Croatian reggae band Brain Holidays talks new documentary, album and cultural appropriation
Visiting Jamaica has been a recurring dream for Croatian reggae band Brain Holidays that finally came true in February 2020. To celebrate their 20-year anniversary, the eight-member group made the two-day journey from Zagreb to Jamaica to record their Jamaican Connection album at Bob Marley’s legendary Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston. The experience, which took two years to plan, is captured in their Bite of Paradise documentary which is set to première at independent movie theatres worldwide after summer.
“ Bite of Paradise was a project that was realised firstly as an obvious ‘making of’ companion to this album and everything that it stands for, and secondly as a part of my master thesis as an ethnomusicology student,” band member and documentary director Magda Mas told The Gleaner. “By simply documenting the time we spent making the album, both at home and recording it on the island, Bite of Paradise is supposed to paint a picture of our experience, give a back story to our album and years of work, and stand as a trace in time of Croatian reggae history.”
Jamaican Connection is their fifth album and features singer Italee who served as their host and even invited them to perform at her ‘Italee and the Circle of Brethrens Festival’ in Gordon Town, St Andrew, depicted in the documentary. Also making appearances in the film are musicians Nigel Staff and Hornsman Coyote, as well as Tuff Gong staples and sound engineers Mr Chow and Roland McDermott (all of whom commended the group for their love for and skills in making reggae music).
Group founder Marko Gaćina spoke of the full-circle moment, considering they have held an annual tribute concert for Bob Marley since 2001.
“When I entered the studio, I felt like I was walking through history,” Gaćina said. “So many albums that I was listening for many years and that influenced me were recorded there. It was an honour for me to record an album at Tuff Gong; everyone there was very friendly and professional, and recording went very fast and smooth.”
The documentary also explores their fears of being ill-received in Jamaica since they are an all-white group doing reggae music. US-based white band SOJA came under fire earlier this year for winning the Grammy for the BestReggae Album. The liminal space between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is never lost upon Brain Holidays.
“I, as an ethnomusicologist and a white girl with dreadlocks playing in a reggae band and doing a documentary about our journey to Jamaica, have been exposed to thinking about this problem and in general, the problem of cultural appropriation from many different angles and for the whole period of my studies,” Mas shared. “It’s something I’ll never stop questioning and researching; it’s written into my profession, my choice of music and my appearances. Respecting everybody concerned with the music industry, my personal opinion is that music is not a sport and shouldn’t be put up against each other this way,” Gaćina said.
“Reggae music was born in Jamaica and should always be recognised for its cultural origins that shaped it. Thanks to its universal message of love and equality for all, no matter the colour, it spread and influenced people all over the world like no other musical genre. When we came to the island, we felt respected for what we do. We are thankful to everybody who supports and enjoys our music and we confidently continue to do what we love.”
They are satisfied with the feedback to their 11-track album which debuted in late 2020, and are expectation-free when it comes to the documentary.
“Everything that we wanted to achieve as a band already happened during the filming and album release; we fulfilled our dreams,” Mas said. “ Bite of Paradise was meant to document these moments of our small victory and present them to the world. The main character of the movie is still music, and the sole purpose and hope for this documentary is to represent our music through a different medium and wider audience.”