Bob Brozman has dedicated the last 20 years to playing, researching, and recording music from islands around the world. He has found strong cultural and social commonalities among people for islands as varied as Hawaii, Martinique, and Okinawa. In the last few centuries, islands have been small hothouse musical environments for interesting developments between colonizing and native cultures. Thus, the music of islands is often suffused with a hybrid vigor, further heightened by the powerful influences of nature. The sounds and images of the ocean, the wind, rain, and volcanoes, the tastes and smells of tropical foods and flowers, can be heard in the music. The joy of immediate living, the sorrow of colonial history, and the strength of the people in overcoming hardship can also be felt in the sound. It has been Bob's dream to expose this exciting music to a worldwide audience. top
L'Ile de la Réunion, a volcanic island situated 600 miles east of Madagascar in the southern Indian Ocean, is perhaps one of the world's most exotic islands, both physically and culturally. A virtual secret to the non-francophone world, it possesses one of the world's richest cultural, musical, linguistic, and culinary mixes-a volcanic, passionate, joyous, sexy, and rhythmic lifestyle.
From the Sleeve Notes of DIGDIG:
When Bob first encountered René Lacaille it was on his first trip to La Réunion Island. The scenic beauty of the place, the depth and mood of the culture, and the rich of René's music overwhelmed him. Réunion Island is the home of Sega, and its ancestor, Maloya. These unique styles of music contain some of the world's richest and most soulful sounds. René brings to this already complex music a new level of fiery creativity and innovation, both in composition and in playing. Performing and recording with René, Joel, Bernard, and the rest of the guest musicians has been a musical revelation for Bob, forever changing his way of hearing music. top
When René stayed at Bob's home in California in 1999, Bob gave him a charango (small 10-string Bolivian guitar relative) - a gift that he frequently gives to his musical collaborators as an experiment in ethnomusicology. René fell in love with it, and asked for a second one, "just in case," before the week was over. Like Bob, René is inseparable from his charango now, and the enthusiasm they have for this instrument is demonstrated on several songs on this CD. Bob has since given charangos to Bernard and Joel, and when they are on tour, all four of them use the instruments to while away the long travel hours.
About the Music:
The basic 6/8 grooves of maloya and sega utilize the interplay between 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 12 beats to create deep layers of infectious rhythmic content. The accents occur in places that are surprising to Western ears, and allow creative, lightning-quick multiplication and/or division of these beats. The listener can actually change the way the music sounds by altering his/her internal counting, from a 2-pulse to a 3-pulse and back, at will. Listening this way simulates the sensation of absolute freedom that the musicians enjoy while playing. top
The typical Reunionais percussion section has at its core three instruments. Holding down the low end, yet playing in a syncopated melodic fashion is the rouleur (bass hand drum), made from a barrel with a skin stretched over one end. The kayamb produces the shaker sound, which carries the eighth-notes or eighth-note triplets (depending on your internal count). The instrument is made with seed-filled sugar cane flower stalks, which are bound into a flat, inch-thick, 2-foot square. The third central percussion instrument is the triangle, which provides the 'up' accents. Added to this core are claves, bongos, congas, and several other small percussion pieces, yielding a rich musical texture that is strong and delicious.
On this CD, you will find examples of both sega and maloya. The main difference between the two is harmonic. Maloya is the older, slightly more African form, and the harmony is modal, without Western chord changes. It evokes the same feelings as the blues, coming as it does from enslaved Africans. Sega reflects the absorption of French (colonial) musette diatonic harmonies (chord changes and European song form) with a hint of jazz influence. "Oh! Lé Là Ô" and "An Dio" are maloya style while the other 6/8 songs like "Langla," "Place D'Youville," "Lozé," or "5.O.P. (Syncopé)" represent sega. The art form expresses itself in part by playfully tipping the aural balance back and forth at will from a 2-beat feeling to a 3-beat feeling, as in charango specialties "Ti Guitar Là" and "Maria Ya Ya." There are also several "binaire" songs, meaning music in 4/4 time, such as Pondaurat or Fraka, which may remind the listener of Caribbean music, though these songs are strictly Reunionaisse. "Z.B.P. Blues" is our sega version of old southern American blues, with strong Southern Hemisphere syncopation. "Debussy à La Réunion" is an imaginary musical voyage of the French impressionist Claude Debussy composing in maloya time, with guest percussionists from the Granmoun Lélé family. Almost all of the music on this CD is new music, and René and I are both very interested in pushing the limits at all times.
