The unsinkable Bruno Guez

Bruno Guez maintains that vinyl sounds better than what we have today.

Bruno Guez (photo credit: ZOHAR RON)
Bruno Guez
(photo credit: ZOHAR RON)
Bruno Guez is a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair, and almost completely paralyzed from the neck down. But don’t call him “crippled,” “handicapped” or “disabled.”
Hang around Bruno Guez for any length of time, observe his life and watch him in action, and you will be more likely to call him, at worst, “somewhat inconvenienced.” You can also call him “extraordinary” and his life story “inspirational.”
Although unable to walk since becoming paralyzed in 2000, Guez has not only managed to go on living, but has continued his life’s work with determination, rethinking, re-engineering and rejuvenating the music industry as it becomes digital and moves to the cloud. Born in Paris almost 48 years ago to parents who hailed from Tunisia, Guez spent his first nine years in the City of Light.
“My parents went on vacation in California and decided not to come back when the vacation was over,” he says. “They decided to just stay and figure it all out. That was probably the best thing they could have done. I loved growing up in California.”
He also discovered, at a very early age, an inordinate love of music. He began collecting records at the age of 13, and now loosely estimates his record collection, composed of both vinyl and CDs, as numbering in “the tens of thousands.”
Guez recalls, “I acquired a lot of musical culture and music knowledge in my teenage years. I pretty much turned off to rock music at an early age, and turned on to the rest of the world. This was opposed to having a narrow, ethnocentric point of view and listening only to what was on the radio. So I was very open to world music at a young age, and started learning and loving Brazilian, flamenco, Arabic and African music. I always had an affinity to music from different cultures.”
Looking back, he credits this affinity to the legacy of growing up in a Tunisian family and listening to Arabic while, at the same time, being exposed to Brazilian music, which his mother loved.
“My mom influenced me a lot in terms of my music culture,” he says. “She loves music. She’s an artist. So music was always a big part of her life and it became a part of mine.”
Guez was not content to merely listen to music, however. Still in his teen years, he began an interactive relationship with recorded music that launched him on his path in life.
“I’d sit on the floor with a cassette recorder, record one thing after another, making 90-minute ‘mixes.’ Then I’d give them to my friends in high school, or to my girlfriends. I learned how to tell a story through music by weaving music together. This was a great precursor to my work later on, hosting a radio show and programming music.”
That break came later, at Radio Station KCRW, National Public Radio’s flagship station in southern California.
“I began a radio show there that lasted around seven years. I was on three nights a week, and I would ‘curate’ music. This has become a big thing today in the digital age, but I was curating and programming music 25 years ago.”
Guez continued his show on the radio while attending UCLA, majoring – not surprisingly – in ethnomusicology. He created a magazine called Music and Culture, and DJed at local bars and restaurants.
“From all of that came my record company, called Quango, and my mixed tapes became CD compilations that I would commercialize and sell.”
He soon became known in the business as an expert in “A&R,” or artists and repertoire, the division of a record label or music publishing company that focuses on scouting for new talent and mentoring the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters.
Guez came to the attention of such industry giants as Chris Blackwell, founder and director of Island Records, who promoted artists like Bob Marley and put reggae music on the global cultural map.
Guez’s parents and siblings, meanwhile, moved to Israel and settled in Jerusalem in 1997. He stayed behind in Los Angeles, “because of my career and because I loved my life in LA.” His career humming along and his life holding nothing but promise, the thought of any sort of change in direction was probably the furthest thing from his mind. Then change came.
“In 1999 at the end of the year I went on holiday to Brazil, right around the turn of the millennium and I broke my neck going into the ocean. I compressed my spine and became a quadriplegic. Instantly. I hit my head on a sandbar that was shallower than I expected.
“I was underwater for a minute before my friends noticed that there was something wrong. Somehow I miraculously held my breath. I was conscious and I knew that something was wrong, because I was trying to command my body to put my feet down and stand up. Nothing was reacting until my friends came and got me out of the water. I gasped for air and said that I hurt my neck. It took 24 hours to get me to the nearest hospital and on the operating table.
“We were up in the north, near Bahia. Getting an ambulance to come at 6 a.m. on a New Year’s Day was a challenge. I was lucky to be with a group of friends, around 40 of us, well-connected and able to reach out to the neurosurgeon of the São Paulo Grand Prix and get him to come to the hospital and fly me by plane to the hospital.”
