Around here, we feel like Putumayo World Music and Whole Foods Market kind of grew up together. In celebration of our 30th birthday this year, we asked Dan Storper, founder and president of Putumayo, to write about how it all came to be. Post a comment by February 7th with your favorite kind of world music or Putumayo CD and you might just win a copy of their upcoming release, Rhythm & Blues.
Putumayo World Music was created as a result of a happy series of coincidences. I must say that serendipity (destiny?) has played a major role in much of my professional life. Back in 1991, on my return from Bali, where I was designing and buying clothing and handicrafts for my wholesale and retail business based in New York, I stopped off in San Francisco for a day. On the way to visit a museum exhibit in Golden Gate Park, I heard an incredible African band called Kotoja performing in front of a few hundred people of all ages and backgrounds who were dancing to their wonderful Nigerian-based Afro-beat music. I was struck by how the music had brought these different types of people together on a beautiful San Francisco day in the park.
Back in New York a few days later, I walked into my Putumayo clothing and handicraft store and heard some intense heavy metal music coming from the speakers. I knew that it was time to address music in my stores. I put together a special mixed tape combining some of my favorites like Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and others with African, Brazilian and other world music I had started collecting. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Everyone started asking about the music.
A few weeks later, I found myself at a conference of the Social Venture Network, which had members at the time including Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, Ben & Jerry, John Mackey, Whole Foods' CEO, and the founder of Rhino Records, Richard Foos. I started talking with Richard about releasing a CD of world music I was playing in my stores and he agreed to partner with us on the first CD, which came out in 1993.
I discussed the idea with retailers, including John Mackey, at the Social Venture Network. At first there was some skepticism. But once we had our first CDs, we started approaching individual Whole Foods stores to try out our music. From the beginning it worked out well and the staff seemed to like the idea of being able to present great world music for adults and, later, kids as a way of introducing people to the world through music.
Eventually, I met Walter Robb, Whole Foods' Co-President, who became a fan and introduced us to many of the regional managers and helped us in the process of having Putumayo sold at most of the Whole Foods stores. Today, Whole Foods is our biggest account. More than 20 of our CDs include recipes and we've noticed the connection between food and music, and we even have a food-based CD for children called Picnic Playground. People play our music at home parties and have themed dinners in which French, Italian, Latin or other music is played and the recipes by well-respected chefs in our CDs are used.
We're also pleased that through the sales of CDs at Whole Foods and other retailers, we've raised more than $1 million to contribute to non-profits doing good work in the regions where the music comes from. (Note: In response to the unprecedented tragedy in Haiti, Putumayo is giving all receipts from their French Caribbean CD to The Red Cross. Five of the songs on this collection are from Haiti.
Now that I live in New Orleans, I've been happy to introduce great American music to the world. Our upcoming Rhythm & Blues release features many of my favorite soul artists from New Orleans and beyond. It's a throwback to my youth when I loved the Four Tops, Manhattans, Otis Redding and many others. It's coming out soon, but if you'd like to win an advance copy, just post a comment below and let me know what's your favorite world music or Putumayo CD. Two comments will be selected at random to receive a free copy of our Rhythm & Blues CD. Post your comment by February 7th to be eligible. Enjoy the music!
02/10 - Congrats to our randomly selected winners of the Putumayo Rhythm & Blues CDs!
As far as Putumayo’s back catalogue is concerned, “Women of The World: Acoustic” and “Music from Chocolate Lands” are two of my favourites. Listening to these will guarantee you lower blood pressure and make great listening whether you are stuck in traffic or just chillin’ in your home. Putumayo’s label is full of some of the most fascinating and original music produced on this planet.
My first CD was New Orleans Christmas…I love it…gave several as gifts. There are so many that I love and enjoy…World Groove is one. Just heard some of the blues CD’s and hope to add them to my collection soon. Fabulous music….makes me happy and wanting to dance!