Q&A with Joe Colombo & Kasia Skoczek - melting two worlds and two generations in a unique new musical collaboration

"No matter if we are talking about political revolution about human rights or different music genres development - blues and soul play a major role there and for sure they were a big influence all over the world, not just in US."

Joe Colombo & Kasia Skoczek: Bluesland

Joe Colombo is a Swiss blues guitarist recognized as a virtuoso of the slide-guitar. Already alongside American singer Terry Evans since 2005, Colombo is now a solid presence on the national music scene and beyond. Colombo’s slide-technique belongs to the delta-blues but his playing definitely categorized him as high-energy blues act. He defined his style through several record productions since 2002. All instrumental “Natural Born Slider” (released by the Italian label “Comet/Horizon”) impressed the critics and gave him the opportunity to debut on the double release tribute to Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Crossing” and “Gypsy Blood”, along with international artists, such as Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, Larry Coryell and Hiram Bullock. Joe Colombo’s latest album “Live at Taco’s” (2012) is a powerful selection of Joe’s originals plus classics written by Freddie King, Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The blues belongs to him.

Joe Colombo and Kasia Skoczek are melting two worlds and two generations in a unique new musical collaboration, which started in 2014 and travelled already through Poland, Switzerland and Italy. The project presents and introduces to the today music scene Polish singer Kasia Skoczek. The young voice debuts with the slide guitarist, and brings into the project influences from the present voices of R’n’B and soul. The duet takes the audience into a journey through pure music, where the slide-guitar and the surprising voice travel the roads of American blues & roots music in a new original way. The energy and the virtuosity of a unique guitar and an unexpectedly grown vocal are creating a perfect harmony. Live the duet takes the audience into a journey through songs that are part of the tradition of American blues and roots music. The debut album “Songs That Made Us” (Association For Original Culture Protection) released in January 2016.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the American Roots music and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Joe: American roots-music and culture was always fascinating me. Since I was a kid my uncle, living in the States at that time, was constantly sending letters, postcards and gifts from New York and San Francisco and bringing home from time to time vinyl of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and many other artists. The blues really got me at the age of twelve while learning how to play guitar. I felt right away a strong connection with the blues because of his simplicity but at the same time the richness of the emotional and the passionate side of it, more than in others genres of music.

Blues is a form of expression that have a strong connection with the everyday life, it keeps your feet on the ground but at the same time gives you poetry, deep emotions and passionate feelings, doesn’t matter if you are playing it or just listen to it.

Kasia: For me blues means telling the story. In music I am very attached to lyrics and blues as no other kind walks you through the words. In fact that is what I really appreciate in American Roots music as well as in the culture. It is all attached to the ‘guts’, to deep feelings, emotions but also everyday life. When I started to listen to this kind of music I noticed that every moment in life can be turned out into a song and can mean something for somebody.

How do you describe Joe Colombo sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Joe: It’s in between the traditional delta-blues style (that characterize my playing through my technique and guitar choices - slide technique and resophonic-guitars) but combined with an undeniable side of my personality that get recognized in to a more electric and high-energy kind of playing. I would say my songbook goes from Robert Johnson to Stevie Ray Vaughan through Johnny Winter and Freddie King.

I’m a purist and I truly believe in authentic and real music, doesn’t matter the genre or the commercial success of it. I never compromise my basic and original choices on which I’ve build my playing and my style. I feel lucky that I never had to play in situations where I couldn’t be myself. I wouldn’t be able to!!

Kasia: I like to think about myself as a strong voice. Of course I will never sound like Etta James or Big Mama Thornton. At the same time those names were my inspirations and for sure it is hearable in my singing. But for me what’s the most important it is to give each song my own interpretation and my own sound. And it happens all the time - I never sing same song same way twice. It is always a ‘one time’ performance.

"The blues really got me at the age of twelve while learning how to play guitar. I felt right away a strong connection with the blues because of his simplicity but at the same time the richness of the emotional and the passionate side of it, more than in others genres of music."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

Joe: Playing and touring many times for 2-3 months consecutively all over US with Terry Evans as part of his band was the most authentic blues-experience I ever had. Terry is a true-original and thanks to him I had the chance to play and experience places related to the blues culture and American music that otherwise I would never see. I’m so thankful for that. Write your own music and build your own style, be true to yourself and honest with your audience.

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

Joe: I was in Los Angeles recording for Terry Evans new album “Fire In The Feeling”. During the recording session all musicians were in separated rooms with headphones on; while setting up I heard the bass start grooving, then the drums coming in and step by step everybody started playing along, of course I join in…I thought it was a warming-up jam…in reality that take ended up on the final album release.

Kasia: One time I was participating in a concert and later on jam session with American bluesman. Totally spontaneously he invited me to stage to sing together. We did slow blues, all totally improvised including lyrics. At the end of the evening he came to me and said “damn you, that was surprising! Girl, you’re good!”. That’s what you get when you are a white polish girl with unexpectedly low voice in the world of American blues!

