Dan Storper is the founder of Putumayo World Music, a record
label specialized in world music compilations. Putumayo World Music was
established in 1993 to introduce people to the music of the world’s cultures.
The label grew out of the Putumayo clothing company, founded by Dan Storper in
1975 and sold in 1997.
What led you to create Putumayo?
DS: It was the result of a serendipitous set of occurrences. I had been
running a clothing and handicraft business called Putumayo since 1975 and
started Putumayo World Music in April, 1993, after being inspired by an African
Kotoja I’d heard playing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
What is the philosophy behind your record company?
DS: We want to take people on musical journeys introducing them to other
cultures in a positive way. We try to include extensive liner notes about the
culture as we think it would be informative and interesting to listeners.
At the beginning, were you personally putting together the compilations?
DS: Yes, I did virtually all of the initial song research for the first six
years. I’ve always made the final song selections.
You have maintained a consistent cover artwork design for years. Is this a
key to your success?
DS: I think it has helped consumers identify Putumayo CDs in stores. Most
people are attracted to the covers so I do think that the covers have
contributed to our success.
Tell us a little about your graphic designer.
DS: Actually, she’s an illustrator. Her name is Nicola Heindl
and she’s from
London. She went to art school but draws in a naive style. I bought
agreeting card she’d designed and, in 1991, it happened to catch the eye of a
mutual friend who mentioned that Nicola would soon be visiting her in
New York and asked me if I’d like to meet her. We hit it off and I asked her
to illustrate the covers of the first Putumayo CD covers which were released in
Putumayo has managed to distribute its recordings beyond traditional record
stores. Is this the only way for an independent label to survive in today’s
DS: It’s not the only way but it certainly has been significant for us. We’ve
had positive results both in record stores and in the non-traditional market.
At a certain point, Putumayo started to sign artists. Are you still doing
DS: No we’re not. We recognized that it requires a different level of
commitment. I often say “doing compilations is like dating and signing artists
is like getting married.” We have done a better job of presenting themed
collections to help introduce the public to the music of different regions or
You have released quite a collection of compilations by now. Do you think you
still have a lot to discover?
DS: The music keeps coming. There’s no question that, one day, we will have
covered most musically accessible genres and regions. However, there is a
continuous outpouring of new music that will never dry up and I think there are
thousands of wonderful songs and artists to discover.
How and where do you find the music for compilations?
DS: Lots of ways. Some is sent to us. Jacob Edgar, our head of A&R, has
traveled extensively as have I looking for music.
Are you still involved in selecting the music?
DS: I don’t do as much initial research as before (except for the American
genres we work on such as blues, jazz, folk) but I still pick all the songs and
sequence the albums.
How do you choose what to release at this stage?
DS: It’s as much about a feeling for a genre or region that I get when I’ve
been listening to a number of really good songs from an area as it is about
trying to explore areas of the worlds or genres that we haven’t yet visited.
In 2000, Putumayo launched the syndicated radio show
Putumayo World Music Hour. Why
did you think this was necessary and how successful has it been?
DS: Radio airplay for world music has been very limited. Creating a radio
show and syndicating it seemed like one way to get the music out there. We don’t
just play songs from Putumayo collections, so it’s a chance to present songs we
like that just don’t fit on collections we’ve done. Also, in creating a radio
show theme, we’ve been inspired to create new albums or series as we did with
World Lounge and a few other CDs.
Another product line, Putumayo Kids, was created in 2002. Why is it important to produce world
music products for children?
DS: They may be world music’s most natural constituency. Kids love beats,
good melodies and rhythms and reggae may be kids’ favorite music. They are more
open-minded and curious than most adults.
Do you follow current world music trends?
DS: I’m aware of them but don’t “follow them.” In fact, I often try to avoid
putting albums out in “hot genres.”
What new projects are you working on?
DS: A few albums for the Fall winter. In September, we’re releasing
Acoustic Africa which will feature tracks from
Mahlasela (South Africa) and
Gnahoré(Ivory Coast) who will be touring the US and Europe this fall under
the Putumayo Presents Acoustic Africa theme. We’ll also be releasing a trilogy
of New Orleans themed albums
including one that supports the
Tipitina’s Foundation which helps New Orleans musicians.
And, now, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born?
DS: New York City in May, 1951.
What is your favorite meal?
DS: Probably sushi
What music are you listening to now?
DS: Lots of brass band and New Orleans jazz and R&B as well as acoustic
singer-songwriters from the U.S. and Canada.
What is your favorite movie?
What do you like to do during your free time?
DS: Reading, travel and playing with my 11 month old baby.
What country would you like to visit?
DS: Cuba, Hungary, Czech Republic and Mali
What is your favorite city?
DS: New Orleans
What was your best moment?
DS: I can’t pick just one but I’m sure it’s connected to my wife, child or
travel. A magical moment I spent alongside a tributary to the Putumayo River in
southern Colombia was a memorable moment that led to naming my company Putumayo.
I also remember once climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu, a mountain that
overlooks Macchu Picchu, and standing, alone, overlooking that ancient scene.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
DS: Lots of them. Usually, it’s about forgetting people’s names that I’ve met
What was the first big lesson you learned about the music industry?
DS: Don’t listen to conventional wisdom.
For more information about Putumayo World Music, visit
[Photos: 1 – Dan Storper, 2 – Ilustration by Nicola Heindl, courtesy of
Putumayo World Music].
Author: World Music Central News Department
World music news from the editors at World Music Central