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Review: Bob Brozman and the International Troupe

EPULSE MAGAZINE, USA
July 23, 1999

Parlez-vous?

By DAN OUELLETTE


There's no better place so close to home to troll for musical discoveries than the Festival D'ete de Quebec. Located in Quebec City in the heart of French-speaking Canada, this 32-year-old gem of an outdoors summer fete teems with revelations -- especially francophone groups from the province itself as well as throughout the world that are virtually unknown to U.S. audiences.

In recent years music aficionados in the States have traveled south of the border in search of styles that stretch beyond mainstream fare. But rarely have music buffs ventured north of the contiguous 48 states for adventurous, ear-expanding music. They don't know what they're missing.

To its English-speaking neighbors, the Festival D'ete has remained an obscure event. Yet it has steadily developed into what is arguably the premiere French music festival in the world. It not only showcases a range of Quebecois acts but also imports the best francophone music from around the globe, ranging from the European motherland to former French colonies, including several countries in West Africa and such distant outposts as Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

While franco music is abundant, it by no means dominates the proceedings. I attended the musically eclectic festival in its second week, taking in the last five days of the noon-to-past midnight event, which began on July 8 and ended July 18. …

I also caught almost every invigorating set slide guitarist Bob Brozman performed throughout the week with a variety of acoustic-music collaborators from around the world (including the superb Takashi Hirayasu from Okinawa and Greek slide guitarist George Pilali). …

There were plenty of impressive African acts at the festival (which began offering top-notch Afro-pop over 20 years ago, long before it made inroads into the States), including kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara from Guinea and pianist-percussionist Ray Lema from Zaire working on a highly charged new project with the Moroccan religious trance band Les Tyour Gnaouas. …

On the roots music front, Rene Lacaille from tiny Reunion Island was the hands-down best. Most of the week he played in Brozman's organic conglomerate bands, but Lacaille also headlined a few dynamic sets of his own. Playing accordion and guitar, Lacaille performed his heavily syncopated tunes, most of which are delivered at a gallop in 6/8 time. Although his live shows are much better, his CD, Aster (Discorama), is also well worth the effort to find.

Even though ethnocentric Americans who can't handle foreign languages in their musical diet won't be stampeding Quebec any time soon, the city's imaginatively programmed festival has a lot going for it besides the music. It takes place outdoors in parks and squares close to the old city ramparts (Quebec is the only walled city in North America and the closest you get on the continent to feeling like you're someplace in Europe), and the entire 11-day event is a great deal money-wise. A festival badge that has a blinking red light on it (making the venues at night look like a field of red fireflies) costs $8 Canadian (a tad over $5 in greenbacks). So, taking a chance on an unknown band -- which accounted for a good 90 percent of the action this year for me -- costs little more than the energy expenditure in walking from one stage to another.

Unlike the same-old-same-old tour packages that crisscross the States throughout the summer, Quebec's Summer Festival offers plenty of pleasant surprises. When you're committed to escaping the vortex of pop predictability, that's high praise. [!]

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar


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