an interview with olivier of barbes records

I consider 2007′s ‘The Roots Of Chicha‘ to be one of the most amazing compilations I have ever heard. It is an inspiring look into a time of true artistic cultural mashup in 20th century South America. It also makes for great party music. Olivier of Brooklyn’s Barbes Records was kind of enough to take a few minutes to discuss the compilation, the music industry, Gypsy music, and more:

JR: I really love those psychedelic Chicha recordings—where did you find em’ and how long did it take you to compile the songs into a LP?

BR: It took me a good year to locate people, Figure out who owned the rights and get people to respond to me. Most of the recordings I had found, in bootleg forms, when I was in Peru. Mostly from street vendors who were wonderful at guiding me through the best of the genre. I listened to hundreds of tracks, boiled it down to my favorite bands, mostly early ones from the Amazon but also some of the cumbia pioneer from Lima. When picking the songs for the compilation, I also tried to present a historical perspective, picking tracks that seemed relevant to the evolution of the music so as to present it as a movement, not as a hapazard collection of songs.

JR: With your label I think you have a very unique and important thing going. Do you view your role as DJ, moderator, curator, bard? Where does your label fit into the current state of the industry?

BR: I think the label fits in the cracks of the old system. In a way, ventures such as Barbes Records are made possible by the fact that the record industry is no longer profitable. There’s not much competition from larger labels who can’t really take any risks any more. That leaves people like me (people who aren’t motivated by profit that is….) at liberty to try anything. Of course, the internet has made it possible, both in terms of disseminating the information, and distributing the products.

As far as myself, I do see my role as that of a curator of sorts. I am enthusiastic about certain projects, certain sounds, and I have been able to set up some minimal structure to make what I like known. This is the sort of role that used to be left to people with established clout such as David Byrne but it has now been completely democratized. The Bachata Roja compilation is another example of a curated job started by a private enthusiast.

JR: Beirut played here in Portland last night. Given the popularity of the band do you think there is a good opportunity for more ‘traditional’ Gypsy and/or Eastern European based recordings and bands to find a larger audience here in the US?

BR: I think so, but I’m not sure. I think it almost happened the other way around. People like Beirut were able to come up with their hybrid sound because a lot of those gypsy bands have been traveling in the past few years. Taraf de Haiduk, Fanfare Ciorcarlia, Boban Markovic, Ezma Rezpedova have all been touring extensively for years now. I don’t think they are selling many records anyway and I don’t think they are doing any better since Beirut or Gogol Bordello got hugely popular. It can’t hurt though, and I do think that there is a new craving for different sounds on the part of an audience that used to be exclusively interested in indie rock. It’s all good in the end.

JR: We always try to pass on free promotional downloads to our readership. Do you make those available? What are your thoughts on ‘giving away’ a free song via digital mediums?

BR: Not sure about that. We’ve done it a few times. It’s so hard to make a living that you do get wary of giving stuff for free. I would consider anything though.

Post by Jon Ragel

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