What do a reggae guitarist, a Celtic flutist, and an African singer have in common? They all play what's being called "world music." All have contributed to CD compilations developed by an upstart record company, Putumayo World Music.
Congolese musician Ricardo Lemvo says:
"World music to me is a term used to describe non-American music. For me, it's a big umbrella where you find Kalati music from Pakistan, Soukous music from the Congo, Celtic music from Nova Scotia, for example."
Dan Storper, who founded Putumayo Records five years ago, is out to prove it is a small world after all, especially when it comes to music.
Storper says, "There was just something about the music which was a common denominator, and I think there's a lot of great music, even if it's not in English, which somehow brings people together."
World music certainly isn't new. Many of these artists have had long careers in their homelands but little exposure in the United States.
Enter folks like Dan Storper - he's not a CEO who sits behind his desk signing contracts. He travels to places like Tortola, looking for the best local talent to introduce to the rest of the world.
Storper heard Quito Rhymer's song Mix Up World and included it on one of his compilations. Discovering musicians was not on Storper's mind when he first started traveling. In fact, his record label started as a clothing store called Putumayo.
Says Storper, "Putumayo is a river in the Amazon Basin where I spent a lot of time after I graduated college; I was actually a Latin American studies major and I went down to visit the countries that I had studied and fell in love with a region."
As Dan traveled the world looking for ethnic clothing to sell, he also brought back local music to play in his shops. Soon, customers were as interested in the tunes as the clothes.
He says, "I was just frustrated by the fact that it didn't seem like there was a world out there that had figured out a way to really offer this music to the wider public. There weren't radio stations playing the music. It seemed like a very tough road from a commercial perspective."
He began making CD samplers, licensing songs from artists and record companies. The compilations became so popular that Storper decided to sell the clothing company and start a record label devoted to world music - everything from a Native American collection to Arabic music.
Part of the idea is to try to find places where the music is played, but not typically places where music is sold. He hafound that nontraditional places like coffee houses, nature stores and gift shops help to develop a new audience.
Martin Fleishman, who co-owns the Conga Room in Los Angeles, says:
"They're adding a kind of Americanized marketing flair to world music. We're in the middle of LA, which is poised to be, for the new millennium, the melting pot of the world."
For Ricardo Lemvo, who performs regularly at the Conga Room,
"The music that I play is a fusion. When you see the audience who listens to my music, you don't find only Africans there or only Latin Americans. Everybody's there. All segments of the population are there."
Ricardo Lemvo's fusion of African and Cuban elements made him Storper's choice to be Putumayo's first exclusive artist. While Lemvo has appeared on past compilations, he has now made a full album for the record label.
To Storper, signing someone for the record label is a serious step. He explains:
"Doing collections is a little bit like dating. You know you don't really get married to somebody. The decision to sign an artist - Ricardo or anyone else - is essentially like getting married. You're responsible for developing their career, and it's a commitment that I didn't want to take lightly."
It also means financial support to an artist, organizing concert tours, marketing the record, publicizing it - all the necessary business to gain wider exposure.
On Tortola, a small Caribbean island, Quito Rhymer has wide exposure. Though he has put out five releases on his own label, Rhymer realized the potential of being on an American record label.
Quito says, "We talked and they were straight up front and everything was being done, you know, real fair and honest, and...there's no point in having your candle lit and hiding it under a bushel, you know." (laugh).
The reality is, in the United States, world music makes up just 5% of music sold in traditional record stores. And it can be hard to find on the radio.
With the zeal of a music missionary, Storper is out to spread the word. He has started a radio show, a World Music Hour. It's on the air in San Francisco and Storper hopes to syndicate the program this year.
And to spread the word about Ricardo Lemvo, a music video was made. To showcase the African roots of Cuban music, it was filmed in Havana - it's called Mambo Yo Yo.
So what does Storper think the influence of world music will be on American popular music? He says he thinks it has already started.
"I liken it to international food. I asked people to think of a world without Thai food, Chinese, Mexican food. You add spice. There's an element of something different. I think world music, international music, adds an element to it that makes life more interesting."
For individual orders, Putumayo can be reached at 1-888-788-8629, If you're a retailer, you can order wholesale at 212-625-1400.
Congolese musician Ricardo Lemvo and ortolan singer Quito Rhymer are both on the Putumayo label. You can also visit the Putumayo website.
©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed