We completed the year 2008 with a great sense of satisfaction and indeed pride: the last three releases, “Djivan Gasparyan – The Soul of Armenia”, “Desert Blues III” and “Raki Records – Psarantonis mit Mountain Rebels”, were all awarded the German Record Critics’ Prize. The members of that jury, which presents this prize to outstanding music productions every quarter, are recognized music experts who are independent of the phono-industry. The award for the portrait of Djivan Gasparyan was surely also a homage to the life’s work of this great master and the soulful music he plays on the apricot wood oboe, the duduk. It also acknowledged the fact that despite his age, Djivan had made fantastic new recordings for this edition in Los Angeles and in his home country of Armenia, among others with the L.A. Classic Ensemble, a harpist, a pianist, oriental lutes and several duduks. In addition to the German prizes, that CD also topped the European World Music Charts for two months and was named “Top of the World” by Songlines.
After the great success of Desert Blues I and II, we initially hesitated to continue this journey to the serene music of Africa. In recent years, however, a wealth of exciting and musically surprising new recordings have emerged, many of them on small labels which are rarely distributed internationally and which are all of very high recording standards. We were repeatedly told that it was hard to believe we could keep to this high level and even surpass it sometimes. Praise for “Desert Blues III” was not long in coming. An extract from a review in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) should serve as an example: “A jewel that sets whole new standards. Two-and-a-quarter hours of magical sensibility and beauty, a sound panorama of endless colours and forms.”
When we created the sub-label “Raki Records” in these, for the music industry, difficult times, we often heard the words “courageous” or “mad”. But it was a long-cherished dream which we simply could not just abandon. Once the legendary lyra-player Psarantonis agreed to record a CD with members of the equally legendary Xylouris clan, who play in different bands, we were ready to immediately launch this still virginal sub-label with that brilliant project. We have just heard that the same formation of musicians are also willing to give concerts in Europe – something which should enrich the international Live Scene!
Encouraged by the international response to that recording, just a few months later we undertook a new Raki Records project.
During a concert by Peridis in a large cellar venue, Christian had heard a guest-musician called Georgia Dagaki: “I was sitting behind a big pillar and so could only see half of the stage. Suddenly the sounds of a lyra, the likes of which I had never heard before, resounded from the section I couldn’t see: it was like music of the spheres, magical, full of depth. And then the voice, at first expressively husky, like in the old rembetiko bars, then velvety and crystal clear. I got up from my place so as to be able to see the whole stage. The lyra, which is usually played by men, was in the hands of a young woman, who was singing with her eyes closed. The beauty both of the woman and of her music blended into one. It was an experience that touched my soul.”
A short time later, Georgia and her manager visited Christian in his house on the southern coast of Crete. They spoke about the possible repertoire, about the fact that Greek labels restricted themselves to the local market, and about the resulting absence of Greek artists on the international scene. Georgia interrupted this discussion, looked Christian in the eye and said, “I am strong and I am ready!” Two months later, recording work began on the CD “Georgia Dagaki – Secret Love”. The unrest among the dissatisfied young people on the streets of Athens had died down, temporarily. Many new pieces were recorded which are being released here for the first time, and songs with historical references were newly arranged. Georgia was constantly in touch with her innermost feelings, her inner voice; nothing was artificial or calculated.
On our first journey to Azerbaijan for our first CD with Sevda, “A Flower in Bloom”, we had also come in contact with the flourishing jazz scene in the city of Baku on the Caspian Sea. Mugham, the country’s traditional music, consists of myriad improvisations, therefore it is no surprise that many musicians who grow up with this music also become passionately involved with jazz. So it made sense to focus the new project with Sevda on linking these two musical worlds. Sevda and her ensemble – all virtuoso masters of their instruments – entered into this new project with great enthusiasm and creative drive, and the result is overwhelming. The release of the CD “Sevda Alekperzaheh – Worlds of Love” was recently celebrated with several concerts in Europe at which there were standing ovations. The press was also excited. The FAZ, whose culture section is regarded as the most serious in Germany, praised “the elaborate phrasing and the furtive energy, a dynamism that extends from soft melodies to explosive improvisations. From dark depths to sublime heights Sevda develops a radiance that can combine central Asian Mugham ornamentation with western soul jazz. In between, Sevda sharpens her expression through the improvised jazz scats or the impetuously expressive wailing of a soul diva”. The Frankfurter Rundschau even felt reminded of Ella Fitzgerald because of the “jazz phrasings and the scat singing of this refreshingly unpretentious Sevda”.
When parting at the airport, Sevda called back to us: “Thank you! They were great concerts, we had great fun. Please organize a lot of other ones, we would gladly come back!” The label would certainly be delighted …
And then we worked on two more new projects. When Ilija Stankovic, long-time co-organizer and media director of the largest brass band festival in the world, in Guca, visited Christian in Crete, he also showed him film footage of that wild festival, which is also called the “Woodstock of the East”. Two dreams were born: 1. To also document the festival as a DVD, complementing the sound document “Golden Brass Summit – 40 Years of Guca”. 2. To invite the great masters of the Brass Bands to record together outside the festival, instead of them just taking part in the competition and only jamming behind the scenes sometimes late at night. Both dreams have meantime come true. At the beginning of the year, some of the band leaders and their bands met in the border area to Kosovo in a venerable old hotel that was earmarked for refurbishing. News about the project soon got around, and more and more bands came along. Scarcely had they all arrived, when they were snowed in. For days you could not get away from the place, but fortunately there was enough food and drink. The more than 50 musicians played themselves into a stupor. The highpoint was the “Hot Water Festival”, with trumpets, tubas, clarinets, saxophones all playing wonderfully exuberant solos to cultic Roma melodies in total freedom. This fantastic 35-minute Balkan fiesta was intertwined with ballads in which the wind instruments were accompanied by the melancholy sounds of accordions, violins, guitars and Rastafarian drummers. The producer team had courageously posted the recordings on the internet. Then other musicians from all over the world joined in this unusual party. So the obvious title for this session was “Gypsy Groovz Orchestra goes TuttuMuni – Night Train for Lovers and Thieves”.
When the recordings were complete, we assessed the wealth of film-footage relating to the Guca Festival. 70 camera, some on cranes, had captured the events on stage and at the sometimes excessive parties at night. The 90-minute DVD shows the impressive opening of the festival up close, with more than 400 wind instrumentalists, the many bands competing for the Golden Trumpet, enthusiastic jam sessions on the periphery of the festival, the preparations and individual musicians’ experience of catharsis, mini-parties with ladies dancing on the tables, the banqueting delights, the enraptured mix of generations and populations.
The DVD “Golden Brass Summit – DVD – FiestaMania” and the CD “Gypsy Groovz Orchestra goes TuttuMundi – Night Train for Lovers and Thieves” were issued by Zweitausendeins in Germany in summer, in other countries in early autumn. It was not just the work on the DVD that motivated us to fundamentally rethink things and engendered a series of new ideas. In the past years, the communications and distribution channels in the music business have changed a lot. In addition to tried-and-tested but no longer sufficient traditional structures, we will have to get accustomed to a changed future. Network’s interactive presence will be gradually changed by autumn. Our website is being totally overhauled and will include a lot of internal and external links. Parallel to this there will be paid downloads, centrally administered and with a wide range of possibilities, worldwide and for all important systems.
With “TuttiMundi.TV”, which has already been registered, we hope to effectively complement our audio-visual presence. This is a platform that we will also make available to our closest cooperation partners. Unnecessary competition within such a small market segment, protectionism and stolen ideas have only damaged the market and should be a thing of the past. Instead, our goal should be to present the high quality of the music of the cultures of the world in a more clear and differentiated way; to gain a wider audience for these valuable cultures. If one day, large spectacular festivals of world music were jointly organized, then a great dream would have come true. However the experience of “strength in numbers” is not so easy to bring about, particularly in the field of music. But let us try nevertheless, if only in small steps.
To mark our 30th anniversary, as of autumn this year we will be issuing a series of special editions at attractive birthday-prices. Musicians from all over the world have showered us with gifts for 30 years, and so we would like to thank our faithful audience for their interest, and hopefully please a lot of new-comers to this exciting genre.