Branko Galoic smiles when you tell him people are sick and tired of Balkan brass bands. “What about guitar-bass-drum trios, aren’t you sick of them too? I was born in Yugoslavia. That style’s a part of me – like a lot of other styles, really.”
Let’s be clear: Branko Galoic is not a brass band. He’s a Croatian singer-songwriter who combines brass sounds with a voice reminiscent of Dylan’s and a fondness for gypsy jazz. Now let’s be even more clear: with or without his Balkan influences, his music marks a departure from Fanfare Ciocarlia and Taraf de Haidouks.
Galoic’s journey reflects his free spirit: he was born in Zagreb, adopted by Amsterdam, applauded in Berlin, and welcomed in Paris, which recently became his home.
Branko Galoic lived half his life in a country which no longer exists, and which was unrealistically romanticized in the films of Emir Kusturica. "I grew up in Ivanic Grad, about thirty kilometers from Zagreb. We used to read Serbian authors, watch Bosnian movies, and listen to Macedonian new wave groups, and there was never a problem. We had a common language, Serbo-Croatian. Now we speak Croatian, Serbian or Bosnian, but it’s basically the same language. I was there during the intense cultural movement of the ‘80’s. There was no censorship, so artists could pretty much say whatever they wanted."
Two events changed young Branko’s life forever: "When I was 17, I discovered the guitar, and it became a major passion – or worse, an obsession. And when I was 18, the war broke out."
Croatia declared its independence in 1991, but the war in the Balkans dragged on for several years. The country was drained of its resources, and the future became a vague prospect at best. "In Ivanic Grad, after the first eight years at primary school you could only study math, economy or chemistry, and I wasn’t interested in any of those paths," Branko continues. There was only one movie theater and a few cafés in his hometown, so performance opportunities were rare. "There were weddings where they asked the musicians to play traditional music, some gypsy stuff, and top ten hits – that is, the stupidest pop music you can imagine. I didn’t want to go that way."
Faced with such limited perspectives, Branko decided to leave his country at age 26. "I sold my amp, bought a one-way ticket and showed up in Amsterdam with my guitar, and 50 German marks in my pocket." He started busking to make enough money to get by. "It’s great practice, but I didn’t do it very long. I did a lot of odd jobs. And I really got into the music scene there. It’s very diverse, with people from all over Europe, and Latinos…"
In the meantime, Branko started writing, in both Croatian and English. His compositions caught the eye of Bosnian producer Dragi Sestic, whose label, Snail Records, has recorded such legendary musicians from the former Yugoslavia as Saban Bajramovic, Liliana Buttler and Mostar Sevdah Reunion. "I was planning to write songs for various performers, but to my astonishment Dragi said to me: "You should record them yourself."
His first CD, Above the Roofs, was released in 2005. It’s a collection of acoustic tunes that are often poignant, inspired by the Bosnian blue, or " sevdah " from his mother’s native region. It was very well-received in the Netherlands but got little attention beyond its borders. In 2010, he released Skakavac (Grasshoppers), using the Balkan brass band sound for the first time. Back in Holland, he formed the Skakavac Orkestar (tuba, trumpet, trombone and drums) and toured the festival circuit. He included songs by Jacques Brel (Vesoul) and Johnny Stulic, the godfather of Croatian rock and founder of the group Azra in the ‘70’s.
His third album will blend the brass sound with wild guitar solos and irony, as well as deep emotion. It will include the four tracks on this EP: an instrumental car chase through the Balkans (" Devil’s Dance "), a heartrending ballad (" Angel Song "), a playful ska with a disco feel (" ‘Till I’m 82 "), a sevdah-style lament in funky clothing (" Aman Aman Taman Taman "), and more in the same vein.
Now it’s France’s turn to discover Branko Galoic. With a little luck, the relationship will be successful and long-lasting. This unique Croatian artist’s style was shaped by his journey and his creative colleagues; the resulting group is more of a traveling cabaret than a brass band. His clever blend of irony and melancholy bring to mind the Argentine musician Daniel Melingo and Italian singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossella.