Planet Harmonica: Good evening and thanks for being
here. I'd like to start by asking how you became interested
in the harmonica, old question I know, and also how you became
interested in musical styles not usually associated with the
harmonica - or at least not very prevalent.
Vincent Bucher: I started playing the harmonica around
16-17, via the Blues which remains my favourite music. Then
I met Tao (Ravao) and we started playing in the street. I also
met Sugar Blue at around the same time and he was the first
to make me play on stage so I could get a bigger name. Then
I progressively met other musicians, joined other groups and
started to get into the club and live circuit.
All of that was playing Blues. I had become interested in other
music through Blues just by listening to related genres which
are similar, such as its African and Caribbean roots. For that,
living in Paris was great; there were lots of musicians from
different areas and I had the opportunity to join groups and
play music other than Blues.
PH: I imagine you did some instrument research so you
could adapt yourself to different rhythms, harmonies and musical
VB: In fact, harmony-wise, the music I was playing was
quite similar. But of course, you must listen a lot and understand
the soul and above all what the music signifies. Sometimes you
listen to a style of music, play over it and think it sounds
good because it goes together well. In fact, you must listen
to what each instrument is saying, understand its position and
role it plays. It is also necessary to pay attention to certain
rhythmic principles which are more or less complex according
to the style of music. All this demands a lot of listening!
PH: I imagine that rhythmically there are a lot of differences
in comparison with classic 4/4 Blues.
VB: Yes, there are a lot of differences. There are principles
you must familiarise yourself with.
PH: Today you play a Madagascan style with Tao and a
Maian style with Lobi Traoré. Are you working on anything
else at the moment?
VB: I still play a lot of Blues. From time to time I
play music closer to Blues with people like Charlélie
Couture. I just play music
PH: In any case it's always music! As far as the harmonica
goes, has the variety of styles you play led you to work with
different chord sets for example, or to develop particular techniques
that fit in better with a style, or find different tones?
VB: Not really. I have a few harmonicas in different
chords but I've noticed that I don't use them playing live,
just when I play for myself. I use lots of different positions
but I'm still quite classic compared to certain artists who
PH: What is interesting is that you sound different
none the less.
VB: In fact, it sound different because I think about
the phrases and the role played by the harmonica. In Madagascan
music for example, I've listened to a lot of accordionists,
their place in the music, and I've been inspired. For the Maian
music with Lobi, I listened to a lot of traditional Maian violins
and thought that this is the role the harmonica could play.
Sometimes I was very surprised as the violinists were playing
phrases and melodies that would work really well on a harmonica.
PH: So you are searching for a place for the harmonica
that corresponds to those instruments that already exist in
PH: Going back to Madagascan music, there is a harmonica
player who is quite amazing, Jean Emilien. Have you met him?
VB: Yes, he's a friend. He's not only a harmonica player
though - he plays the Kabosy at the same time. I've heard a
lot of harmonica players in Madagascar but he really is the
best. It's a bit in the tradition of accordionists, this 'slide'
style which is very evident in Madagascar.
PH: Is it these contemporary musicians who have always
carried traditional music in Madagascar or has the tremelo harmonica
always been around?
VB: I imagine it's been a long time because it all stems
from the role of the accordian, which used to be carried by
priests in the churches. Then the accordian came out of the
churches and became an instrument for traditional ceremonies,
trances, that sort of thing. I imagine that the tremelo and
chinese harmonicas that are there arrived thanks to the accordian.
PH: Do they play more piano accordian or diatonic accordian?
VB: They are diatonic accordians but they file down
the slides to make extra scales that they use, they sort of
PH: Changing the subject, what projects are you working
on at the moment with current groups or new groups?
VB: With Tao and Karim Touré, the percussionist
of the group, I'm planning a new album. Apart from that I'm
working with a young bluesman from Memphis on a project. I'm
also working for myself a bit, digging out a few ideas.
PH: I understand that you know some US harmonica players
and that a few months ago you produced the latest album by Matthew
..Do you feel that the US Blues scene, and elsewhere,
is very repetitive and not very fertile at the moment?
VB: It's actually a general problem within Blues. It
has become a musical style whereas before it was a popular and
community music. Now it is still popular but it has become a
style, so the musicians feel obliged to do exercises in style.
