Putumayo World Music is known for its world music compilations that are dressed in colorful packaging and found in museum gift shops and bookstores, but on October 23 Putumayo released its newest compilation titled New Orleans Brass. “The idea of Putumayo is to introduce people to the culture and how music travels. It’s about the music, but also about the journey,” say Dan Storper, Putumayo CEO and founder, who recently opened a Putumayo World Music office in New Orleans.
New Orleans and Louisiana music isn’t new territory for Putumayo. In November 2006, Putymayo released the highly successful New Orleans Christmas album, and has also released New Orleans, Cajun, and zydeco compilations. These releases correspond with the record label’s increased focus on American roots genres.
Putumayo typically licenses songs for its compilations, and tracks are selected from polls taken at Putumayo staff listening sessions. However, when developing the brass album, Storper ran into a problem. “When I went to listen to a lot of the brass band music, the recording quality was not consistently strong,” he says. “It’s very hard to get the kind of high quality recording because of the complexity of the instruments and the street sounds and stuff like that.”
Storper decided that in order to do the type of brass band album that he wanted, he needed to record new material. He gathered a group of his local favorites including Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, John Boutte, and personal friend Kermit Ruffins. “I ended up shifting this particular release to reflect more of the musicians that perform as part of brass bands, and it evolved into more of a brass musician album with a focus on vocals,” Storper says. His idea reflects why the album is missing some of the better-known brass bands including Hot 8, the Treme Brass Band, and the Rebirth Brass Band.
“We had made plans with Hot 8’s manager, Lee Arnold, to record an original track, and it’s one of those Catch-22s They got a gig to tour France for almost a month, and it was very hard to get the band together in the studio,” says Storper. He admits that there was nothing wrong with what Hot 8 already had recorded, but he felt it didn’t fit in the context of the album. “What the Hot 8 and Soul Rebels and a lot of other people are doing is a mix of traditional brass band music but taken into the 21st Century with more contemporary sounds, “says Storper. “The aesthetic sometimes becomes a little too intense for the world that I’m dealing with.”
That’s the world of consumers who buy Putumayo compilations, and Storper knows his market. “We recognize that the core audience for Putumayo, aside from the children’s albums, tend to be over 30 years old and tends not to be a 17-year-old hip-hop fan,” says Storper. It’s not that Putumayo is ignoring 17 year olds, but it isn’t trying to create top 40 radio hits. Instead, Putumayo focuses on providing cheerful music from a variety of cultures. “My feeling is the world is a complex and often times a frustrating and down-trodden place. Being able to identify something in the music, which is enriching and uplifting and presenting it in a way that makes people feel good is really what Putumayo is about,” says Storper.
Published November 2007, OffBeat Louisiana Music & Culture Magazine, Volume 20, No. 11.