To call Blind Boy De Vita an eccentric would be one hell of an understatement! The man looks and carries himself like the Big Lebowski. The laidback posture, the unkempt long hair and even his choice of clothes has that comfy and mildly disheveled thing about it. And the man can play! His mastery of the acoustic guitar is intimidating. When he hits those strings, it almost sounds like he’s conjuring spirts. Plus, he’s quite a genre surfer. He has what seems like a natural knack for cross-pollinating styles. This is what makes Cumpá – his debut record – such a rewarding listen. You’ll find traces of African trance music on there and prog-rock, psychedelic folk and even some flamenco (just a tiny bit).
Listening to Cumpá is like being on a rollercoaster with a blindfold on. Which, of course, is also another way of saying: this ride is not made for everybody. A lot of the times, you really don’t know where he’s going with it. But when the songs finally resolve, everything always makes total sense. It might take a minute to crack this record wide open, but once you’re all up in there, these joints will stick to your rib like flies to honey.
Blind Boy De Vita aka Glauco Cataldo is a singer, guitar player based in Lucerne, Switzerland. His debut record titled Cumpá is out on Mouthwatering Record.
Here is a transcript of our conversation with the Big Lebowski of music:
It’s safe to say that you have a decent collection of African music, correct?
Yes, indeed! Especially West African music. But I love all kinds of afro-music. East, West, North, South, center…
When and how did you get into it?
I was lucky enough to be a part of The Forest Jam Project. Forest Jam was an international non-profit organisation founded in 2013. They brought together musicians from different generations, backgrounds and cultures and let them work together as a single team. Forest Jam offered an alternative opportunity for young and aspiring artists to gain an experience beyond their usual musical education.
Do you check for releases from Awesome Tapes from Africa? They’ve released some truly wonderful stuff over the years.
No, I don’t know them. But I will investigate! I have other sources. I have friends who live scattered around the continent, we catch up and exchange music. And, of course, there is also KEXP.
You go to Senegal quite often. When you’re there, do you go record digging?
Record digging is not so common out there, but the taxi rides and car rides always get you hip to new and old, cool Senegalese / African music!
What are some of the African masters that have had the biggest influence on you as a guitarist?
As far as guitarists go, my heroes are: Madala Kunene from South Africa. Ali Farka Touré from Mali. But many other singers and other instrumentalists influenced me greatly: Baaba Maal, Doc Mthalane, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangaré, Ballake Sissoko, Djelimady Tounkara and many, many more.
Did you have mentors as far as technique is concerned or did you develop your style strictly by listening to records?
I mostly listened to records and just played my guitar. What helped me a lot was playing alongside a kora player called Tarang Cissokho. We have a band together called Siselabonga.
There is a video on your facebook profile of you meeting Baaba Maal and playing for him! The man is like a musical saint in Senegal and also an international legend. Was this a chance meeting?
This really was like a religious experience for me! When I pulled out my guitar my hands were trembling. But then, I heard all these shouts and hollers from Baaba Maal’s band, and it was on! This was such an incredible feeling. Massamba Diop, who plays percussion with Baaba Maal set this up for me, he’s like my dad in Dakar. One day, he told me: we have a gig today, if you wanna come. So I did and I got to hang out backstage and meet the whole band. Amazing!
Is Cumpà a concept record? It certainly feels like one.
Instrumentally, yes. I wanted to keep it as acoustic as possible and very intimate. I wanted the voice at a low register and be open to experimentation. Compositionally, all the songs were written and had their start on the Western acoustic. Lyrically, it’s a bit all over the place, just stuff I dealt with.
What is your favourite part of the record?
I wanna say the fact that I recorded everything by myself without having had any prior recording knowledge. That makes me proud. Sound-wise? Maybe the build up and the explosion on Hold the Knight?
Is Blind Boy De Vita a character or do you really get down like this 24-7?
Let’s just say I’m still figuring things out…