?
Back to Madagascar, tout suite. There is so much to learn there, and I just love the place. In the next few years, I hope to mount a large Madagascar guitar project. So many incredible musicians there, and I love the challenge of trying to keep up.
Well that marks the end of my interview with Bob Brozman. As you can see he's not only a talented and gifted musician he's also one of the most thoughtful men I've had the privilege of interviewing for a long while. You may not agree with everything he said, but you can never deny his passion for what he does.
Thank you Bob Brozman for your time and for sharing a little bit of your passion with me.