Finding the Vision For World Music

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This article by Tricia Fagan was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 10, 1999. All rights reserved.

World Music Making — A World of Difference

Before the holiday planning gets totally out of hand,

why not spend an hour or so this weekend and take the kids on a world

tour? The travel may call for a little more imagination than usual,

but with Putumayo World Music providing the passports, and professional

musicians and educators acting as your tour guides, the magic of Latin

America will be brought to Princeton — and both you and your children

can listen to great music, pick up a bit of the "local" culture,

and even learn to speak some Spanish.

Putumayo World Music presents a special concert and educational program

featuring the Latin American band Colibri Sunday, November 14, at

3 p.m. at the Princeton YWCA. This concert is part of a new educational

outreach tour by Putumayo World Music, an initiative launched this

fall to complement the release of its new CD "World Playground:

A Musical Adventure for Kids." The CD is not your traditional

children’s record. And this week’s concert aims to be much more than

your average musical event.

The dozen upbeat songs, a blend of traditional and folkloric tunes

from around the world, along with the generous liner notes offering

information on the cultural, linguistic, and musical heritage of each

recording go that extra step in offering children a fun-filled entry

into the larger world. When you have Buckwheat Zydeco doing the Mardi

Gras Mambo, and Bob Marley’s mother Cedella (teamed with Taj Mahal)

singing the classic Three Little Birds, it’s hard to miss. Songs like

the haunting "Memories of Africa" sung in Hebrew by a choir

of Ethiopian children relocated to Israel, or the ridiculously enjoyable

"Bongo Bong" — a song about an African monkey, with a

Cuban beat, sung in English by the French performer Manu Chao —

gently underscore the cross-cultural realities of our world today.

Along with the CD, Putumayo has worked with a team of educators to

develop an companion educational kit for K-6 grades that includes

(in addition to the CD) a curriculum guide with lesson plans for each

song, student passport journals, and a world map. For one key member

of that team, Putumayo’s education specialist Emi Gittleman, this

Sunday’s concert represents a personal homecoming — she graduated

in 1988 from Princeton High School and took classes at the Princeton


"It’s so wonderful to be coming back to Princeton with this project

that I’m so proud of, so excited about," she says. "I look

at the auditorium in the YWCA where we’ll be offering this great concert,

and it’s the same place that I took ballet lessons when I was a little

girl. Being able to bring groups like Colibri and Putumayo World Playground

program into Princeton feels as if I’m now able to add something special

to this town that gave me so much culturally while I was growing up."

Now Gittleman has her entire family involved. Her sister Marni, a

museum educator, is working with Gittleman on this tour, her mother’s

involvement as a volunteer at the Y was instrumental in booking this

Princeton performance, and she reports that her father was intrigued

enough in her work that he recently took an African music course at

Princeton University. But then she is quick to point out that her

family was instrumental in getting her involved in this type of work

in the first place.

Growing up in Rocky Hill, Gittleman and her older sister had a rich

exposure to local and foreign culture from their parents. "We

were so lucky, because they took us everywhere they went. My father

traveled quite a bit for his job, so we spent time in a great many

places. They also regularly took us museums, concerts — and there

was always a constant flow of interesting, diverse people in our home."

Gittleman adds, "I always had my nose in some book or other when

I was younger, reading about other countries." Time spent abroad

in Japan during high school and college further stimulated her fascination

with world cultures.

At Hobart-William Smith College (Class of ’92), Gittleman graduated

with a BA in education and in multicultural global studies. In 1997

she began working towards a masters in education, specializing in

curriculum development, at Bank Street in New York City.

It was Gittleman’s master’s thesis (plus some serendipity and a strong

dose of chutzpah) that led her directly to Putumayo. "When I was

teaching, I often used music from Putumayo World Music CDs in my lessons,

and even in some of my teacher training. The response was always tremendous."

Inspired by the potential of the music, Gittleman developed a mock

curriculum for Putumayo’s "One World" CD. Encouraged by her

professors’ positive feedback, she decided to approach Putumayo directly

with the curriculum. The response was immediate.

"They were getting ready to release the `World Playground’ CD,"

she says, "and had been discussing ways of further integrating

cultural lessons with the music. I came along just as they were discussing

this, at exactly the right time. My curriculum included everything

— from language lessons, to ethnic meals, to folk tales. It was

a perfect fit." Gittleman’s profound respect for the music and

the company increased significantly when she was contacted personally

by Putumayo founder and CEO Dan Storper (see story below). "That’s

the kind of person he is. I had sent in some suggestions and he got

in touch with me directly to discuss some ideas he had. It was incredible

when they invited me to work with them on their educational initiatives."

Gittleman is excited about the outreach tour with Colibri. In addition

to the show at Princeton, they will perform in all five boroughs of

New York City, parts of Westchester County, Philadelphia, Annapolis,

and Washington, D.C. — and plans are underway for both a West

Coast tour and a Canadian tour. "It’s so great to watch the children

at these concerts," she says, "Doug Deutsch (Putumayo’s education

and social programs director) and I begin the program with a brief

introduction that includes playing several of the songs on `World

Playground.’ As soon as the music starts, those children are on their

feet. They can’t help moving and dancing. It’s wonderful."

— Tricia Fagan

Top Of Page
Finding the Vision For World Music

Sometimes inspiration comes when least expected and

in the most roundabout ways. In 1991 Dan Storper, co-founder with

Michael Kraus of the Putumayo world clothing company, was walking

through Golden Gate Park with a lot on his mind. Two years earlier

the company had suffered a severe setback when national unrest in

Sri Lanka kept it from getting that year’s line of clothing shipped

out — and it was still difficult going. Storper felt that he needed

to find a new direction, a creative way to expand the company by building

on what already existed.

