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BLUES PERFORMANCE

Review: Exceptional blues talent of a Slovak Buddhist

Erich "Boboš" Procházka is often the largest man on stage. He is often also the least musical-looking musician. At six feet two inches and broad as the day is long, Boboš looks more like a throwback rugby professional than one of Europe's best harmonica players. He even dresses all in black, heightening the tough-guy impression. And in this part of the world, the abscence of hair on his prominent skull leads people to make quick assumptions.
"It's funny," he said in a recent intereview with The Slovak Spectator. "It's mostly skinheads that mistake me for a skinhead. One time, a skin came and sat next to me at a bus stop where there were four or five gypsies around. He and his friends had lots of ideas, then they noticed I was reading a book with a dark-skinned person on the cover. I looked up and smiled at the skinhead. He was very surprised."

Erich Boboš Procházka: Blues harmonica

Performances: August 24
Where: Alligator, Bratislava (See Top Pick,)
When:September 1, Prešov, Jan Litetski Music Festival


Erich "Boboš" Procházka is often the largest man on stage. He is often also the least musical-looking musician. At six feet two inches and broad as the day is long, Boboš looks more like a throwback rugby professional than one of Europe's best harmonica players. He even dresses all in black, heightening the tough-guy impression. And in this part of the world, the abscence of hair on his prominent skull leads people to make quick assumptions.

"It's funny," he said in a recent intereview with The Slovak Spectator. "It's mostly skinheads that mistake me for a skinhead. One time, a skin came and sat next to me at a bus stop where there were four or five gypsies around. He and his friends had lots of ideas, then they noticed I was reading a book with a dark-skinned person on the cover. I looked up and smiled at the skinhead. He was very surprised."

At 39 years of age, Procházka is a veteran of 25 years of active studio work and countless bands. But it wasn't until this June that he released his first CD featuring his own compositions, a work whose title was taken from his blues band, Boboš and the Frozen Dozen. Aside from touring with the Frozen Dozen, Boboš plays regularly in Bratislava and throughout Slovakia with various groups.

On August 11, he performed brilliantly for three hours at U Garpa, a café in front of Stara Tržnica on Bratislava's SNP square. With a quartet of friends he calls a "jam band", Boboš sang in low, gritty voice and wailed the harmonica through such tunes as House of the Rising Sun, Summertime, and a slow, bluesy 12/8 version of Greensleeves.

On the harmonica, Boboš combines stunning virtuosity and a light touch, and is worth hearing both for what he plays and what he doesn't play. He knows when to blaze through a riff, and when to hold one note, to puff it out and make it tremble. He also knows to leave plenty of space for the rest of the band.

His open mind as a musician may have something to do with his religious faith. In 1994, Boboš became a Buddhist monk (accounting for his shaved head), which he says completely changed him both as a person and a musician. "Through Buddhism I've learned there is no future and there is no past," says Boboš. "I am here in the moment. More and more I am right here. A different life does not exist."

Boboš was born in central Slovakia's Nove Zámky, and started playing harmonica at the age of seven. While he studied piano and violin for some time at a musical academy, he cites a friend who had many old American blues records as having had the greatest influence on his musical development. "I play Chicago style blues. For me, blues is Muddy Waters and all the harp players that ever played in his band."

Over the years, Boboš has played in festivals all over Europe, and is recognised as one of the continent's best harmonica players. "I studied music in America for a year and then wandered around the Cleveland area," said Daniel Salontay, a Bratislava guitarist who has worked with Slovak pop star Richard Muller as well as leading his own projects. "And I never saw a harmonica player as good as Boboš. He is very perceptive, a very able improviser. Blues can lock a person into a routine sometimes, but that's not the case with Boboš."

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