Blesok no. 32, May-June, 2003
The Card Tower Will Endure through the Time
- an interview with Nikša Bratoš, a producer -
According to the musicians who where, at least once, behind his studio’s microphones – Niksha Bratosh “rules”. He is the one of the most significant producers on the Balkans and a man known as one who guarantees (at least) the half of any discography project’s success. The list of the music albums he has put his finger in is too long to be presented here; his name as a musician is also noted and affirmed (he excellently plays guitars, keyboards, violins and clarinets). But he’s mainly and most highly thought as a producer. That role he had even when he participated also as a member of the music bands Valentino and Crvena Jabuka (Red Apple), and afterwards he collaborated with Zheljko Bebek, Ibrica Jusic, etc. As a peak of his professional career as a producer is his last music project with the greatest Croatian pop-star Giboni, titled as Mirakul (Miracle).
In the last days of April, Bratosh stayed in Skopje at his old friend and co-worker, our great music-master, the guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski. Almost ten days they worked on The Card Tower, the album which edition was announced by Avalon Production – to be published at the end of this month. The following interview is made in one of the short brakes those two musicians allowed themselves to make. And, at the very beginning of this interview, Niksha would note:
– I must accent that I’m only the co-producer of this album. Namely, the production had several phases, and we work at the last one now. Although the first phase (the choice of the materials, collaborators, as well as the general studio work, was done by Vlatko alone. I’m at the opinion that, after many years, this is his first album that inclines toward the pop-music. I also think that this is the right moment and the right path for Stefanovski. I do believe that he first must to gather the audience around him, and then he could “preach and interpret” to them. And I’m sure that this album will definitely have the power to gather people.
*Can we draw a certain parallel, or to make some comparison between your last project with Giboni and this one, considering that Giboni and Stefanovski both, are the top-masters who has worked together many times, and you even produced many of their materials?
– This project is really quite close to that of Giboni’s. Not only by their modern approach, but also by their music arrangements. Simply, Vasko Serafimov, the man who made the arrangements, the rhythm samples, the keyboards – did that in a really contemporary, modern manner, and also with a high quality. Beside that, this is an album at which definitely doesn’t matters only the well-played guitar. We already know that about Stefanovski, we know it for a long time now. This is also an album with quality texts, arrangements and melodies. That is what’s similar with Giboni’s project, and I really like that.
*Of what importance is – for you personally – to work with great masters of music, as Vlatko or Giboni? Do you enter the every project with the earlier shaped criteria that you wouldn’t work anything, which is an ordinary “pop-confection”?
– Above all, I’m always honored when I work with musicians as those two. And, beside that, it is also a great pleasure, it always is. Finally, considering what’s already done in that “pop-confection” manner, this kind of projects are purely art experienced to me, so I’m always very happy to be a part of such teams. On the other hand, such people are the supreme co-workers who don’t know what “can’t” means. With them, anything is possible… And only the question “What now?” remains. Many times people are limited by their collaborators’ limitations. With the musicians like those two, such limitations don’t exist. It only remains to be seen how high our inspiration got this time. I would frankly say that I had that good fortune and privilege to work not only with Vlatko, but also with Cornelie Kovach, Manu Kache, with Vasko, and even with Giboni, who sings at one of the tracks… Finally, this is something that I’ll be absolutely content with – at the end. And that is what’s the most beautiful in this line of work.
*Can you remember your first encounter with Vlatko Stefanovski? What were the basis of your professional understanding and co-work?
– At first, I made a deal with myself. When we speak of guitars and when Vlatko is around, I can only bring coffee, and eventually to select from what he had already played.
Our first encounter was during my work on one of the Zheljko Bebek’s album, about fifteen years ago. At that time, Bebek was the one who insisted on it, and we agreed to ask Vlatko, and I was – as a guitarist and as one of his great fans – really overwhelmed that I even heard him on the phone. Vlatko came to the studio in Boshnjaci (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and then we agreed about the working principles that we honor even today. Vlatko told me then: I’ll play the guitar, and after that, you can choose what you wish! It was like that with the Giboni’s albums also. Vlatko would make – on 10 channels – some extraordinary solo guitar sequences and after that, I would have the (little unthankful) obligation to select, and sometimes I would have to exclude some – not only good, but sometimes so brilliantly played materials.
*How do you handle that act of rejecting quality stuff? And not only with your work with Stefanovski, but also with all the other top musicians you work with…?
