Bob Brozman RIP

The sad news has come through of the death of American virtuoso guitarist and ethnomusicologist Bob Brozman who was found dead at his home in California on 26th April having apparently taken his own life at the age of 59. Brozman was a superb guitarist famed for his wide-ranging interest in many different kinds of music. He was especially renowned for his study of the blues and for his great involvement in Hawaiian music but his eclecticism meant that he travelled the world discovering and collaborating with musicians from many different genres and backgrounds while always remaining sensitive and sympathetic to the musical environments he found himself in. His many albums included collaborations with musicians from Hawaii, India, Okinawa, Reunion Island, and Papua New Guinea. In 2007 he even made an album Lumiere on which he played all the instruments in a variety of different styles, building up each instrumental part layer upon layer to form what he called the Bob Brozman Orchestra.

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In 2000 Brozman and the Okinawan musician Takashi Hirayasu made the album Warabi Uta which was recorded on the Yaeyama island of Taketomi. It was subsequently released worldwide as Jin Jin/Firefly. The album was a groundbreaking project of startling simplicity and originality with just Hirayasu’s voice and sanshin and Brozman’s guitar on a set of Okinawan children’s songs. The pair made another album the following year, Nankuru Naisa, which this time was recorded at a studio close to Brozman’s home in Santa Cruz. Around this time I met Bob Brozman for a lengthy chat while he was touring Japan and the interview is included in The Power of Okinawa. On publication of the book he wrote to congratulate me and was full of praise and enthusiastic comments. During our meeting he was enormously helpful and interesting on the technical side of the music which I knew less about and he was full of imaginative ideas and theories. Bob Brozman never became a big commercial star but he was in a way more important than that and there was nothing he couldn’t do with a guitar.

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2 Comments on “Bob Brozman RIP”

  1. Nishi Says:

    Thanks for having told us the news though this is sad. I first encountered him in your book and was very much impressed with his straightforward account on upbeat music and downbeat one, and their relations to the societies of oppressing and oppressed respectively, if I remember it correctly.

    • Izumi Nishi Says:

      By finding the page in question in *The Power of Okinawa: roots music from the ryukyus*, I wanted to make sure how correctly I remembered the above. It has turned out that some are correct and some not. Now that the book is at hand, I quote the part of the interview made by John (p.157), still wondering how right what Brozman says herein.

      “[Brozman:] … Another radical theory I have is that I believe quite strongly that colonizing cultures tend to play music on the downbeat and colonized cultures tend to play music on the offbeat. And Japan and Okinawa is the last brick in the wall of the theory because it’s not a black-white question, it’s a colonizer-colonized question, because Japanese music is heavily downbeat oriented, and Okinawan music is offbeat. …”


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