May
23
2012

Interview with Dan Storper

Founder and CEO of Putumayo World Music

Home base

New Orleans, La.

Business cred

In 1991, on a visit to San Francisco, Dan Storper stumbled on a concert of the African band, Kotoja. Mesmerized, he resolved to share his discovery with Western audiences. He compiled music, joined forces with partner Michael Kraus, and then leveraged the extensive, non-traditional network he had established for his widely successful, ethnic-inspired clothing line to found Putumayo World Music in 1993. Since then, the independent label has released 150 titles, sold more than 25 million CDs and helped scores of previously unknown musicians launch their recording careers.

Days spent on the road

About a third of the year. I commute from my home in New Orleans to Putumayo’s headquarters in New York every week, and I regularly visit our nine offices around the world.

Favourite travel destination

I’m a history buff. I love visiting museums or historical areas such as France, Italy, England for its rich history and places like Africa and Latin America for interesting music.

Most memorable travel experience 

I’ve had incredible experiences—a private tour of Putumayo River Valley with the president of Colombia in his private presidential jet; meeting Nelson Mandela at Robben Island during the millennium celebrations; and climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu and looking over Machu Picchu. But my first trip to Afghanistan in 1977 really stands out. As we turned a corner in the northern mountains, a panorama opened up with camel caravans of many different tribes. Arriving at this ancient trading centre—it’s been around since the days of Alexander the Great—was like stepping back in time.

Best meeting place

Monteleone’s in the French Quarter in New Orleans is great. We’ve had our sales convention there.

Favourite music venue

Montreal’s FrancoFolies Festival and New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Festival are both fantastic. In New Orleans, I love Tipitina’s, Rock ‘n’ Bowl and Vaughn’s Lounge for up-tempo, fun music. Preservation Hall, The Three Muses and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro are three of my favourites for jazz.

Best business transaction

In my early days I was like an itinerant trader and I collected walking sticks, carvings and other art. Once, I ran out of money and traded my Swiss army knife for this cool Afghani ring.

Tips for flying

I make sure I have enough interesting reading material to last the flight, including a book about the city I’m flying to. I like to have a sense of the place I’m visiting before I get there. I always charge my computer and phone battery before boarding.

In my carry-on

I always bring a sleeping mask and Airborne or Emergen-C. I don’t want to get a hernia from carrying heavy bags. Nor do I want to pay for excess baggage, so I’ve gotten pretty good about estimating weights and only packing what I really need.

Business advice

Believe in your idea and have persistence. I started Putumayo with US$3,000—my whole life savings at the time. Trust your instincts and enjoy what you’re doing enough to believe there’s a future in it.

Free time

I’ve got a young son, so spending time with my family is a priority.

Cover Art

The whimsical cover art is the work of illustrator and lifelong Putumayo collaborator Nicola Heindl, who also creates the label's signature colouring books and sticker collections for kids.

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