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World Music Features

Dan Storper

By Tad Hendrickson
Published July 11, 2008

In 1993, Dan Storper founded the Putumayo label— a perennial clearinghouse for dozens of popular world music collections.

One day back in 1993, Dan Storper walked into one of his retail stores, which specialized in clothing and handcrafts from Latin America, to find an employee playing music that was completely outside the boutique aesthetic he wanted to create. His solution was to make his own music mixes, which soon gave way to proper compilation CDs that were sold onsite. In short order, Putumayo World Music became a perennial clearinghouse of themed collections featuring established artists alongside edgy up-and-comers.


GR: It’s now been 15 years. What sort of things are you going to do to mark the big occasion?


DS: Well, I was inspired to start Putumayo World Music partly as a result of hearing some great Afropop music by a San Francisco Bay area group, Kotoja. So, I decided to celebrate this anniversary by producing an African Party CD collection which includes Kotoja, Oliver Mtukudzi and several other of our favorite artists and new discoveries such as Chiwoniso and Mapumba. We also have organized a free 15th Anniversary concert in collaboration with SummerStage in Central Park on Sunday, July 27th. It features three of our favorite groups who’ve appeared on our CD collections: Taj Mahal And The Phantom Blues Band, The Skatalites and Los Pinguos. I’m also traveling to Capetown and Johannesburg for release events there.


Was there a definite tipping point moment when you decided to leave the clothing business behind to focus on music?


From the moment I began to work on the first Putumayo CD collection, I realized that it was a lot more enjoyable for me than designing clothing. After the first two releases came out in 1993, I started trying to figure out a way to leave the clothing business behind. I finally sold that part of the business in 1997, coincidentally on the day Seinfeld aired an episode featuring Putumayo [the episode features Elaine going shopping at a Putumayo store – ed.].


In light of the changing market for music, do you now regret the decision?


Not for one second. Yes, it has gotten somewhat tougher, but we’ve really seen a growing interest in world music and increasing sales of our CDs around the world. Some of our earlier CDs like Arabic Groove, French Café and Salsa Around The World continue to sell strongly even though they’ve been available for many years. One of my favorites of the past year, Latin Jazz, has gott