Monday, May 3, 2010

In Conversation--A Man of the World

Have CD; Will Travel

Conversation with Putumayo World Music Co-Founder Dan Storper

Today with so many of us on restricted food diets or dealing with stress of abrupt changes that have taken place in our lives (unemployment, loss of loved one or loss of habit due to natural disasters), we find that we must find comfort and even moments of peace through simple pleasures. For people dealing with economic restrictions that usual afternoon cup of designer coffee might not even be a reality any longer. Or perhaps dreams of traveling the world have been put on hold.

One solution is to take a music break in the afternoon listening to a pleasurable compilation of exotic music. In the most extreme cases, it is my hope that some kind of healing music is present to help people deal with stress and trauma. We thrive with food, water, air and music.  We die without.

Most of us by now are familiar with the Putumayo World Music label. We have seen the CDs with the distinct folk art design of Nicola Heindl in boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops and specialty grocery stores. But what you might not know is that Putumayo started out as an ethnic clothing boutique as a brainchild of Dan Storper in 1975. While the clothing company sold in 1997, Storper and co-founder Michael Kraus founded Putumayo World Music label in 1993 with the motto, “guaranteed to make you feel good.”

While Putumayo presents tastefully produced groove and lounge compilations, I prefer its acoustic music compilations such as Acoustic Africa, but I’m also enamored with the 2003 compilation which presents a musical mix, French CafĂ© as well as, Mali and Women of Latin America. With an array of world and jazz music traditions, the compilations all share a “feel good” vibe. I have spent the day listening to over half a dozen compilations and the world has come alive for me. The warm and inviting songs that drift off of these compilations fill up the room. Think a hot and sunny day or a steaming cup of Chai with its spicy aromas and a vanilla scented beeswax candle burning in the background.

I recently interviewed Dan Storper for my food co-op’s newsletter, but I was only able to use two quotes from the interview in the 1,000 word article. So I’ve decided to include the interview here as a reminder to look no further than Putumayo for uplifting music. These days when that trip to Paris or Cuba seem to have dissipated like clouds, the songs on the compilations bring smiles our faces. You might even dust off those dancing shoes when listening to music from Cuba, Brazil, Africa and Latin America. Or perhaps you would rather chill to the sound of luscious women voices, Women of the World Acoustic.

Although the reasonably priced CDs are sold virtually everywhere, if dollars are tight see if your local commercial or non-commercial radio station broadcast Putumayo’s World Music Hour or you can stream the show at The label also produces a compilation series for children (Music Playground) so they too can learn about the world around them via the sounds of other cultures.

WME: Putumayo’s motto, “guaranteed to make you feel good” sums up the various Putumayo compilations and single artists CDs I have heard over the years. So how do you and the folks at Putumayo select the artists and the tracks to bring us the “feel good” effect?

Dan Storper: We try to select music that our staff of all ages and backgrounds in the US and Europe love with the hope that others will appreciate the songs as well. I sometimes call what we’re striving for as “the spirit of Bob Marley” because he’s the king of universal music.

WME: I also noticed on the website that you bring to the world little known music traditions, which preserves culture and provides culture exchange. What is the process in coming up with themes for the compilations, and selecting the artists and songs?

DS: We have developed an extensive list of more than 100 potential themes. Based on a combination of the music that is being collected which can evoke a theme, ideas that we’ve had for awhile or customers’ suggestions, we will pick a theme and try to collect enough exceptional music. Sometimes, enough great songs are found, sometimes not and we have to postpone or cancel themes.

WME: I have not seen the phrase “culture creatives” since I relocated from Seattle and then I smiled when I saw the phrase mentioned on your website. Of course it sums up your audience. Did this phrase even exist in 1993 when you launched the label? And were surprised by the growth of Putumayo compilations in the last 17 years?

DS: No, it didn’t. It was developed in the late 1990s by a sociologist, Paul Ray. We’ve been very happy with the US and international response to our collections. I always felt that this music was extraordinary and people would love it if they could only hear it. It certainly made me feel good.

WME: I noticed some single artists listed on the website. Is Putumayo releasing single artist recordings again? Wasn’t this discontinued two or three years ago?

DS: Yes, we discontinued single artists about 6 years ago. We have been collaborating with Jacob Edgar, our music researcher, who started his own record label called Cumbancha and are promoting his CDs which mostly are by artists who have appeared on Putumayo collections.

WME: Final questions, what is your favorite music region of the world? Which region of the world was featured on the 1993 compilation album that launched the Putumayo label?

DS: The first CD included music from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa especially but also had some songs from Europe.

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