– It is simply the moment when one (at my position) must be cruel, but in one track shouldn't be more than three different sequences, in order not to disseminate the sounds and not to distract common consumer from the song's essence. I do things that way, and I simply leave in the song the things I consider the most adequate at that moment, and the things I do esteem the best, then. Sometimes I change some great stuff, when I think that in spite of the quality of the guitar sequence (even the brilliantly played ones), if I think that a trumpet would do better – there is no doubt that I will replace the guitar with a trumpet, etc. Exactly because of that, I simply -sometimes – must, I really must reject some things and leave them aside.
*Does it happen, sometimes, the egos of two strong individuals to confront leading to a conflict? What is like to work with the famous music stars?
– The problem with the endemic ego have only the people who aren't yet affirmed, who didn't really show any quality before, or who didn't make it at all. This kind of people insists to pump their ego – with no matter how. On the other hand, the true talents, the people well-known, famous and affirmed already, they simply don't have a reason to deal with their ego whatsoever. For those people, the ego is simply a long-time-gone mater. All that remains then – is the good work. Now, we actually think of what is really the best for the song. And if in that moment the most appropriate ot do is to beg, I just – beg. With no problems!
*To what level you are able to “get into the film” of the musicians you work with? Do you have the feeling you are the real part of this Stefanovski's new music story?
– Well, having in mind that I have quite a number of albums with Macedonian contemporary music, I can say that I do manage to track the music situation here, and it wasn't much difficult to “get into the Vlatko's film” about this album. That's extraordinary easy – when you like such kind of film. Maybe it would be more difficult for me to “get into the film” from his previous project with his trio, I simply wouldn't know what I have to do there. But on the other hand, it would be very easy for me to “get into the film” like that with the material like those for the Gipsy magic soundtrack. That's why is so easy, even much easier for me, with The Card Tower. Here – I really know what is to be done.
*And, what would be your judgment about this work you're finishing now? Where would you “put” this Stefanovski's album?
– I think I didn't make “too much damage”. Really, there was a huge amount of great material, pa so it was on me to “clean up” a little. As I said before: cruelly to reject and cut necessary things from the tracks – in order to celebrate the song.
Although, if we try to put the album (by style) in one drawer, that would be fatal. That's because there are many elements of the pop-music, mild influences from the ethnic origins, some jazz elements… Anyway, it's a quality music that isn't for the young generations only, because this music isn't modern now, with inclination to fade with time. Definitely, The Card Tower is going to resist the time and it will endure for a huge time period. Look, when we worked with Vlatko on the Giboni's album, about almost four years, we spoke of the ideas for his next album. I do consider that conversation as a foundation for what we're finishing now. I remember that in the car we talked about the latest Carlos Santana's album – Supernatural and we discussed that Carlos is a great guitarist, but also a man that writes great songs. Then we spoke of Clapton and we decided that one should be both guitarist and author. The human voice is bound to dominate, but the song must be the prime interest. Vlatko plays guitar excellently, OK, and that must stay that way. That's understandable, but here are his songs, too.
*And now, so close before the finishing of this project, can you point what's your top choice and can you point which one of the tracks is your favorite?
– Let's see… Faith, Hope, Love is the track I would like to accent it first. Then here are the tracks A Song for the Friend and This is the Balkan. And together with the title track The Card Tower I would conclude this potential hit list from the album.
*And finally, are the projects like those of Stefanovski and Giboni good (and how much) for the world music market? Can these Balkan projects endure the competition along the high-budget world productions?
– Unfortunately, we have a really small market. The language barrier is a great limiting factor. I've worked at the West, and I've been into a position to see how it looks like there. It's clear to me, as well as it is clear to Vlatko, that we aren't much behind. We even had much to offer. On the other hand, we can count on a market of 5, 10 or, at most 20 millions of people. Objectively, that denies us the freedom to work on one album longer, like two or tree years per album – like it is done on West, all in order to make a “world product”, as we love to say it. And, when you sing in English, or even Spanish, you have a market with over of a billion consumers, which opens a huge space for making a perfection from what you work on. But still, I generally think that we have a great product and that we are in position to offer a really good, for the West quite exotic music that they don't have: a combination of Balkan and Oriental (and Eastern in general) music, which had emerged as a result of the interlacing of the various cultures of the numerous ethnic entities that wandered. They don't have anything like it, and they simply can't have it on their own.
Translated by: Petar Volnarovski