Q&A with one-man band from Paraguay, Gustavo Sánchez Haase - the roots and branches of the Blues

"The impact of the Blues in all those aspects is great. As it is a musical style of African-American origin, and it has been gradually expanding throughout the world, people from other cultures that have been trapped by the Blues sounds, have begun to be interested in its history, geography and culture, and these factors have contributed enormously in reducing the racial prejudices of the past. And I think that all this in turn caused a positive effect also in the political and social aspect."

Gustavo Sánchez Haase: Roots & Tales

Gustavo Sánchez Haase, guitar player from southern Paraguay (South América). His style navigates the Traditional Blues, with the axis of the Mississipi Country Blues (especially the Hill Country Blues), the Blues Rag Piedmont Style, and a glimpse of Chicago Blues and Jump, respecting the traditional codes but at the same time looking for an own style and some innovation. With 20 years of experience in this sort of African-American music, from 3 years ago he serves as a One Man Band, playing guitar (electric, acoustic and resonator) with the fingerpicking style or fingerstyle, basic drum with feet (2 snare drums, 1 hihat and the bass drum), Kazoo, and voice, executed with great precision and care arrangements, sounding very solid, and resulting in the feeling of listening to a full band, with much feeling and groove. Sánchez Haase has participated in several international Blues Festivals: in Paraguay (Festival Internacional de Blues de Asunción, which is creator and organizer, Festival Internacional de Jazz de Asuncion, 12 x 8 Festival de Blues, 6 Cuerdas Para Rato Guitar Festival 2014, Festival Regional Paraná Country Blues 2014 and  2015, Guitarratón Guitar Festival); in Ecuador (Quito Blues); in Chile (II Festival Internacional de Blues de Coquimbo Coquimbo Blues); in Argentina (Pergamino Blues, II Festival de Blues de San Juan, 1er Posadas Blues Festival, III Ferimúsica Montecarlo) ; Colombia (Medellín Blues Festival, 4to Festival de Blues del Otún, Cali Folk & Blues Festival) and several other presentations in different countries.

As blues guitarist, Gustavo accompanied, with different bands, great Blues musicians like the americans bluesmen  Billy Branch, Lorenzo Thompson and Little Joe Mc Lerran; Canadian guitarist Pete Schmidt; Brazilian blues guitarist Igor Prado; Argentines bluesmen  Gabriel Gratzer, Daniel Raffo  Luis Robinson, Hernán Tamanini, Patricio Raffo , Adrián Jimenez, Maxi Chávez; the colombian Hill Country bluesman Carlos Elliot Jr,  and has shared the stage and jam sessions  with Czech harmonica player Matej Ptaczek , the American bluesman Sherman Lee Dilon,  Panamanian Ricardo Garcia Huidobro, Chilean bluesman Coke Araya Santana, Brazilian harp player David Tanganelli, among others. Albums: 1) Guitarra y Bisturí (2002) 2) Guitarras A La Quinta (2007) Instrumental Blues (2014) Antología Vol I (2016).

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I have learned from the Blues people and culture that in life you can achieve everything you want, but only with hard work, discipline and persistence. I have learned patience, that the things work step by step, and a goal is reached when the right time comes. Therefore, the Blues means to me all those things together, besides the passion, the love for the loved ones, for the friends, for the simple things of life, the universality of God, and in the difficult moments that music gives me much strength to face them.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound and songbook coming from the roots and branches of the Blues, rustic, respecting the tradition, but at the same time, to a certain extent, looking for my own way of interpreting it based on all my musical influences. I think that creative impulse comes from everything I'm listening to all the time: Country Blues, Hill Country Blues, Delta, West Coast Blues, Piedmont, R & B, Gospel, Rock'n Roll, 60's and 70's music.

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

Of course! I have many. In almost 20 years that I am in the Blues paths, I was lucky enough to had played, as a member of the backing band, with some outstanding bluesmen, like the Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch. It was in 2012, in Posadas, Argentina. I remember his producer  gave us a list of 15 songs to learn them. I spent a lot of time for this, and I even prepared some owns guitar arrangements for each song.

During the soundcheck, as we were practising each song, Billy did not like anything we did, and he changed all the songs. Then we begin to get nervous. At some point Billy told me that in the Chicago Blues the guitar chords are not important. He recommended that I listen to Jimmy Reed, and of course Muddy and a lot of others Chicago bluesmen to best learning that blues style. I remember that after that concert, I stayed 3 days with muscle aches due to tension. That way, Billy left me with a fundamental teaching, that in the Blues, expressiveness is more important than musical technique. It is more important to place the right notes and not  filling the environment with virtuosity or chords. I have also learned many things, such as the simplicity, humility and humanity of many bluesmen with whom I have a great friendship, like Little Joe McLerran (USA), Carlos Elliot Jr (Colombia), Gabriel Gratzer (Argentina) and I always learn things with the Argentine musician friends with whom I share permanent projects, such as the blues guitarists Tito Agulla, Rula Cancino, and Cristian Benitez; the harmonicists Maxi Chávez , Adrián Jimenez and José Luis Verde; the Blues trío The Alligators Son; the tuba player Pili Gonzalvez, among others.

"I have learned from the Blues people and culture that in life you can achieve everything you want, but only with hard work, discipline and persistence. I have learned patience, that the things work step by step, and a goal is reached when the right time comes."

