Meet the Danish Guitar Buddha of Copenhagen (portrait interview in Jazz-Special)
Kasper Soeborg grew up as the son of a classical cello player, started with fusion but created an international career, where his Flamenco inspired guitar can be found on several records.
Text: Torben Holleufer
With tenacity and astounding agility on the fretboard of a flamenco guitar, Copenhagen native Kasper Soeborg (Danish letters : Søeborg) has for over 30 years carved out a career, where the crisp tone of his instrument has often been heard with a global array of World musicians.
He is known and acknowledged in many different corners of the globe, while at home at Vesterbro – Danish for West Bridge – where he lives and has his studio, he can live and breathe in peace. It is here that his many records have been recorded.
Kasper Soeborg Ohlsen is 65 years old and the son of a cellist, who had a chair in the symphony orchestra of DR, the Danish National Radio and TV. This meant an upbringing in the Frederiksberg neighborhood, where he, like most kids, started his guitar lessons on a classical guitar of the Oscar Teller label, which the schools of Denmark decided to mass in the 1960’es.
But while many of his generation were into Donovan and Bob Dylan, it was fusion music, that became the main inspiration for the young prodigy, who mentions John McLaughlin as a major inspiration. The mere mention of records like Birds Of Fire by The Mahavishnu Orchestra puts a smile on his face and the hero and his acoustic Indian journey with Shakti, would open the way with serious repetitions full of Eastern scales and modal surprises.
Spiritually Kasper took to the way of Tibetan Buddhísm, and he became a keen student of the language of the Himalayan Mountain People and their special kind of Buddhism, where Copenhagen had a splendid inspirator in the local lama, Ole Nydahl.
Through meditation Kasper Soeborg learned inner discipline, but the reality of life also kicked in: just 20 years of age he became a father and had to make a crucial choice in his life.
As a guitarist and composer with Mosaik - a fusion band - he won an important talent award created by Denmark’s Radio and Television, and that flow continued in the band, Playing People, where Kasper showed great virtuosity on electric guitar with among others Vit Musíl, a Czech-born bass player living in Denmark.
Yet Kasper Soeborg was drawn towards Flamenco music, and being into the exploits of John McLaughlin, his trio with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía became a major inspiration, especially the astounding playing of the late guitar player from Andalucia made Kasper decide to explore this music on a serious level.
-I had started to make money playing guitar at the age of 17. And being father at such a young age (20) it was clear to me, that music was what I was good at and would be my way in life. So little by little I moved towards becoming a soloist, because being in bands and constantly on tour and coming home late at night just does not work with small children, Kasper Soeborg explains.
Inspired by John McLaughlin’s trio he started the “Trio Tirando”, a simular path later pursued by the likes of Mikkel Nordso in Denmark.
The Tirando group released A Perfect Dying in 1986 on Olafsongs, founded by guitar legend Finn Olafsson. On this acclaimed album it was obvious, that Paco de Lucía had a Danish disciple, who was serious about his flamenco. And that pairing with Finn Olafsson – one of his former teachers – was the obvious way, as Olafsson after his years with Danish prog legend, Ache, had been appointed head of the Danish department of Warner/Chappell and decided to give special attention to Kasper Soeborg.
Big ears of Olafsson
As mentioned above Finn Olafsson with his older brother Torsten Olafsson were central in Ache, where they among others debuted with a piece of ballet music for The Royal Theatre and later scored an international hit with the song, Shadow Of A Gypsy. During the first hiatus of the band, Finn embarked on a solo career and created Olafssongs, which since has released a great number of records and sheet music, just like the electric guitar hero started almost entirely playing acoustic guitar on steel strings. He has for many years been regarded as a virtuoso as well as generally respected for his political work regarding safeguarding the copyright of his fellow composers in Denmark.
In this regard, Finn Olafsson was the right partner for a young solo artist, but one thing they couldn’t predict, and that put a stop to the venture with Warner/Chappell: the Copenhagen department fostered Aqua, who had a major hit with the song Barbie Girl (1997), and that meant that focus shifted towards pop. Still Kasper Soeborg has remained with Finn Olafsson and is to this day a Olafssongs artist:
-Finn Olafsson was a great inspiration, when I chose the path of soloist. Because he had already experienced success in rock music with Ache, and he was himself on a journey on solo guitar on a very high level. Plus the fact, that he was very sharp at pointing out, what would work and what would not. Finn Olafsson possesses gigantic ears, as we say, and I have enormous respect for that ability in him, Kasper Soeborg explains.
-Finn Olafsson was hired as CEO of Warner/Chappell Denmark and managed to run his own label on the side. Just like guitar player Jakob Vejslev, the Doky Brothers of jazz and myself had been selected for Serious Music Scandinavia with all promo material being ready for world publication. But because American investors wanted to cash in on the success of Aqua and Barbie Girl, they withdrew the money, closed the Copenhagen office including any thought of socalled Serious Music, and that included us. It was like having a door slammed in our faces, Kasper Soeborg remembers.
Obsessed with flamenco
Like so many others of his generation Kasper was deeply inspired by the famous meeting in San Francisco between his old idol, John McLaughlin, the guitar player of Return To Forever, Al Di Meola and the great revelation in the form of the master of the Andalucian Flamenco guitar,
Paco de Lucía(1947-2014), who was born in Algeciras and had become famous through his partnership with the great singer, Camarón de la Isla (1950-92).
