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Real World Records: Passion and Authenticity are Fundamental

Nenad Georgievski By

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Last year Real World Records celebrated its 25th anniversary with an exclusive box set that dig deep into the label's vaults and shed light on the plethora of artists that have released for the renowned world music label. Founded in 1989, with collaboration with singer Peter Gabriel, it exposed some of the finest world music artists and became a playground for musicians who performed new music which is influenced by or is rooted in traditional musics. The label began its life with the Grammy awarded soundtrack by Peter Gabriel Passion (Real World, 1989) for the Martin Scorsese's film The Last Temptation of Christ which remains a genre defining release and a yard stick according to which other world music releases are compared with. Since its inception, this label has released over 200 albums by artists from the various corners of the Earth and introduced to the world people like the Pakistani qawali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, singers Sheila Chandra, Papa Wemba, douduk player Djivan Gasparian, bands such as Afro Celt Sound System, Spiro, Portico Quartet or Blind Boys of Alabama, to name but a few. We caught up with the label's manager Amanda Jones about the label's glorious quarter of a century history.

All About Jazz: Please describe the journey that led to launching Real World records 25 years ago.

Amanda Jones:Real World was launched in 1989 and grew out of a relationship between Peter Gabriel and the original team who formed WOMAD in 1982. Peter had just finished building his recording studio and together we decide to form a record label with the aim of capturing on tape the live performances of musicians who were coming into the UK to attend the Festival

AAJ: What does the label "world music" mean to you?

AJ: This label was created simply as a marketing tool and to persuade record shops to take the music of a diverse range of music—from Indian Classical to Senegalese mblax—and at least stock in store. The terms was aimed to be as wide ranging as possible to cover all genres and territories.

AAJ: What is Real World's philosophy?

AJ: Handmade and high tech. We want to record exciting and engaging music in the best possible quality and present it in beautiful artwork. There are few limits to what music we will consider from any genre or territory—but passion and authenticity are key.

AAJ: What were some of your early goals as to what Real World should be and what it should not be?

AJ: To help to provide a platform to some wonderful music from around th world that in 1989 (before the days of You Tube etc.) might struggle to get heard.

AAJ: How would you describe Peter Gabriel's involvement with the label?

AJ: He has defined the philosophy, he confirms he is happy with all releases, he provides advice and guidance about production and often comes up with 'oblique strategies' to keep us thinking creatively and in an alternative way.

AAJ: Does RW has a musical philosophy as to what type of artists fit best within its framework?

AJ: If you look at our philosophy—passion and authenticity are fundamental in whatever genre or style we are looking at.

AAJ: How do you find your artists? Who and what determines which acts are signed?

AJ: We discover artists from many different sources —sometimes from unsolicited music that is sent to the label, sometimes through WOMAD or through our wide network of contacts and friends around the world who make recommendations.

AAJ: What do you believe this label offers its artists that others cannot?

AJ: I would not want to comment on other labels. We bring commitment and hard work to our projects; we also have a wonderful recording studio with outstanding engineers to help them realize their recordings in the best quality possible, we have a photographer and film maker and designer in-house at Real World to work directly with musicians.

AAJ: Are there any musicians that have turned your attention lately or that you would like to sign to RW?

AJ: There are a number of other projects we are looking at. But you'll have to wait and see!

AAJ: One of my all-time favorite records is Peter Gabriel's Passion which was the label's first release. It was a watershed record that best defined the world music genre. Even years after its initial release it still enchants listeners today. How do you look back at this record and its legacy?

AJ: For us it helped to introduce magnificent singers such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to a wider audience. As a piece of music is showed that sounds from different cultures and genres can work together powerfully (without resorting the dreadful 'world music melting pot' cliché).

AAJ: Real World Gold was an initiative of reissuing the label's back catalogue. How many records has the label put out?

We have 34 titles re-released on Real World Gold.

AAJ: At the heart of RW are cross-collaborations of different kinds—musicians coming from different traditions working together, old instruments and new technology and production. An example of that was the Big Blue Ball (Real World, 2008) record which gathered many different musicians from around the globe and it took 18 years to accomplish. Can you talk about the cross-cultural aspect that RW promotes?

AJ: It was a very exciting experience to watch the great artists Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan find a new way of communicating his art through work with Canadian producer and guitarist Michael Brook. This gave us the confidence that seemingly distant cultures had so much in common and could find a new form of collaborative expression. So we encouraged similar relationships over the years.

AAJ: Please pick up some of your favorite recent Real World releases and artists and tell me what makes them special for you.

AJ: Spiro from the UK are an intriguing and unique group—part chamber ensemble, part folk group with the spirit of rave culture lurking beneath. The music is both intricate and intellectual and highly emotional. We have them recording here at Real World Studios at the moment for a new release in Spring 2015.

AAJ: Real World Records' artwork is really unique and extraordinary. Please provide me with some insight into the overall concept.

AJ: The aim was to create a principal of design that would last—using repeated elements such as the color bar. Originally we didn't even have any text on the front cover at all (a clear sticker was used to give the artist name and album title). This is an interesting insight from the original designers at Assorted Images: http://25.realworldrecords.com/garry-mouat-designer/

AAJ: We are in an era of constant technological changes. This is the age of music downloading and streaming services. How have these changes affected your aesthetic to music and how does the label react to these changes?

AJ: I'm not sure the method of delivery affects the response to the 'aesthetic' of the music. Although these days the planned running order of LPs and CDs is redundant for people who like to listen to their digital music via players on 'shuffle.' We need to respond quickly and effectively to the new ways that people choose to listen to or buy music. We use streaming services as we feel we need to continue to promote new music to new audiences.

AAJ: These days there are so many ways to promote world music artists and their releases, but back then it was different. The world music genre wasn't that widely popular. How did the label go about promoting in those early releases?

AJ: In a much more traditional approach. Everything was driven by the print media, and we always got great coverage in broadsheet, newspapers and music magazines etc. Radio was much more restrictive with limited channels, so it was hard to get the music heard. Obviously, then and now, a band touring and playing to the live audience is one of the best forms of promotion.

AAJ: Has the concept of what world music is and what it encompasses expanded since the label's inception?

AJ: From our point of view the invention of the term 'world music' back in 1987 was just a marketing tool and an attempt to find a way for record shops to rack our music—it was as simple as that. It was never meant to be a serious concept or musical genre. So it's kind of redundant. These days the term means even less as the world has been opened to a whole world of global sounds and culture via the internet, via a proliferation of record labels, festivals etc. and the explosion of people traveling to countries which were less well explored decades ago.

AAJ: What have been the greatest rewards you've experienced running Real World?

AJ: Being the home to such a wide range of great artists, enabling musicians to make the albums they choose and in some cases having the privilege of actually watching them make them at Real World Studios.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Real World Records

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