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: Express Connection

Tomislav “Little Pigeon” Goluban is a blues singer and harmonica player, leader of his own band, blues educator, radio DJ, festival organizer and recording artist. Goluban was born in a house by the railroad track in Grabrovec, Zabok, Croatia, where he still lives, in the heart of Croatian Zagorje. He began playing harp back in 1997, and his main drive was to revive the legacy of country/delta blues. This came out of hours and hours of intense listening to legendary Sonny Terry records. Over the years, Goluban has sharpened his music expression into the unique country-blues blended with Croatian traditional music. His nickname “Little Pigeon” is a liberal translation of his last name to English. Performing solo/duo and with a band, Goluban has played in the U.S. and many European countries and International Blues Challenge (USA). He won a couple of Croatia’s most prestigious national music awards “Porin”; he is the founder of Etno Blues Festival in his hometown region; he hosts a blues radio show on Croatian national radio and was one of the founders and the first president of the “Croatian Blues Forces” association (blues society), which received a “Keeping The Blues Alive“ award in 2019.

Looking back at his discography reveals delta, country & Chicago blues, zydeco, rock ‘n’ roll and world music. He’s recorded his music from raw delta duo sound to the full instrumental arrangement with 20 musicians playing one song. Tomislav Goluban returns with his 12th album, “Express Connection” (2021) continuing his mission to prove that music is truly an international language and as the title suggests is a vehicle to connect all people. Considering that in the early days it was difficult for him to obtain information, Tomislav developed an educational blues music program, like Blues In The Schools. The program’s aim is to inform the children of  basic terms in the world of harmonica and blues. This fun and educational program called “The Harmonica in Blues” is presented to the pupils of elementary and high schools all over Croatia.

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.

"I was very sad that I got a crucial understanding about the Blues very late, in my mid-twenties. So I thought I must do something that future Croats, maybe Blues musicians or just fans, get basic information about African-American culture. As a result I now do that program on a national level here in Croatia in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Media."

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I think that I am now much more aware of how much I don't know and how much I still have to learn. Making music with lots of different people, it widens my horizons. I am always searching for something new and better. My love, enthusiasm and astonishment with Blues music is constant. In fact, it gets bigger with every day.

How do you describe new album "Express Connection" sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

The sound is based on the Memphis Light (2020) album which was released last year; a combination of rock and blues with a touch of soul. Much of the inspiration came from people, friends, different adventures and some personal experiences.

What do you love most about the music of Paul Butterfield, Velvet Underground, and Chess Records sound?

Velvet Underground and Lou Reed made a huge impact on my musical background back in my school days, when I didn't know much about the Blues. Paul Butterfield was one of my first harp influences, which led me to the Chess records sound. So, think I have sort of upside-down musical development.

What touched you from 'Blues In The School' & 'The Harmonica in Blues' projects? How do you want the Blues to affect the new generation and the children's?

I was very sad that I got a crucial understanding about the Blues very late, in my mid-twenties. So I thought I must do something that future Croats, maybe Blues musicians or just fans, get basic information about African-American culture. As a result I now do that program on a national level here in Croatia in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Media.

"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 previous album "Memphis Light" (2020) 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 are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

"Learn to listen“ is a fabulous quote that I heard from my Chicago-based mentor, Joe Filisko, and I repeat it every time when I do the educational program with pupils, students, or older people.

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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