Volume 74, Number 32 | December 15 - 21, 2004


Lafayette St. record label offers a whole world of music

By Tyler Pray

Dan Storper travels the world looking for good music. He has always been interested in other cultures, and in business. Inspired by his travels throughout Latin America, he founded Putumayo clothing stores in 1975, which he sold in 1997 after founding the Putumayo World Music record label four years earlier.

“My original idea was to travel the world and bring back interesting products from other cultures to introduce people to those cultures,” he says. “In 1991, my Putumayo stores had an internationally themed environment and we were selling crafts and clothing from around the world.”

The first inkling of a shift toward music and away from retail came when he began sifting through music to play in his stores, one of which was on Spring St.

“I thought it was important to provide appropriate background music to support the experience,” he says. It turned out the public and his staff loved the music. He solidified the idea to begin compiling collections of world music on a sunny day in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1991 where he heard Kotoja, a Nigerian band, perform.

“I was struck by the infectious African music they were playing and by the extraordinary way several hundred people of diverse backgrounds came together on that beautiful afternoon,” he says of the performance. “It was a magic moment and their finale, ‘Sawale,’ seemed to represent the universality of music and its ability to help people rise above their daily problems.”

Sound uplifting? The company’s motto is “Guaranteed to make you feel good!”

“The underlying strength is the music’s melodic elements,” Storper explains. “We seek music that is rooted in traditional cultures but which has contemporary influences and appeal. It’s important to us to seek music with melody, that’s well recorded and has appealing voices.”

Putumayo, located at 411 Lafayette St. in the East Village, has released about 110 albums, of which about 90 are thematic or regional collections. The selection includes music from Africa, Asia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and Louisiana. Some albums are completely dedicated to blues, Celtic/folk, Cajun and other genres. Global-themed albums collect grooves from all over the world. Each category has a number of CDs. The covers feature the distinctive art of Nicola Heindl. The company profile states it chose her because her “colorful, folkloric style represents one of Putumayo’s goals: to connect the traditional and the contemporary.”

How does Putumayo select songs?

“I have to believe that a song has broad appeal and will, in fact, stand the test of time,” says Storper. “Some wonderful songs don’t make it to the final album because they just don’t fit in the sequence, which is also an important part of the finished CD.”

One of Putumayo’s newest releases, “Blues Lounge,” demonstrates a perfect fusion between blues and electronic music. Inspired by musicians like Moby, whose track “Run On” is on the album, several virtually unknown artists have made exciting steps toward creating a new culture of music inspired by American roots music but appealing on a global scale. Another recent release, “World Groove,” offers a similar-style collection through its upbeat, global dance party featuring dance music from around the world.

“Music From the Chocolate Lands,” another new album, offers a creatively devised assortment of songs from the tropical countries that grow cocoa beans, as well as collaborations with musicians from Europe’s chocolate-making regions. The albums are available at Barnes & Noble, Tower Records, Virgin Records and several other stores throughout the city.

Putumayo even launched a U.S. tour this year for “Women of Latin America,” a new soulful gathering of exceptional Latin divas. The three artists, from Colombia, Chile and Brazil, finish their 29-city tour in Seattle on Nov. 23.

Storper is already planning more tours. “I do hope that we’ll be able to do at least an annual theme tour and are starting to plan another one for fall 2005.”

Putumayo is literally bringing the world of music to the everyday listener, and doing it through an attractive, quality and extremely comprehensive collection of albums. Listening to a Putumayo album is like finding insight into another world of music, a world surprisingly relevant and cathartic to our own.

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