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

I miss the expressivity, creativity and authenticity of the Blues of the past, very much, as well as that irreplaceable vintage sound. My hope is great that the Blues will continue to live, as evidenced by the large number of fellow musicians who are becoming more numerous in quantity and quality all over the world, as well as the increasingly numerous Blues societies, festivals and fans of blues. About me, one of my plans is to travel the world playing in festivals and gigs with my project as a one man band, bringing everywhere my own way of playing Blues, getting to know Mississipi and learn the style with friends that were born in the same sources of the Blues. I am working hard for it, and in fact, my dreams are becoming  true little by little. I don´t have fears, mostly, just only one thing I ask  the Lord: to keep me with health to play the blues until the day I pass away.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the local (Paraguay) blues scene?

I was touched emotionally by two events in Paraguay: the unexpected success of the first edition of our Asuncion International Blues Festival (2015), of which I was a producer and organizer, not only in the aspect of the number of people who attended the 3 nights (1300 people) something that was given for the first time in the history of Blues in Paraguay, but also (and this goes as the second aspect that has touched me emotionally) our festival has been a source of direct inspiration for the emergence of other great Blues meeting, such as the  Jazz Blues Paragua- í Festival, in Villarrica, the Growler International Blues Festival in Ciudad del Este, and even in the neighboring provinces of Argentina, such as the Posadas Blues Festival (Misiones).

Make an account of Festival Internacional de Blues de Asunción. Which is the most interesting period?

Undoubtedly, the first edition (2015) was the most interesting of all those made, so far, because, as I mentioned above, it has generated great inspiration for other producers to be encouraged to bet on the Blues in the country and in neighbors regions. In addition, that first edition has generated in many musicians a great interest in the Blues, and new bands have been formed, some even born in our festival, like The Walkers and Blueroom. Bands already pre-established, and who have participated in our festival, such as Versión Palma Loma Blues and Big Charlie Blues Band, have doubled their number of gigs, have even recorded albums and have even begun to work more professionally in all aspects. New cultural spaces have been formed, such as Blues on the Street, among  others. In addition, the country has begun to attract international attention about the Blues, because until then, the name of Paraguay was non-existent for the genre, and now musicians and producers from all Latin America and other parts of the world have begun to be interested in visiting the country, schedule shows and / or participate in the festivals here.

"My sound and songbook coming from the roots and branches of the Blues, rustic, respecting the tradition, but at the same time, to a certain extent, looking for my own way of interpreting it based on all my musical influences. I think that creative impulse comes from everything I'm listening to all the time: Country Blues, Hill Country Blues, Delta, West Coast Blues, Piedmont, R & B, Gospel, Rock'n Roll, 60's and 70's music."

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

In the purely musical aspect perhaps not, but in some aspects of the cultural and lyrical roots, especially with a polka style, inland, peasant, called in the Guarani language "Purahéi Jahe´o" (lament Song) is similar to the Delta Blues: the peasant expresses his pains and sorrows, loving infidelities, and the consumption of alcohol to forget those hardships. And all within the framework of an environment of poverty. The music is played with harps and traditional guitars.

There is another local form of song and dance that reminds us of the Hill Country Blues and the Drum & Fife of northern Mississippi, and that it comes from descendants of the black race (that during the first period of the Paraguayan government, after independence, in 1811, they were forced to leave the country). That style of dance and singing is called "Cambá Cuá", which in Guaraní  means "Black Cave".

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

The Blues has opened my mind immensely, especially in the aspect of tolerance between cultures. It has opened a path towards the adoption of a more universal way of life. I have traveled to some countries of South America participating in festivals (Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Argentina), I have real and virtual friends all over the world, of all the religious, philosophical and political beliefs that exist in the world, with which we are united by a great brotherhood in the Blues. I learn a lot of their culture from all of them, and that undoubtedly enriches everyone in every way.

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

The impact of the Blues in all those aspects is great. As it is a musical style of African-American origin, and it has been gradually expanding throughout the world, people from other cultures that have been trapped by the Blues sounds, have begun to be interested in its history, geography and culture, and these factors have contributed enormously in reducing the racial prejudices of the past. And I think that all this in turn caused a positive effect also in the political and social aspect.

"One very important thing that I have learned as one man band is the fact that in order to perform more and better, I must take care of my body, because the requirement of that discipline and coordination to which I have referred above undoubtedly results in a high expenditure of energy, that to compensate for it, attention must be paid to the aspect of health. Everything takes more energy, but the result is in sight. As a Blues musician I have never felt so much pleasure and satisfaction as with this project."

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 like to met Blind Willie Johnson,  anywhere he is playing, and spend a whole day with him, sharing, learning his amazing and unique slide guitar technique, and listening him to sing apreciating live his great voice. I would do the same with Robert Pete Williams, somewhere in Lousiana. Just one more thing. If we had the power to go back in time, I would also love to be in at least one edition of the American Folk & Blues Festival of the 60´s, to appreciate all the legends of the Blues playing together.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned as an One-Man Band on the blues paths?

As one man band I have learned, I keep learning, and I will surely learn, a lot of things. Technically speaking, the main ones were the coordination of all the movements, the colors of the groove, and the feeling between each instrument. Each instrument is an individuality, and a daily work of coordination practice is required, trying not to lose many resources of each of them. I mean, everything you must be done together, as a single instrument. In the personal aspect, this project has taught me even more the importance of discipline, planning and punctuality, because in addition to the aspects mentioned above, I must, for example, arrive more early than the others to a soundcheck, to assemble everything the set and try it.

One very important thing that I have learned as one man band is the fact that in order to perform more and better, I must take care of my body, because the requirement of that discipline and coordination to which I have referred above undoubtedly results in a high expenditure of energy, that to compensate for it, attention must be paid to the aspect of health. Everything takes more energy, but the result is in sight. As a Blues musician I have never felt so much pleasure and satisfaction as with this project.

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