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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
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
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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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.