There is still lots of talent, people who do interesting things
from an instrument point of view, but there is a real repertoire
problem. You have to provide a new repertoire. You can stay
in the 12 bar or get out of it, that's not a problem, but you
must play new songs. The Blues became known because its songs
and that's what is lacking a bit at the moment. Often, musicians
do tracks that are just an excuse to do a solo. It's a shame
really. The solos should be there to accentuate a song, not
the other way around.
PH: I agree. One of the aspects about Blues now that
saddens me is that the guys don't write anymore. There aren't
many who talk about real life, who say what's what.
VB: You're wrong, there's lots who do! The thing is,
since the end of the 70s, since Blues began to be listened to
by the Rock fans there has been a kind of compromise: bluesmen
have been made to play with rock stars because the public demands
it, but this isn't the essence of Blues. It goes against nature
PH: Do you travel a lot with Tao and Lobi?
VB: These last two years we're travelled a lot. We've
been to Africa, before that we were in Canada, the West Indies,
Reunion Island. At the moment we don't have any plans to go
abroad but anything could happen.
PH: At the moment it seems there is a sort of ethnic
revival with good and bad examples. Would you include yourself
in this revival or is it something you find unhealthy, a commercial
exploitation of traditional music?
VB: It's a bit of both. To begin with the label 'world
music' means nothng really - as if there was a music that isn't
'world'! That's a bit strange. It's true there is a kind of
global village idea, a tendency to mix up everything which is
a bit unhealthy. At the same time, it also means we can discover
lots of music and artists we wouldn't have heard otherwise.
At the end of the day, music has become a business and it's
up to people to decide for themselves what they like and what
they want to hear. There is a positive side and a negative side.
In any case 'world music' doesn't mean much, it's just a marketing
PH: When you go on tour and meet local musicians, do
you get to play with them or do you simply listen to them play?
VB: Of course, that's the whole point. When we go on
a long tour of Africa, we meet local musicians in every country;
in Kenya we actually played with them. In other countries we
just listened to them and then talked to them afterwards. It
depends on how much time we have and the opportunities. In any
case it's one of our objectives to do so.
PH: Does it inspire you and give you ideas? Does it
allow you to integrate elements, approaches and styles?
VB: Absolutely. Sometimes musicians offer instruments
to Tao, giving him ideas. For myself, after one tour I went
back to Eritrea to work with a group there. It opens horizons
and it's the aim of the game, where we can, to listen to people
whether we play with them or not. At least to get to meet them.
PH: Do you have any plans to go to Asia or South America
or any countries like that?
VB: I would love to go to Asia but I don't know really.
It's easier said than done. It's hard to organise and budget
for that type of tour. We have been lucky to be able to go where
we have so far
PH: And concerning Harmonicales de Condat, what is your
opinion of this 100% harmonica festival?
VB: I think it's great. It could be good or bad depending
on the organisation of it. I've known Laurent for a long time
and I know he's a good organiser. It gives a musical view of
things. If it's happening to hold a harmonica competition for
a prize then I'm not as interested. On the other hand if it's
different groups and music with harmonicas then the instrument
becomes a vehicle for discovering new musicians who are not
specifically harmonica players. I like that. It's nearer to
the spirit the festival was organised for. It's not interesting
if it's simply a huge harmonica demonstration. It has to allow
groups to be discovered. There is an interesting side to showing
what a harmonica is. It's an instrument that can be accessible
to a lot of people. It's good when festivals improve an instrument's
image a bit.
PH: Finally, when can we hope to see this new album
with Tao and Karim?
VB: I think we're going to try and record it in the
first half of this year and it should be released around September.
There are lots of reasons why an album does or doesn't come
PH: For now, I would imagine that the two main reasons
are whether or not it works and whether or not it is available.
VB; Yes, it must sell but it's omly a small distributor.
If all goes well financially it's OK. But to say whether or
not it works from that is some distance. But there we go, that
makes the group exist, people will be able to hear it, we will
sell it at our concerts and we'll sell a few in the shops. At
the least it will keep us alive! And of course it's always interesting
to record because we learn an enormous amount. Even if it's
hard to not be critical about what we have done at the end of
PH: It is a way of looking at what you've done with
an outsider's view?
VB: Yes. Sometimes when we listen again to our old albums
we say 'well, that was pretty good!' It's a different perspective.
PH: Well, hope to see you again when the album comes
out. Thank you for your time.