I had a GioSafari myspace page at least as far back as 2006, where I posted amateurish recordings of Bob Dylan, Beatles, and NOFX covers. The name GioSafari was chosen because it had been a common taunt in my elementary years. Despite my Cuban ancestry, my parents gave me an Italian name, Giovanni, which everyone (even my parents) shortened to Gio; my peers thought it especially funny and demoralizing to refer to me as a children's educational geography toy, though for most of my life I assumed that Geo Safari was a car model (Geo Prizm was also a common jibe among my peers). When it came time to choose a pseudonym for the launch of my music career, I decided to wrest and reclaim the power behind one of the names that had been used to put me down as a kid. Now I would define who and what GioSafari was.
Still, I didn't really know what it was myself until the bike wreck. This event inspired a rush of poetry and songs, which I began playing on the streets of Downtown Orlando in the fall of 2008. By about a year later, I had written and recorded five new songs which were released as my debut EP Life Is A Bike Wreck (Better Wear Your Helmet). I considered this album to be a monumental achievement, my existential answer to the bike wreck itself. I put all of myself into its creation and release party, promoting the show as the most significant day of my life after my birth.
Let's just say, the turnout was disappointing.
After the album release, I took GioSafari on the road, traveling from Orlando to Seattle and stopping at about a dozen cities along the way (not to mention hiking the Grand Canyon, having our car stolen in Mexico, surfing in southern CA, and virtually hitchhiking all the way up the west coast). In September 2009, immediately following my flight home, I packed up my things and moved to New York City to establish GioSafari in "this insomniatic place".
Indeed, GioSafari was the definitive DIY artist, working diligently toward the tipping point. If only I put enough time and energy into my music, shows, branding, I knew that sooner or later I'd reach it.
The second EP, Protest Songs (Are Dead), was recorded, performed, edited, mixed, and mastered entirely by me. Released in August 2011, it featured song-stories about homelessness, immigration, greed and exploitation, and casualties of war. The title track, Protest Song, was an anthem explaining my responsibility as an artist-activist to write about such subject matter. Exactly one month later, I joined hundreds of other activists to "occupy" Zuccotti Park in the financial district. Occupy Wall Street was on and I was all in.
A giant step toward my tipping point? Time would tell.
My first full-length album Heliotropism was largely influenced by my experiences with the Occupy movement. The songs were written between the release of Protest Songs and the end of my final stint On The Road in the spring of 2012 (during which I also joined massive demonstrations in Chicago for May Day and later against the NATO summit). I recorded the album with my friend and colleague Zachary Corsa, at his home studio in Burlington, North Carolina. Members of Occupy Raleigh, for whom I'd performed the previous fall, also joined us for a group vocals recording session.
The album was released in September 2012 for the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street to (very) little fanfare.
With the passing of another year, I released Heliotropism & The Pulvinar Movements, a double-disc set that included a complementary album of rough takes, mis-takes, and field recordings -- a sneak peek into the making of Heliotropism. I went all out on the packaging, hand crafting each unit from pages of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. It was an edition of only 99; each numbered unit included a pamphlet of music and lyrics, a sticker of the album art, and a packet of sunflower seeds.
I held a big album release party which was meagerly attended. Maybe five units sold and none have sold since. This tipping point was elusive!
Since 2011, I've recorded three At Your Request cover albums. The songs, chosen by my fans, have ranged broadly in genre and style -- everything from Sesame Street's I Have Feet and Disney's Let It Go to Beyonce's Drunk In Love and Wu-Tang's C.R.E.A.M. These were always very time-consuming and labor-intensive projects that required much lead time and follow through; but they were also fun and challenging projects that I hoped would draw some traffic to my youtube channel and ultimately my original music. While the original video for my cover of K-Ci & Jojo's All My Life has garnered over 50,000 views, only two of the remaining 30+ songs have more than 300 views; more than half of them still have less than 100 views.
And the worst part of all -- it was like pulling teeth to get anyone to participate in the first place!
GioSafari At Your Request Vol. 3 was released in April of this year and I immediately dove into my John Lennon cover album, I Am The Walrus. The first couple months were spent researching Lennon's life, music, activism, and career with the Beatles. Then in August, Zach Corsa came all the way up from North Carolina just to brainstorm with me and a handful of scratch tracks. We took the opportunity to also record a bit of his guitar playing for the album, in his signature style. I later spent a day with my friend Luke Folger, recording his drumming at Word Up Books before the store opened. And yet another afternoon was spent with the few friends I could muster for a group vocals recording session and free pizza. During the following two weeks, I worked hard on creative renditions of twenty one songs and recorded myself playing acoustic and electric guitar, vocals, harmonica, kazoo, drums (on Gimme Some Truth), percussion, bass, toy accordion, and mandolin.
Finally, I mixed and mastered the album just in time for its release party on October 9th. Surely I was at the brink of my tipping point!
As a result, I decided -- I'm pulling the plug on GioSafari.
If I'm honest with myself, I must admit that GioSafari has been comatose for some time now. After all, I haven't written any original songs since Heliotropism, over four years ago; I've either been riding that album's coattails or recording cover songs. I'd hoped that I Am The Walrus would be the last of several consecutive cover albums, definitively identifying my music and brand with that of John Lennon -- the songwriting revolutionary for peace and love -- and, yes, I'd hoped that fans of Lennon would be drawn to my music as a result. But the reality seems to have fallen far short of my hopes, and certainly far short of any tipping point.
To be clear, I'm not quitting music. After all, I'm still the walrus. I will pick up songwriting again; I'll continue recording, performing, promoting, busking, and all the rest. But I'm dropping the pseudonym GioSafari. It hasn't really been doing me any favors. When I search for it, Google and YouTube assume that I mean GeoSafari -- the childrens educational toy (it continues to haunt me!) And people almost always assume it's Gio Safari, two words instead of one. These are huge setbacks for anyone who actually is looking for me and my music online, so the name GioSafari is simply not working for me.
Instead, from here on out I will be writing and releasing music under my actual name, Gio Andollo. The music will be available right here on this blog site and on many of the other channels where people have found GioSafari in the past. I will simply change my social media handles, so that the various accounts and their contents remain in tact.
However, all the music that I've released as GioSafari will remain under that name. While I'll allow my GioSafari homepage to expire next month, my bandcamp music page will remain and so will all of GioSafari's music on iTunes, Spotify, and other online retailers (I Am The Walrus coming soon!).
Before I end this missive, I do wish to thank everyone who has supported me and my music over the past six years. You've kept me going all this time, even when it seemed pointless. Even when the fabled tipping point has felt so very far away. Perhaps it was futile; indeed, the tipping point still feels very far away. But it's precisely due to your love, support, and encouragement that I'll continue pursuing it. My music career is only beginning.
Onward and upward!