Imagine Leonard Cohen as the ringleader for Cirque De Soleil and you have an idea of Rebel Bran’s sound. Here we have an artist who has been scarred by hunger and war, and saved by the potential to create moments of beauty and meaning with his music.
Bran Vrbaski a.k.a Rebel Bran, was born in 1963 in Jagodina, Yugoslavia. His family lived in extreme poverty and even though times were incredibly bleak, there was always singing, dancing and laugher, in his home that kept them all going. Bran marveled at the power and clarity of his mother's voice. When he was 9 years old, a man by the name of Srecko (which translates to Lucky in English) befriended the family. Srecko had an incredible voice also so Bran decided he would do anything to try to sing like Lucky and his mum someday.
In high school, Bran started to get serious about music. It took him a few years to save enough money to buy a cheap, rough Russian acoustic guitar. At the same time, he became fascinated with architecture. When Bran’s band Dina was just getting some recognition, the war broke out in Bosnia. The struggle eventually got to be too much to cope with. In 1995, he made the heart-breaking decision to leave his country and move to Vancouver. He recalls: “There was more than enough food and opportunity for everyone here. It was a magical place.” But the magic would soon fade, overtaken by the cultural shock. Of this very dark period, he says, “At times it was agonizing. The only thing that was calming me down and always there for me was my music, and my art.”
“You and I...20 Years Later” is Rebel Bran's first release, which is available in two versions; one with lyrics in English and the other in Serbian. As the name suggests, some of these songs are over 20 years old, yet they still work today. The title track begins with an ominous violin that suddenly turns almost Flamenco as it is joined by guitar and drums. Bran’s smoky vocals are reminiscent of Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen, but there is a smooth clarity to his voice usually reserved for Jazz singers.
How do you describe your music to people, Bran?
In short, I think it's basically pop, soft and soothing as many people commented, with strong elements of jazz and world, particularly Balkans where I'm originally from (Serbia). It's based on acoustic music, it's very melodic and with strong harmonies, but I mix and match everything that feels right, and every style I enjoyed the most throughout the years. In my first CD You and I...20 Years Later I use some elements of blues also, and it will happen again in the next album. Winston Churchill ones said "The Balkans are a melting pot of different cultures," and I believe so is my music.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
My mother was a very good singer and dancer, so I started singing at a very early age. The decision to focus on music started when a stranger befriended my family. His name was Lucky, and he had a life changing voice. With my father abandoning us very early, as a male figure in my life he had a profound influence. His presence in our lives was very brief and we lost any track of him, but I've also learnt never to underestimate the role of strangers in my life!
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Create. To narrow it down, to create music, but every artistic creation makes me the happiest ever. If I could create every minute of every hour in a day, I would do it. Sometimes having to waste time on eating bothers me immensely when I have to stop the creative process.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
At the moment my biggest goal is to assemble a band as soon as possible. I can't wait to start practicing with them and then start gigging. The musicians who have done an awesome job on my CDs are willing to gig if it fits their very busy schedule, but I realise I need guys who can focus on this dream. Just finding the right people today is much harder than I ever thought. So if anybody reads this, get back to me from where ever you are in the Greater Vancouver area!
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I knew I will be in a creative profession very early. The school picked up on my talents from the grade one and they kept milking it and shaping me into what I am now. I started playing the guitar with 16, but I was already deep into art and photography long before that. Since we were extremely poor I also knew very early I don't want to be a starving artist. So I made a practical decision to enroll into architecture. In grade 9 I pretty much knew what path will enable me to do that. I was hoping that architecture will give me a creative career that will also one day enable me to support my true love - music. The path was long and bumpy, but eventually it all turned out the way I was hoping.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
This is quite complex to explain in a couple sentences, but I was lucky enough to be surrounded by family, friends and people who always supported what I was doing and nurtured the expressive side of me. This comes culturally as well being a Slav whose people are very emotional and melodic, expressive and with a certain dose of pathos in every artistic expression, not to mention everyday life. What makes me really happy today is that I can bring that to the cultural blanket of Canada, and the western world for that matter which, combined, opens so many doors for creative expression that I feel again so full of ideas and creative energy I wish I could have a couple more life times to express it all!
What other artists out there do you love?
Leonard Cohen, such an inspiration even this late in his career. Jesse Cook, amazingly rich artist. Goran Bregovic who shaped the rock scene in former Yugoslavia and who helped, if not initiated the movement of the Balkan style to become cool world wide. The music of Cirque du Soleil is profound to me. Sade pushes every button of my creative soul, Sting, Loreena McKennitt, Jann Arden and many, many others.
What does your future hold?
I feel I'm just starting again. I hope the bend will be ready soon enough and I can't wait to start playing live and presenting my music to people, and it seems there is so many of them already who can't wait to hear it live! I'm working on my next albums already, have selected songs for 5 more vocal albums and continuously practicing with them; finishing the demos for my first instrumental album. Also, I have completed about 80% of my brand new songs I entirely composed in English for another album. I hope and pray things will go well so I can complete all that work and present some more new music to the fans very soon!