Pierre Bensusan: Award-winning Guitar Virtuoso and Vocalist
“To say that Bensusan is a master of the guitar is like saying Albert Einstein was good at math”.
Over the past 44 years, acoustic guitar virtuoso and vocalist Pierre Bensusan has taken his unique sound to all corners of the globe. Winner of the 2014 Independent Music Award in the Live Performance Album category for his triple live album “Encore”, voted Best World Music guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine reader’s Poll, winner of the Grand Prix duDisque at the Montreux Festival for his debut album, “Près de Paris”, Pierre is recognized as one of the greatest guitar players of the 21st century.
Immortalized by the tune ‘Bensusan’ written in tribute by the late Michael Hedges, and referenced as an important inspiration to many other great musicians, Pierre Bensusan is a one-of-a-kind artist whose music transcends genre and time, with an uninhibited sense of musical freedom and expression, a sense of something both playful and serious, otherworldly yet right here right now.
His “manner” of playing defies classification – crossing world, classical, jazz, traditional, folk, pop and more. None can be isolated as simply “World Music”, “Celtic”, “Arabic” or “French”; rather, they represent our world in its current state, a world sharing itself. In a time of so much violence and madness everywhere, Pierre’s music is a great healer to all who hear it – even if only during a brief concert appearance. He is definitely not to be missed! Learn more including Pierre’s Spring 2017 USA & Canada Tour at www.PierreBensusan.com.
So what does it take to be a successful in the world of music? Listen to our Big Blend Radio conversation with Pierre Bensusan, and read his answers to our 10 Questions about his career, including the challenges he faces, as well as his inspirations.
1. What led you to a career in the music industry?
I knew I was going to be a professional musician since I was 12 years old.
2. What attributes do you have that make you a good fit for being a successful guitarist and singer?
Difficult to find an angle to respond to this. Would simply say: the ability, the chance to have a rich imaginative sound world, and to be OK with living a life with no safe-guard nor guarantee.
3. Who or what inspires you?
I believe we are still wondering where inspiration in general comes from. My background is in piano and classical music, and I guess I play guitar thinking to a keyboard. My second immersion was into folk, pop, fusion and world music. At my folks’, we were listening to anything from Django, Swing, Tango and Paris Accordion Music to Opera, Judeo-Arabo Andalusian music, Chanson, Swing to Be Bop, to name a few.
Today I feel a bit like a sponge, open to any sound and color from any ethnic background and artistic form that would speak to me. My influences are global. I believe inspiration is a blessing, it comes and goes as a wave, and the real work – duty, challenge and enjoyment – is to follow its moves, dialogue with it and make it stay, or at least come back often. Once I am in this mood, there comes the craft, where imagination and inspiration are intimately connected, going along with pleasure, doubt, fulfillment and often frustration. I cannot be intensely focused all day long, but there are specific moments of creative energy, the kind of feeling you get when it comes out with ease and result.
The rest of the time, I practice, write, dig my hands in the music until the next sparkle (as Stravinsky put it). I don’t wait for inspiration. A departure from an improvisation will lead to a structured piece which is only a canvas, a pretext: as long as you respect its essence, you could enlighten several angles and aspects differently, always to be within that piece and yet reinvent it each time. It’s fascinating. I should also say that I don’t always have the time to play, a lot of that process is mute and takes place in the imagination, or long driving sequences, far away from the instrument when I practice the voice.
4. Describe your ideal audience.
The audience who comes to my shows is my ideal audience: musical, open, curious, all ages, ready for a trip.
5. What do you think about the music industry of today?
The music business, as it seems today, doesn’t care much about artistry, originality or talent, but aims at making products that sell fast, creating and sticking to a format that is pretty much arbitrary, taking into account that we live in a zapping world, where everything is fast and not made for lasting. A lot of people out there want something else and are ready to go out of their way for it. In fact, these people are not far away, I cross their way every day. Long story short, I stopped wishing it was better or different and only care about my journey on a parallel road regarding the music business’ ones. At the end of the day, what means to be, will be.
6. What personal changes have you had to make in order to build your career?
Work and practice harder, and be a better person.
7. What do you consider your biggest challenge?
To incarnate and align my mind, heart and gut feelings, and also to play what I hear.
8. If you could invite any three people (alive or passed on) for a dinner party who would they be?
Bach, Debussy and Fauré
9. If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?
Historian, cook or house builder
10. What is the most important tip you would pass on to another person just getting started in the world of music?
The first advice would be to LISTEN, and not just play mechanically. By listening you feel and understand what the music calls for and needs. What is expressed from within, in tri-dimensions, matured to the point of touching other people, is what’s impressive; technique being always used along the way to get there. The idea of becoming an autonomous musician is always present and will inspire you to do the same in your life. If you are sensitive and a good observer, music itself tells you what to do and where to go next. Sometimes, a teacher, or a guide or facilitator could help to see simple and obvious things.
Photo: Dave Bevan