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Above the Roofs

 

Now, the reason why Branko ended up in the place where I met him was the quality of his music. It sounds as a paradox, but that is the way things work in the environment where we came from, anyone with a bit of talent and drive, anyone who's eager to get some work under his belt must grow tired of the place. It doesn't like its talents, and they themselves don't like the place, because of its narrowness and limits. So Branko got tired of it as well, and decided to go somewhere else and try his luck. He didn't even care where the road would take him, as long as that place gave him an opportunity to play his music, and as long as he didn't have to think about other, non-musical things all the time.

 

Of course, to be able to achieve the latter he had to go through the typical musician's 'rite of

passage' - he was busking, playing innumerable sessions and gigs with other musicians, literally from all over the world. It goes without saying that the non-musical jobs dominated the picture: menial jobs mostly. Typical immigrant 'coming of age', always as a semi or completely 'illegal alien'. But Branko didn't squander his time while trying to make ends meet: all the good and bad things, as well as different experiences and emotions, he was translating into songs, tunes and lyrics.

 

I didn't know that yet at the time I was listening his Croatian instrumental debut, which I really got stuck in just as almost everybody else I'd been playing the record to. At the same time I was doing some work for Dragi Šestić, the producer of Mostar Sevdah Reunion, the renown Bosnian 'world music' band. I thought Branko and Dragi would be an interesting artistic combination, and decided to introduce them to one another. That was then the lucky occurrence I've mentioned earlier on. What I couldn't have known was that once Branko played his new songs to Dragi, the Bosnian-Dutch producer, ignited by the same enthusiasm, was soon going to outline the whole tactic after that first meeting, of how to make a record with Branko and even how to promote him.

 

It all went smoothly after that. Well, almost. Dragi Šestić, in his resourceful way, had employed his modest logistics to the maximum, showing in a practical way how a whole professionally made album could be recorded and done out of basically nothing, with a minimum of resources (the trials and tribulations met during the recording process of the album is made of that typical musicians' stories material, waiting to be told some day). But the work had to be done, and once brought together while working on the album, Branko and Dragi became good friends as well. Overall, this project, as a result of that loose and mutually questioning meeting, had developed into something what Dragi jokingly calls 'a meeting of Diaspora brought together by a lowest common denominator' - i.e. the music. The whole thing is before everything else about a couple of ex-pats (and not only) who don't have the strict, business relations, but think of this work instead as a labour of love, something that might last longer, and even makes them feel proud when looking back upon it. It's about people who understand each other, which, if put it in the context of where we're from, is not so little a thing as one might think.

 

Again, the project did not come about without the usual assortment of problems (financial, organizational, etc. etc.), and its completion took a long time, often testing the limits of its author's patience. But now that the album is finally out there, we don' t have to think about it anymore. Which work of quality was ever delivered free of trouble? I don't mention this without a very important reason: just as every work made in such circumstances, this one too had a 'saving grace'. Working long and hard, Branko and Dragi during the long breaks have had enough time to think properly both about the musical direction and about the people they would like to see playing on the record. So different guests in the long of period of time would be invited to the studios in order to give their musical contribution and enrich the record. Their contribution to "Above the roofs", Branko's first vocal album, simply can't be overestimated. Better yet: there is an almost Babylonian mixture of nationalities here, if we take a look at the backgrounds of the musicians who played on the record - a thing which could've happened only here in Amsterdam. Bassist Richard Degener, whose band served as a core of Branko's own band in its current form; great guest musicians, like virtuoso accordionist and clarinetist Mustafa Santic and Nedjo Kovacevic on violin (Bosnian members of Mostar Sevdah Reunion); Dutch musicians such as drummer Casper Gimbrere, saxophonist Chris Corstens, and Udo Dermans, a German percussionist specialized in Turkish, South American, Spanish and all other sorts of ethno-percussions (tarabuka, congas) - they all have made possible this exceptional international musical mixture.

 

Two names though should get a special attention, I think - Bulgarian singer and bouzouki-player Janko Brekov and Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco. Together with Branko, they have delineated in a single song a sort of "Balkans circle", surpassing the narrow ethnic and cultural walls, creating in the process a new sound which we'll certainly hear more from in the future.

In this lies the poetic justice of this project: something that started as a jailbreak from narrowness and from lack of communication - the things Branko left behind and the reasons why he came over here -, it ended in something wide and free: in the interplay between similar minds, people from different parts of the world breaking down borders with their human and musical energy. On this album the thing went even further; it has developed - through inter- change, through camaraderie and the mixing of experiences - and into the best which they all jointly brought along. And, of course, in music. Always in music.

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