Nou lé kontan à zoué po zot! (We're happy to play for you all!)
The Making of DIGDIG
by Haley S. Robertson, Project Documentarian
Links to reviews for DIGDIG:
The story of DIGDIG begins at the Paris Orly Airport, where Bob along with sound engineer Daniel Thomas and myself in the capacity of business manager/project documentarian/videographer, arrived in April 1999 fully equipped with over a half dozen guitars, camera and video equipment, and little idea of what to expect in the ten days ahead of us. Our destination was Réunion Island, a volcano roughly the size of Luxembourg, owned by France and located deep in the southwestern Indian Ocean - about as far away from our native northern California as one can get before starting to come back.
We had heard the most recent CDs of the artists we were to meet on La Réunion: "Dan Ker Lélé" by Granmoun Lélé, a literal patriarch of the island's traditional Maloya style, who would preside over his large family, many of whom provided percussive back-up in the small studio; and ASTER by Rene Lacaille, perhaps the most virile person that La Réunion has ever produced - a walking party with enormous talent for rhythm, songwriting and quick-witted double-entendres.
The plan was to meet Rene at the Paris airport. The only photo we'd had of him was the cover of ASTER. But, once you see Rene, it is impossible to forget what he looks like, and so it was not too hard to miss the robust man who sauntered up to us dressed in layers of east-meets-west chic.
In the first moments of Bob & Rene's acquaintance, it became clear that the two would be friends for the rest of their lives. Immediately and, despite French that was masked on one side with Bob's heavy American accent and Rene's heavy Creole on the other, the two were firing an arsenal of jokes at each other. Within minutes, instruments were brought out and tested in the airport bar, and the instant combustion of artistic energy between Bob and Rene continued through the 12-hour flight, and has not stopped since.
We arrived in La Réunion's capital city, St.-Denis, in the morning local time, a full 2 days after starting our trip three continents away. For most, a shower and siesta would have been in order - but not for this team: Bob had hardly put his guitars down as he obliged reporters - in French - with details about his visit: to explore and record with musicians of this island's cultural goldmine, which has eluded so much of the world outside of France until now.
By lunchtime on his first day on La Réunion, Bob was deep in a jam with René, as the two explored each others' musical offerings - Rene heading into blues timbres, and Bob drinking in the seductive Sega and Maloya rhythms, which offer all the complexity and sophistication as Cuba's famed styles, though in a mesmerizing 6/8 time derived from the island's French, African, and Indian heritage.
The rest, as they say, is history. Bob and Rene performed live on Réunion, and recorded some preliminary tracks in studio. It was clear to everyone that the combination of Bob and Rene was a powerful one, which would merit more than the time allotted on this first trip, and so it was decided that Bob should return to Réunion the following year for a one-month residence that would culminate in the release of DIGDIG. This second Indian Ocean residence, which included concerts in several towns on Réunion and an additional concert/residence in the Seychelles, allowed them to complete the CD. Since that second month-long encounter, Bob and Rene have joined forces in a multitude of countries, including France, South Africa, Canada, and at both Bob's and Rene's homes.
ONE-LINERS ABOUT DIGDIG FROM MAJOR GLOBAL PRESS
Radio Interview: NPR/ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, June 4, 2002
THE SUNDAY TIMES, London, UK, Feb. 24, 2002
FOLKROOTS, UK, March 2002
POP MATTERS, April 17, 2002
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, April 25, 2002
TOWER PULSE!, May, 2002
MP3 Audio Samples from DIGDIG:
Oh! Lé Là Oh!