Rounding a corner in the park, he found himself in the middle of a

concert. Five hundred people were listening and moving to the African

band "Kotoja." The music stopped Storper in his tracks. "I

was very moved by them, by the experience. There was something about

the music that drew everybody together," he says.

Back in New York City, the sounds of the band still fresh in his mind,

Storper walked into one of the Putumayo Clothing stores and noticed

the music being played. "They had on some sort of heavy metal

music, and it suddenly struck me how completely inappropriate it was

for the kind of store we were operating. In the early days, I had

always played some Andean music — but we had gotten away from

that." Always a man of action, Storper immediately hired an in-store

music company to develop specialized in-store tapes for Putumayo using

recordings by artists and groups from around the world — which

Storper would identify and purchase.

Customer response to those early tapes was tremendous, so in 1992

when Storper found himself sitting with Richard Foos, president of

Rhino Records, at a Social Venture Group members meeting, it was only

natural that they began exploring the possibility of releasing these

compilations for the general public.

Rhino released the first four Putumayo world music compilations. In

1993 the Putumayo World Music record label was founded. By 1997 Storper

had decided to sell the Putumayo Clothing company, which he had founded

in 1975, and devote his time exclusively to seeking out, recording,

and sharing international music. Today, with 42 CDs released, four

international recording artists signed to the label, and a reputation

in the music industry for innovation, Putumayo World Music is again

branching out with the release of World Playground, the company’s

first CD for children, and the introduction of its new educational

initiative and curriculum guide.

For Storper, the music has put him back in touch with

the elements of world cultures that had inspired him and drawn him

to travel from a very early age. "I’ve always been driven by the

idea that exposing people to the cultural artifacts and crafts of

another country can help, in some way, to start drawing people together.

But I believe that music is even more powerful in reaching people

and connecting them on some basic level. Traditional cultures throughout

the world have developed such a deeply felt response in their music

to help them deal with all the adversity and hard work in their lives.

And that same music can raise spirits here, can help people feel great!"

Storper grew up in Great Neck, Long Island — uncomfortable with

the consumer-driven culture of the suburbs that surrounded him —

but somewhat buffered by the non-traditional inclinations of his parents

and other relatives. His father was a lawyer, and his mother a biologist

with the soul of a collector. "She was always buying out whole

basements of stuff," he says. "One time our entire garage

was filled with a collection of mannequins she bought somewhere."

From a young age, his head filled with Dr. Doolittle adventures, Storper

longed to travel. A trip to Mexico with an aunt and uncle when he

was 16 cemented his desire. After graduating from Washington University

in St. Louis (Class of ’73) with a degree in Latin American studies,

he took his $3,000 in savings and began what he thought would be a

long, wandering tour of South America.

"The very first day in Columbia I saw the most beautiful woven

wall hanging and a light went off in my head. More people should see

these beautiful things." Storper began buying wonderful folk artifacts

from Columbia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. Returning to the states,

he began a "long, itinerant wandering around the United States,"

trying to sell the artifacts to museum shops, and setting up sporadic

exhibits in art galleries.

That lifestyle grew old fast. In 1975 he rented a 200 square foot

space in New York City and opened his first Putumayo store. "It

was a little like my dormitory room," he laughs, "with cinder

block shelves and a hammock I strung across the front of the shop

to display things in." It wasn’t too long before the ethnic clothing

in the shop began to attract attention, and when articles began appearing

in magazines like "Vogue," the little shop was soon discovered.

With a second shop to supply, and artifacts now collected

in Nepal, India, and Afghanistan, as well as Latin America, maintaining

stock became difficult. In 1982 Storper began designing and releasing

five lines of ethnically inspired clothing each year. The company

was thriving, but as the demand for clothing grew, Storper found himself

getting farther away from the traditional arts that had been his original


Today, with Putumayo World Music, all that has changed — Storper

is once again totally engaged in both the company and the vision.

He’s proud of the response the CDs have been generating, delighted

to be marketing them in alternative venues like coffee houses, museum

shops, clothing stores, and galleries as well as through the more

traditional music channels. He sees the multicultural educational

initiative around the "World Playground" CD as a natural and

exciting extension of Putumayo’s mission of helping to bring people

together by introducing world cultures, using music as the vehicle.

Recently Putumayo launched the Putumayo World Music Hour, a radio

show co-hosted by Storper and Rosalie Howart. Since 1998, Putumayo

has had an office in San Francisco as well as New York, and Storper

will soon relocate there.

He is convinced that here is music that will, at best, help people

connect with a foreign culture — and, at the least, make people

feel good. "You could say that I’m on an `Anti-Generica’ campaign,"

he says. "I like the idea that the U.S. is importing more than

McDonalds and violent films. I think it’s so important to help preserve

the traditional music and cultures in the world, to stay away from

that homogenized vision that seems more and more pervasive." With

someone like Storper working so hard to share his own colorful vision,

it’s easy to feel, along with Cedella Marley singing on "World

Playground" that, truly, "…every little thing is going to

be all right."

— Tricia Fagan

Putumayo World Playground Musical Adventure, with Colibri,

Princeton YWCA, 609-497-2100. Sunday, November 14, 3 p.m. Reserved

tickets are $3 ($5 at the door). Children under 10 free. Limited seating,

reservations strongly advised.

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