Now Algeciras isn’t the kind of town, which inspires pilgrimages, but Seville is. To begin with, Kasper Soeborg studied all the records of Flamenco music he could find. He became a member of the Copenhagen based school of Flamenco dance and music, El Duende, and was soon hired by the dancer and choreographer, Elisabeth Moerch (1937-2018), who needed a guitarist to accompany her dance lessons.
-Elisabeth Moerch lived and breathed for Flamenco and was the one, who more than any other brought Flamenco Culture to Denmark. It was when I was young at Vesterbro (danish for West Bridge, which is the area, where Kasper still lives) that there was a Cultural Week where they needed a guitarist to perform the music for Flamenco Dance. So I was hired and somehow it worked and was great fun and subsequently I was hired to play for all her dancers, even though I had not visited Spain yet. So I would play using my ears alone with regard to how it should sound, while I tried to learn all the rhythms and various styles inside Flamenco, Kasper Soeborg says, and it worked somehow, maybe in part because he had taken courses in the finger technique of classical guitar since he was 20 years of age.
School years in Sevilla
On Kasper Soeborg’s early records you can find lot of inspiration from Flamenco. This was while his hair was long, the speed of his fingers racing over the fretboard was breathtaking and where it for outsiders sounded like Made in Andalucia. However, when Kasper finally made it to Seville and had proper tutoring, he learned, that real Flamenco is not something you can learn just by listening:
-I became wiser, when I got to Sevilla, which actually was via our club in Copenhagen, that is closely associated with the Flamenco scene in Seville. El Duende had a list of all the peñas (i.e. clubs and bars centered around Flamenco culture) in all of Andalucia, including the schools, and the one that was most highly recommended was Fundación Cristina Heeren, which back then was in Calle Fabiola in the center of Seville, says Kasper Soeborg about the acclaimed school, which has now moved to Triana, the area across the river, which was the ancestral home of the gypsies and Flamenco culture.
-So back in 1995 I would arrive every morning for tutoring, and every night I would hang out at La Carbonería, the amazing Flamenco Bar, which is still situated in the heart of Seville.
-It was a great leap and it got me grounded in many ways. I would arrive at the Flamenco School every morning at 9.30 AM and be tutored until 1 PM, and my guitar teacher was Antonio Gámez, who had a deep and hoarse voice, and he actually came to Denmark recently to give concerts. An amazing musician with a great sense of humour. He and his wife would perform two shows a night at Los Gallos, the famous tablao (flamenco club), which is on the square of the old neighborhood, Barrio Santa Cruz. I would also hang out there and see how they did their warming up and I would listen and learn. And the funny thing was, that Antonio never played the same things twice in a row, Kasper Soeborg remembers.
Corners of the world
Kasper Soeborg has had a great teacher in Finn Olafsson when it comes to marketing, especially because the Danish market is very limited, when it comes to the rather narrow genre, which borders on classical, jazz and world music.
Life as a musician has lead to many journeys, which started with the Next Stop Sovjet movement and a host of new connections have meant, that the quiet Dane with his vast abilities is valued in all corners of the world, from places so remote as Qaanaaq in the North of Greenland to El Hierro, which is the western-most and smallest among the Canaria Islands. On the volcanic shores of this special island they have a festival very year, that has it’s own tempo which Kasper Soeborg tries to visit every year.
Finn Olafssoin brought his protegé to the important Midem in Cannes, but then WOMEX started as a vehicle for World Music, which has become important for not just World Music in general, but also for musicians, who can meet kindred spirits from around the globe.
The international connections has lead to Kasper having his steady trio with a virtuoso tabla player from Singapore, Nantha Kumar and the guitar ace of flamenco jazz, Luís Gallo.
Also an important connection has been established with another Copenhagen-born adventure seeker, who also goes to WOMEX every year: kanun- and darbuka player, Lars Bo Kujahn, who for many years has been the leader of the international world band, Oriental Mood.
Together Kasper and Lars have established the duo Word’N Global, which made it’s debut on record in 2020, featuring the South Indian bansuri flute virtuoso, Shashank Subramanyam and Chris Poole, the female American-born flute player, who has lived in Denmark since 1975. She has worked with Kasper Soeborg for many years.
Exploring via dreams
Kasper still sees himself as a musical explorer, who is on the move full of curiosity in search of new impressions:
-I am still an explorer, but I also have my own sound. But my experience is, that even though one knows a lot of theory, it does not always lead to better music, but it means, that one has tools to work on the various ideas and impressions, that come along. But it is rare, that I create music out of any theoretical dogma. The wonder happens when it arrives more or less on it’s own accord as a result of me exploring on the guitar or coming to me by way of dreams. Some nights I wake up and can remember a line of notes creating a piece of a melody or a line of chords and it can happen, that the connection between the two worlds open up. Then it is as if somebody opens a door, and I know, that someone or something is behind. And then it is just a question of time, with regard to how long time it takes for me to work on that vibration or atmosphere, which I have received, and that is where I can use all my tools, Kasper Soeborg explains.
-My process is both irrational and rational, because it is transported on a feeling, just like a landscape can have an expression or a dream can be of enormous intensity – and I do work a lot with dreams – but I try to hold on to a definite direction, and that is very much defining for me, Kasper Soeborg says about his way of composing and goes deeper:
-And if I have that feeling and both the intro, verse and perhaps a chorus of some kind, and also things that are not supposed to be there, then I have the theory to work it out. So where inspiration stops and I don’t get more inspirational gifts, I can re-think and try different things.
And so it usually all falls into place, says Kasper Soeborg.
article posted by:Kasper Søeborg Ohlsen, Ohlsen, Kasper Søeborg