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

Joe: Today the marketing side of the of music business take over everything. Artists are not able to do what they suppose to: be an artist. A lot of them are slaves of the market requests and commercial part of the business. They first valuate what sells more and then put together a product or set up their careers on that. I’m not against the market itself and the commercial side of it - it’s what keeps artists or musicians work fulltime and also what able people to buy music all over the world. I just think in past the priority were different or at list based more often on true talent.

For the future I have just good faith. It’s a reality that a new side of the market is developing, reaching fans, collectors and people who still want to buy something that they can hold in their hands, featuring pictures and album credits. Something they can listen when sitting at home with closed eyes. Just a few days ago I discovered that they are artists releasing 2-inch tape recordings!! The Vinyl is also back; those are positive signs for the future, not because vinyl is better than CD or Mp3 but because the format and the packaging force you to consider the music and the artist in a more complete and personal way.

Kasia: I really miss honesty and individuality. Now very often blues try to fit in mass music and for me that’s sometimes when it lose its intimacy and deepness. Songs which in past were telling stories (funny or sad, important or just about everyday life) now they are less meaningful and getting tendence of being overproduced. In my opinion blues should be natural - you got it, you feel it and you show it in your performance. I hope step by step we will go back to that. You know - vinyls they came back and find their way in between digital music, maybe real blues will too!

"Blues is a form of expression that have a strong connection with the everyday life, it keeps your feet on the ground but at the same time gives you poetry, deep emotions and passionate feelings, doesn’t matter if you are playing it or just listen to it."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Switzerland. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Joe: For sure summer, like everywhere I suppose, but they still are also a few major festivals in autumn.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Poland. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Kasia: Blues in Poland it’s in a pretty good moment. Due to the past and history Poland has a little ‘delay’ catching up with American music. So blues since some years it’s finding its way here - we have a lot of festivals, magazines, radio auditions and musicians related to that gender. Summer is full of blues open air’s, autumn and winter are owned by club blues concerts and events. Things are going on.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Switzerland?

Joe: My opinion is that the authentic blues it’s originally just from States. Even British icons as Clapton started getting inspired from blues artists from US. The only reason why British blues became also well-established is the language in commune and the fact they were both running the global music market since the beginning. The true blues it’s only one…but everybody got the right to feel it and play it, even Swiss guitarists.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Joe: Because of music I travel a lot and I constantly play and perform in different countries. I’ve noticed that every nation, state or city got his own local music circuits related to blues music. Blues societies are developing everywhere; that’s a good thing that make me feel part of something. I also feel appreciated for what I’m doing and for my own passion for the blues. Certain fans are so passionate to the point that became almost overwhelming - that make me smile sometimes.

Kasia: What touched me lately was a concert that we did in my hometown - Tarnobrzeg. We played in a stage situated in a heart of the city, main square, which was full of people. Concert was related to the local event promoting folk culture but organization was on a very high level. People welcome us with open hearts and still, three months after, they keep writing about it and I really feel they support our musical project.

"Today the marketing side of the of music business take over everything. Artists are not able to do what they suppose to: be an artist. A lot of them are slaves of the market requests and commercial part of the business."

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

Kasia: Of course they are! Blues itself has something from folk and traditional music. Also songs that we like to perform, as Railroad Boy or Rolling and Tumbling are considered part of that. I think the connecting point it’s the fact of being so straightforward. Blues, folk, tradition music - they are all simple, deep and someway attached to soul and spirit.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Kasia: It’s not easy, that’s for sure! I think it also depends from what kind of music we are talking about. If you say pop I would respond that it’s full of successful girls. But then for example rock it’s mostly dominated by mans. I think blues also has in itself a manly spirit. That of course doesn’t mean womans cannot perform it, but at the same time it takes a bit more time to gain respect and a certain position. Also look at lyrics in blues songs - they are full of jokes that when they are coming from man’s mouth (Buddy Guy will be the perfect example) they have a particular second meaning which singed by girl will not appear in such a strong way... But in reality if you are good in what you’re doing it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman - blues is a universal language that works for everybody and everybody can find their way into it!

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

Joe: I honestly try to avoid those associations. I love and feel the blues. Doesn’t matter about the political, racial, socio- cultural implications. Of course I’m interested and touched by documentaries about the blues and blues artists from an historical point of view but I treat it as a knowledge about the music that it’s part of me.

Kasia: In my opinion it is huge. It’s just enough to mention how big role blues music was having during slavery times and racism! I think, what world used to call ‘black music’, it is strictly related to all aspects of culture. No matter if we are talking about political revolution about human rights or different music genres development - blues and soul play a major role there and for sure they were a big influence all over the world, not just in US.

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

Joe: Austin, Texas…It’s one of the only music city I didn’t had the opportunity to visit. They are so many artists coming from there that I like and appreciate. One day in the near future!!

Kasia: I don’t even need a day… Just an evening! I would go back to 1987 to Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles so I can see live concert of B.B. King & friends which was called “A Night Of Blistering Blues”. Etta James with Dr. John did there an incredibly moving version of “I’d rather go blind”, not to mention Stevie Ray Vaughan or great B.B. King itself. That would be my choice!

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