Innovative world music label Putumayo celebrates its 15th birthday this month. KAREN RUTTER spoke to Putumayo founder DAN STORPER about his unusual business approach.
Whether you hang out in loud clubs, chill in quiet bookshops or like to visit art galleries, there's a good chance you would have heard a Putumayo compilation CD.
There's a distinctive quality to the label, an upbeat edge to tracks from Africa, South and North America and Europe that is easy on the ears. Dan Storper, founder of Putumayo, describes it as "music that is guaranteed to make you feel good".
"We go through an exhaustive filtering process to select the tracks for our albums," he explains. "While each album will be based on a particular theme or geographical area - like acoustic music from Africa, or a Latin groove - there'll be a common approach to the choice of songs. I call it the 'spirit of Bob Marley'. It guides us to find songs that are universal, that can appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds."
This month Putumayo is celebrating its 15th birthday with the release of African Party, which features some of Africa's hottest talents including Louis Mhlanga from South Africa and Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe. Also included are Kotoja from Nigeria - the very band that got Storper started in the first place.
"I had opened a series of retail shops selling handicrafts and clothing in the 1970s and 1980s. I called the company Putumayo, after a Colombian river valley," says Storper. "One day, I was walking through a park in San Francisco when I heard this amazing band playing. It was Kotoja. What struck me was how the music was bringing all these different people together, some dancing the twist, others doing their own thing. It was such an odd mix of people and dancing, and I loved it."
He went back to one of his stores and the shop assistant was playing metal music. "I realised this really didn't work with the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create, so I started making compilation tapes for in-house playing," he says. "Customers started asking where they could get this music and so I approached Richard Foos, then president of Rhino Records, and we started working on the idea of selling these compilation albums."
Artist Nicola Heindl was brought on board to design the covers and in 1993 the first two Putumayo albums were sold. Heindl's colourful, unique style is now featured on every Putumayo CD. Storper …