Hubert von Goisern
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INTERVIEW

Miscellaneous: 2003

World traveller in all things musical

Schwäbische Zeitung 1st March 2003 | Photo: dpa

He broke through the boundary from alpine folk music to rock as one of the first with his Hiatamadl. But then Hubert von Goisern retired from the stage and travelled in the wide world in order to experience the musical traditions of the people of our Earth.

Hubert von GoisernThe full to bursting hall goes wild when Hubert von Goisern appears on the stage and plays a rousing country dance on his Styrian accordion. By and large folk music fans also applaud eagerly. The band then join him, it becomes rockier and above all more international: reggae and afro-rhythms, wild violin solos, distorted electric guitars, drums and bass. The Austrian musician takes from the musical traditions of the various cultures in which he has gathered his experiences. This year he's going to Burkina Faso and Mauritius, to the Saamis in far north Europe and to Cape Verde. Our colleague Willi Dommer spoke to the 50 year old about affinity, the strength of a yodel and a bloody awful instrument.

Tibet, Tanzania, Salzkammergut, Egypt - do you consider yourself to be a world musician?

I don't give myself a label, but I simply see myself as a musician. I take from the musical traditions of my narrow homeland, but not only there. Because I have been on other continents for many years, I have also partly made these traditions my own. I think it is most exciting to play where I have never been before and where my music is just as new for the people there as the landscape, language or food is for me.

And the experiences from other cultures flow into the music.

Nobody goes through life without experiences being left behind. Everyone who is creative processes the things which they have experienced.

You began with alpine folk music with rock elements. What has induced you to undertake a different terrain?

Well, it was somehow exhausted. I did it for a few years - with great love and desire. But sometime it became this "completely wrong thing". There were always more imitators who often did it in a way that was rather embarrassing to me. But it was also this feeling: I want to go further. And for me that was the direction of reggae, soul, funk...

What connects you with the cultures of this Earth?

I believe that connects us with all creatures. That is that we want to live a life in which there is nothing lacking - food, security, adventure too; and we somehow all handle that - no matter which culture we have grown up in. Different languages have developed, different forms of writing. When I listen to a Tibetan tell me something in Tibetan, I don't understand anything. And so different musics have also developed. But when you listen, you can nevertheless understand a musical language which you have never heard. You cannot lie with music. With words you can.

How deeply do you penetrate the spirituality of these cultures?

That depends on how strong the spirituality is there. I was in the Philippines for half a year and lived there under very archaic conditions. In villages, which were completely cut off from the world. They had an ancestor worship which really deeply moved me. There I felt what fears they had, how they dealt with death and transitoriness. It is also very strong with the Tibetans. But when I am in Dakar for example, then there is not a lot to feel of the African spirituality.

Are you a spiritual person?

I see myself as a devout person who takes trouble not to fill his picture of God. I am not always successful. Because I grew up in the Catholic faith, this picture of God the Father creeps in again and again. I have in the meantime made my peace with that. It is one of many traditions. You should see religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity in historical contexts. The Holy Scriptures are many thousands of years old and were written by people. And they have expressed themselves as was usual in their time.

What does a yodel express?

It is strength. You cannot yodel without strength. In order to yodel, you need courage. You cannot have any fear about your own strength. Since you need no words in order to sing, what you want to transport with it goes much deeper.

How do people from other cultures react to yodels?

There are different yodels. When I do a rhythmical groove yodel, then they go with it. I like the stately yodels the best. We had problems with that in Africa. It was giggled at. But I think that is the best thing that can happen to you: when you make music and the people laugh. I never feel laughed at.

Do you consider yourself to be a traveller between the worlds?

Yes. I have made friendships in all parts of the world through my journeys and my curiosity. I now have the privilege to have grown up in Europe, where many more material things are at my disposal. Also many more media. I have heard and experienced more than most people from other countries with whom I am working together. It makes it easier for me to respond to what they do. When someone has made music in Dakar all their life, in Tanzania or in Egypt, then it is difficult for them when they hear something foreign for the first time.

Is it a feeling of having something in common that moved you to take up contact with "foreign" cultures?

As far as that is concerned musically and artistically, it is the variety I look for. But that only happens with people about whom I think: he could be my brother. You feel: he sees life like you do. I must feel the harmony on a soul level. Then I can work together with someone who does something totally different.

What do you connect with the term "grenzenlos" (boundless/without frontiers)?

Going to Africa or the Arabic area, you really go out over all boundaries. I really have the feeling that I have jumped over these cultural boundaries for myself. But exactly through that I have felt the full force of the boundaries. But when you make that the agenda, then you notice: the world is not as you would like to see it. But that is also the exciting thing. I rather have the feeling: what I do, what I explain as my main connecting thread, then manifests itself in my life. I write the songs and then they become true. I should probably pay more precise attention to what I do.

What does affinity mean for you?

There are people who you meet for the first time, but you don't first have to explain your life so that he or she understands you.

Can making music together help with mutual understanding of different cultures?

Yes. With those who do it and with those who hear it.

What are the next projects?

There are invitations to two festivals: in Cape Verde and in Burkina Faso. A concert near Mauritius is also planned. There is the idea to do something with musicians from the Sami tribes.

You began as a brass musician. What brought you to the Styrian?

I first took the Styrian into my hands at the age of 37. I hated it. This instrument was a synonym for the fact that you can only do this one folk music. I began to play because I wanted to show people that you can also make music which grooves from a bloody awful instrument.