Q&A with Croatian harmonica player Tomislav Goluban - burst with energy, passion, humor and real music

“Before fans used to come to concerts to listen to the music, to enjoy themselves, to spend time with friends and to have a memorable experience. Nowadays more and more people are coming to hang out with their smartphones, to just take pictures and videos of artists as a token, “look I was there, “instead of enjoying the live performance; especially the younger fans.”

Tomislav Goluban: Bright Blues Lights

After a 20-year music career and 11 studio albums, the proverb “The older – the crazier” definitely applies to Croatian harmonica player Tomislav “Little Pigeon” Goluban, whose songs and performances burst with energy, passion, humor and above all, fantastic music. Goluban has been playing harp since 1997, inspired by old school masters such as Sonny Terry, Slim Harpo, Paul Butterfield, Gary Primich, Kim Wilson and Joe Filisko to name just a few, whom he still admires to this day. Performing solo/duo and with a band, Goluban has played in the U.S. and across many European countries at festivals and events such as the Notodden Blues Festival (Norway), Amal’s Blues Festival (Sweden), Blues sur Seine (France) and International Blues Challenge (USA). Looking back at his discography reveals delta, country & Chicago blues, zydeco, rock ‘n’ roll and world music. He’s been recording his music in a wide span from raw delta duo sound to the full instrumental arrangement with 20 musicians playing one song.

Harmonicist Tomislav Goluban’s 11th studio album, "Memphis Light" (2020), is a sequel of sorts to his previous album ”Chicago Rambler,” which made significant impact outside Croatia. Nine of the ten tracks are written by Tomislav and the tenth is the classic ‘House Of The Rising Sun.’ As suggested by the album title, Goluban took a trip to the Home of the Blues to record at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I've learned how I want to spend my life and the things I want to do to be happy. If I'm fulfilled and satisfied with my life, then people around me will be happy to. My wife says that blues and my harmonicas are my only true love, so let's believe her!

What were the reasons that you started harmonica's researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

After I heard Sonny Terry's record “Wizard of the Harmonica,” everything changed. I went to the store, bought a harmonica and started blowing, for lack of a better word. Two years later, my late grandfather told me that he used to play it 50 years ago, mainly folk music. Maybe there is something in the blood that is bigger than oneself. Until now, I've recorded 11 studio albums, combination of Croatian traditional music, instrumentals, fusion, Delta, Chicago and Rock Blues. Each album has a story and there is a big difference between them; it's more about the music than genre per se. Of course, the harmonica and blues are two things which all of them have in common, but I try to experiment with everything else and to bring forth diverse sounds.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues music has defined my life. I don't have a daytime job and I'm make a living from blues music. Music connects people and so far it hasn't hurt anybody. That is enough for me to go for it all the way.

"Blues is simply too old to be forgotten. It is the roots and it just has to be admired. Every inteligent listener will be exposed to it eventually. Usually it comes during the mature period of life and once  you are hooked, there's simply no turning back."

How do you describe ”Memphis Light"  sound and songbook? What characterize album's philosophy?

After the journey to Chicago where I cut Chicago Rambler, the album with an old-school Chicago blues feel, I wanted to do similar thing with Memphis sound, get a combination of my heritage and U.S. southside – an  interaction between musicians from different parts of the world centered in an unique blues form. The Memphis Light is a collection of songs which made me happy in last period of my life. When I perfom, it arouses many emotions in me. If they hit me, I wanna believe it is the same with the audience. There's no philosophy in there, just the good vibe and the right groove.

Are there any memories from "Memphis Light" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

All my experience of making records in the USA are great. That's the reason why I keep coming back  during the last decade. I really love to work with US domestic musicians and I enjoy our differences. In fact, it inspires me a lot.

What touched (emotionally) you from the song "House of the Rising Sun"?

It was sort of a mistake. The song wasn't in the original session schedule. I've had this idea of it based on the harmonica riff, which you hear in the introduction. We have had some time left and the guys grabbed it so fast that it was finished before we even started and it felt really, really good.

What would you say characterizes US blues scene in comparison to European blues scenes?

Lots of U.S. musicians play concerts and blues festivals in Europe and very few Europeans do it in the U.S. I'm really happy when I can hear original blues artists in my region therefore I think that US crowd will love it also because reaction which I got in U.S. is really great. No matter if I sang few songs in Croatian language, they were happy with it. Think in the U.S. it is more about the energy, in Europe it is more about perfection of performance.

"Croatian blues scene is still very young but is becoming stronger and bigger every day. A year before in Memphis we received a KBA Award for our blues society (Croatian Blues Forces) and I think it is a great tool and acknowledgment, which will aid in further promoting blues music in our country."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

In 2001 in Germany I met Mr. Joe Filisko and my life changed that day. He is my mentor, friend and inspiration to this very day. "Learn to listen" is advice No. 1 I have received and this wisdom of his I value greatly.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are a lot but one that comes to mind, also from 2001, is being on the stage with the late Chris Jones. He was playing his guitar and sang. I did not know how to properly say to him that I wanted to sing a song beside just playing harmonica because his voice was absolutely fabulous. So, I came on the stage and said to him "Mr. Jones, you can rest your voice now.” He stopped and I was met with silence. He looked at me then he looked at the audience and said that he had never heard of a more decent way to shut up. Of course, everybody was giggling, and we had a great time on stage. But I think that the most important thing is to have delightful musicians around you and then every note and second become valuable memories.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Before fans used to come to concerts to listen to the music, to enjoy themselves, to spend time with friends and to have a memorable experience. Nowadays more and more people are coming to hang out with their smartphones, to just take pictures and videos of artists as a token, “look I was there, “instead of enjoying the live performance; especially the younger fans.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would destroy MP3s and the possibility of listening to music through small earphones.

"I've learned how I want to spend my life and the things I want to do to be happy. If I'm fulfilled and satisfied with my life, then people around me will be happy to. My wife says that blues and my harmonicas are my only true love, so let's believe her!"

What touched (emotionally) you from Croatian blues scene? What characterize the local scene and circuits?

Croatian blues scene is still very young but is becoming stronger and bigger every day. A year before in Memphis we received a KBA Award for our blues society (Croatian Blues Forces) and I think it is a great tool and acknowledgment, which will aid in further promoting blues music in our country.

Why do you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Blues is simply too old to be forgotten. It is the roots and it just has to be admired. Every inteligent listener will be exposed to it eventually. Usually it comes during the mature period of life and once  you are hooked, there's simply no turning back.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

I feel like it had more impact on issues in the last century than it does today.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would really like to grab a coffee with Nikola Tesla.

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