They say it is generally a good idea to cut your coat according to your cloth. Thirteen years ago Dan Storper decided to match cuts of a more musical nature to the clothes he collected from around the globe for his Putumayo stores in Manhattan. Today Putumayo outlets are located around the world and Storper has expanded his brand to include a record label. Now Putumayo is one of leading lights on the world music scene and has helped to introduce western ears to the sounds and rhythms of foreign climes.
"It all started because Dan used to pick up cassettes of music from the countries he used to visit on his business and vacation trips," explains Igor Rooselaar, the Dutch-based managing director of Putumayo Europe, who visited Israel recently to get an idea of the label's operations here. "One day he went into one of his stores and found the personnel were playing heavy metal music. That totally conflicted with the style and atmosphere he wanted to have in his shops, so he told the staff that from then on he wanted his tapes to be played in all the shops."
"In many ways Israel is an ideal market for Putumayo," Rooselaar observed over Viennese strudel and coffee on the veranda of the Austrian hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. "There is so much color, and so many sounds all around here. Just look at us. I'm Belgian, you're British-born and Nomi [Zysblat, Putumayo's Israeli agent] is half Canadian and half Israeli. It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke. And there are all these cultures and ethnic groups in the Middle East. It's wonderful."
Since the company's inception, Putumayo has done its best to spread the world music message and transcend cultural and geographical borders. The label's growing catalogue includes, for example, the North African Groove compilation described as "a funky musical caravan of North African dance music from Algeria to Egypt." And there are similar collections with Arabic, Brazilian, Latina, Asian and global inflections.
But what about us? Considering the multifarious cultural and musical fare on tap in these parts, isn't it about time Putumayo put an Israeli offering out on the world music market?
"It certainly is," concurs Rooselaar. "[Israeli world music radio presenter] Dubi Lentz has been asking us for the longest time 'when are you coming out with an Israeli album'." While not exactly committing to an Israeli album launch date, Rooselaar says it will happen. "Dubi has been sending me all these songs from here. We're very impressed with artists like Idan Reichel. It's just a matter of time. We already have A Jewish Odyssey album." There is also a track by Israeli singer-songwriter Shlomo Gronich on the children-oriented World Playground compilation.
Putumayo has explored just about every marketing avenue in an effort to reach new customers, and the label's culinary aspect may particularly appeal to Israeli consumers. The liner notes of The Salsa Around The World compilation, for example, includes a recipe for Putumayo Tomato Salsa. "Everybody likes to eat, so it seemed natural to put a recipe in there," says Rooselaar.
For the Rooselaaar, at the end of the day, it's all about bonding through positive vibes. "Go to any festival or, for that matter, concert. Everyone is having a good time. No one cares what color your skin is or what religion you are," he observes. "This is a fun company and it's time to spread the word in Israel."