BLIND BOY DE VITA: Connecting Dots Between Baaba Maal And The Big Lebowski

Blind Boy De Vita is an Italian-Swiss artist based in Lucerne. He writes very personal songs which, of course, is what you might expect from any good singer-songwriter. His debut record Cumpáis full of autobiographical entries which cover the full scope of life’s ups and downs. Insomnia, depression, nature, love, self determination  – it’s all there, even if at times it’s served in the form of cryptic, free-associative poetry. 

What makes Blind Boy De Vita’s take on the singer-songwriter idiom different from many an artist in the genre is that he doesn’t rely on the North American folk template. There are, of course, songs on the record which have somewhat of a twang about them. Been Waiting is a good example of that, as is Perfect Match. But then there are wild hybrids like Hold The Knight, a song which leans hard into trance music and psychedelia with prog-rock tropes. 

Cumpáthe title song, sounds almost West African, while Miisa and Watolosita blur the line between Western and African guitar work. This ability to blur rigid stylistic lines speaks not only to Blind Boy’s skill as a musician, but also to his unequivocal love for guitar music across the board. Although Cumpá is a very ambitious record, it doesn’t sound a pinch contrived. Eccentric at times? For sure! But remember, it was penned by a man who rocks tailor made clothes with African wax prints on them and calls himself Blind Boy De Vita.

We are honoured to present a short interview Glauco Cataldo aka Blind Boy De Vita. Cumpá was released by Mouthwatering Records. 

Would it be fair to say that this project started when you were shot in the eye?

One could see it that way. I don’t think the project started right after my accident. Mind you, I was only 14 then. But after that, I definitely dedicated myself more to music, as a consequence I started writing songs. So…

What made you decide to join the long lineage of artists defined by blindness? You could’ve just as easily hid this fact or played up another side of your person or artistry.

I hid and chose not to mention anything about my glass eye for a very long time. I didn’t do this for the sake of hiding it, but I just wanted to have a normal life. Eventually I realised that my partial blindness played a big role in my journey as an artist and I wanted to feature that more, so I added it to my name. 

Can you tell us a bit about your new record?

The concept was to record as much on my own as possible. I recorded every instrument you hear on there by myself. I was aiming for a “trancy” acoustic, intimate kinda thing.

This is your first record not only as a solo artist, but also as a producer, what was the catalyst to take this turn in your career?

I produced before, but it was always in a band context. The solo approach, however, started because I wanted to experiment with other sounds, quieter sounds, a low voice etc. I didn’t want to be dependent on other people having to learn and nail their parts, and having to do all these rehearsals. Producing is something I thoroughly enjoy because I get to really make the music the way I hear it! Most of my heroes produced their own material. Independence MHH! I like it! But I’d love to work with other producers in the future to see what that’s like.

Your music is clearly inspired by African music, all types of genres, but it doesn’t feel like you’re emulating them the way some “world music” outfits do. Where does this fluency and ease with which you quote and rework these styles come from?

I think that even if I wanted to emulate these sounds I wouldn’t be able do it. (laughs) That’s the beauty of it. I can’t play like a guitarist from Mali. But! I can listen to that music, digest it, write some songs and it will become something different. On the other hand, the producer in me tries to see the broader sound picture, in the context of a full album. I wanted to stay away from afro clichés and come up with funky stuff that maybe I haven’t heard in this “singer-songwriter” context before.

Cultural appropriation is a very important topic these days, as is the reclamation of black expression. What’s your take on this?

It is indeed a touchy subject. I think there’s a difference when cultural elements are copied from a minority culture vs a group being inspired by them and doing something different with that.  Respectful assimilation or inspiration is cool with me. Old Town Road has become one of my all time favourite songs, jus saying!

Were you ever put on the spot for your musical references or the fact that you wear clothing tailored from African wax printed fabrics.

I got a lot of props for my musical references because it’s a creative pot that not a lot of people I know get inspiration from. Or maybe even really know about. As for the clothes, rarely. I’m not ever wearing traditional outfits with afro wax fabric like that. That just looks kind of silly. But designing the stuff myself with that fabric, and rocking it? Hell yeah! 

I saw that you got to play for Baaba Maal, how was that? Who set this up?

That was was huge for me. A religious experience! My hands actually trembled when I pulled out the guitar to play for him. I started playing and then, it was just like flying. Hearing positive shouts and hollers from the Baaba Maal’s band, incredible for me. Massamba Diop, his long time percussionist and my dad in Dakar, set this up. He just said: hey, we have a gig today wanna come along with me? The answer was an easy yes, of course. I got to hang around the backstage and meet the whole band, just WOW.

What did the maestro say about your playing? That bit, unfortunately, isn’t on the video.

He was impressed. He asked where I learned to pronounce the lyrics in his mother toungue – pulaar – so well, even with the little vocal embellishments. I told him I learnt it like a parrot listening, singing and asking friends about the meaning of the text. We got to chat a bit after that. Such a humble, cool, down to earth guy. Later he went into his dressing room to warm up and prepare. My dad, Massamba, went on to say that, apparently, he really dug my singing and said something like: where’d you find this guy? Interesting singer, you should bring him down to the studio one day to track some harmonies!

Why did you decide to use different languages on the record?

In using the voice as instrument, the different languages offer a big pallet of sounds!

There is also Blind Boy De Vita’s very own language…

The fantasy language, yes. I started ad libbing on some guitar riffs of mine and realised that I liked the ad lib, so I wrote it down. But when I wrote it down, I handled it like a real language. So I wrote phrases, I made them rhyme at times. And, voila!

Apparently, you refer to yourself as The Big Lebowski of music, can you expand on that?

I didn’t start this! haha. Some people saw a similarity and I just did funny social media stuff with it.

Will you be touring this record?

Yes! The tour starts now! Got about a good dozen gigs until June, in Switzerland and in Germany. 

Any plans to take it back to Senegal?

Senegal, absolutely! If all goes well I’ll be playing a festival there in December. Also looking forward to play a residency/festival in Tunisia in September. South Africa is not planned yet…