Guez has remained a quadriplegic ever since. Asked whether his accident in any way “crippled” or “disabled” his spirit, he quickly replies, “No. I’m a positive person, and I think that once your back is up against the wall, you know what kind of character you have. I was surrounded by people I love. I couldn’t move, but I didn’t sink into a dark hole. Music carried me, and it still does.”
MUSIC, WHICH was what Guez’s life was all about before the accident, immediately became his principal means of therapy and set the direction for his life to date. He happily describes how recorded music served as a bridge connecting his former life with the busy life he leads today.
“Before the millennium, I traveled a lot, DJed a lot; I was ‘jet-setting,’ traveling, and loving to go all around the world purchasing CDs. This was pre-Internet. You’d have to go to London to find out about new music in the UK. Raid the record stores, listen to the radio. There was no globalization then. So that was my job. Going around the world, finding talent and bringing back new ideas. I was curating music as creative director for Cirque du Soleil, for Chris Blackwell’s luxury Jamaican boutique hotels Island Outpost, and for my own record label.
“All of that needed a reset after my accident and some deep reflection about my life – almost at the turn of a second. Somehow I never really got into a dark place or lost hope. I was always very positive. I think music played a big role in my recovery, my desire and ambition to continue. As long as I could hear, and say ‘This is good music, this is bad music,’ I had a career.”
As it developed, that career brought Guez to Israel around five months after the accident, only to leave a year later.
“I didn’t enjoy living here because at the time Israel was not accessible, not wheelchair-friendly. It has improved a lot over the last decade and a half. It’s more enjoyable living in Israel now than it was then.”
He then moved to Montreal, spent two years in Paris and went back to Los Angeles in 2004 with his girlfriend. He was more or less certain of remaining in LA before fate took his hand once again.
“I came back here to Israel for my brother’s wedding in 2009. I fell in love with the country and saw that my brothers and sister had fallen in love with the country. When I went back to LA. I knew that I didn’t I want to be there anymore, so three months later I decided to make aliya. I arrived in March 2010. I closed my record company offices because I understood the industry was shifting to digital. I surrounded myself with a talented team of software developers, product designers, creative professionals, investors and music industry experts and started to reimagine the music business as a cloud-based application.”
Guez created his present company and raison d’etre, Revelator. With a name derived from the French word rêver (to dream), the company is both a music platform that now serves over 100,000 artists, labels and/or rights holders around the world with close to a million songs on the system, as well as a means of handling payment for music producers and artists.
Interestingly enough, while pioneering new cloud-based Internet platforms for digital music, Guez admits to harboring an intense nostalgia for 12-inch vinyl records.
“When we went from vinyl to cassette tapes and then to CD, we lost a lot of culture. We lost all the liner notes, and we lost the 12-inch album covers and photography.
There was a lot of musical culture in that. I used to read all the liner notes. I wanted to know all about the producers. I was curious about who was making the music, who they are, where they are from.
I wanted to learn the anthropology of the music I was listening to. Vinyl provided that for us for many years.
“CD kind of shrunk that when we went from a 12- inch format to a five-inch format. We just opened a CD, popped it in, listened to the music and never really read anything inside. So we lost a lot of musical culture, which is now coming back because people want more than just getting play on a device. All we get today is the title, the name of the artist, and we just hit ‘play’ or ‘pause.’ That’s what our experience has come down to.”
Guez also maintains that vinyl sounds better than what we have today.
“Of course. Absolutely. The fact that you’re using voltage and amplification to read and power the sound has a unique characteristic that digital took away, and there’s a breadth and depth of music that we lost with digital. Digital compressed everything. Now with Internet, online, it compresses it even more. So if you’re a music aficionado or like high fidelity, you don’t have any of that today in digital music.”
So what’s ahead for the unsinkable Bruno Guez?
“My ambition has taken me to bridge the gap between financial services and the music industry,” he says. “I now want to combine crypto-currency, technology and intellectual property rights to create a marketplace for creative assets.”
Guez currently lives in Jerusalem under the watchful eyes of three Filipino caregivers who enable him to be active and busy: “They are dedicated, special, unyielding. They are truly amazing for enabling me to set the pace, keeping up with my rhythm and active lifestyle. It’s a great team.”
Asked whether he is looking for a girlfriend or life partner, Guez says, “Yes, but it really requires a special person that can look beyond the wheelchair. And that’s easier said than done.”
If anything sums up Guez’s hopes and dreams for the future, it is his final comment as we close our conversation: “I want to get out of bed every day and enjoy my life.”