Interview: Branko - Speaking With A Global Music Guru
Branko, co-founder and creative force behind Lisbon's highly acclaimed Buraka Som Sistema, came through New York City on his Club Atlas Tour this fall, capturing our attention instantly. Atlas (iTunes), Branko's freshly-released debut album, was the kick starter behind this tour run - a project based on a wide range of electronic, globally-influenced sounds. Along with this release, Branko included a special feature - a five-episode travel web series Atlas Unfolded, that breaks down his creative process and goes further into the insights of this beautifully-constructed album.
It was a beautiful fall day as I strolled through Brooklyn, getting ready to meet up with João at a local coffee shop. We greeted each other and grabbed drinks (he has a lovely aura and an even better accent), and my flood of questions immediately started pouring. I had so much I wanted to know, so much I wanted to learn from this ever-so cultured producer..
What’s your favorite place to play? Or visit?
I think in terms of shows, Belgium is always really good. I think because the people are just ready for it.. You can play at 6 pm and it’ll feel like it’s 4 am or something. Everyone is just super hype. They’ve had an appreciation for dance music for a while, even though they don’t produce that much. They have a bunch of festivals – like I Love Techno – it’s huge. I just played three shows in Brazil that were really cool. I played one on the beach actually, it was a crazy party.. So crazy that the cops came and shut it down—it was so fun.
What was happening in your life when you started your label Enchufada? What inspired all of that?
The label was started really because we wanted to release Buraka’s music because no one else would. The From Buraka to the World project we put it out in 2006 kind of inspired it. We made a label just to release that and it just kept going so it made sense to just get more people and release their stuff. It’s never been about releasing a bunch of albums, it’s more about a challenging label that’s putting out weird stuff from different places in the world; I’m trying to create a network of artists. You know, with all these global, different styles the problem is there’s not an epicenter for the scene. It’s not like dubstep in London or house in Chicago. I just want to create a center for all of these different cultures - electronic music from South America, from Africa - and I want to create a virtual hub where people can tap into that.
I notice on Atlas the sounds are very diverse but it’s cohesive at the same time. Is that the idea behind the whole ‘global club’ genre?
I think it’s more of a lifestyle than a genre. It’s an approach to life I guess. For the album, I didn’t have an expectation for it. People weren’t like “oh, you need to put out an album!” You know, I’m always doing stuff with the band, putting out songs.. And so, I felt like I needed to create something that showcased everything I was saying before [about his label] through music, so the concept was to visit five different cities. I travelled a week to Amsterdam, then Sanpaolo, then Cape Town. Then I came here to New York for a week as well.. And then I finished with a week working in Lisbon and stayed awhile.
You know, I was really scared to have too many guests because I felt it wouldn’t sound like an album, it would sound like a compilation… so it became more of me trying to create relationships with people whose music I really enjoyed and getting them into the studio to perform. Whether with their vocals or production, bringing people into the studio and bringing them together in the most organic way, trying to look as little as a studio session as possible and look more like a creative afternoon. But I didn’t want to have like ten people in a session at once so I never had more than one or two people at a time. We just wanted to create something new out of this blend of all these sounds and cultures.
How long did it take?
Well, I was travelling for about two months, but I worked on it afterwards everyday for three months.
You were filming Atlas Unfolded, right?
Yes! So we were filming it the whole time. For me, it came with the project of trying to explain things better. At the same time I wanted to make music that people could understand without having to read a bunch of things, but I also felt it would be great to have a document that explained it a bit further. It’s like in a museum - you get something that explains what you’re looking at, but you don’t really get that with music. So Atlas Unfolded was my attempt to bring in some of that.
What do you keep in mind when you’re creating an album?
For this, I was just aiming at getting the story out there. Obviously, make music that would connect with people, making it real, you know?
You recorded in Red Bull Studios, right? Did you record the whole album there?
Yes, well except for Lisbon. They make these amazing studios and you can have a relationship with the Red Bull Music Academy and so every time I have an idea that I think they might like I email them. It’s pretty cool.
How did you choose who you were going to collaborate with?
One of the main things in choosing the cities was who I wanted to collaborate with. I was mostly going after cities where I felt like the clash of different cultures had created something else. And I tried to look at artists that aren’t super established, but people who were still cultivating their personality because I thought it would be easier in creating something new.. people who are willing to go outside their box.
You did a radio one residency, right?
It was cool! It’s funny that you mentioned that - it was like the beginning of me getting the idea of making this album; the fact that there’s no central city on this scene.. When I was doing this radio show, since it gets so much attention for 2 hours every month, it was the epicenter of this whole scene. And so, everyone was sending me their music and in a way I connected all the dots - that all of these scenes are connected even though they seem so different. It was because of this moment on the radio show that I was able to even think about putting this all together.