What’s In A Name? We Ask Putumayo World Music Founder Dan Storper: “Why Putumayo?”

By 23 May, 2012

Putumayo is a region in the South-West of Colombia. It’s also the name of a worldwide record label. For some reasons I had never personally tied these two bits of information together, until a friend (thanks here goes to Laura Querubin) told me that the company was in fact named after the region. Instantly I got in touch with Putumayo and asked to speak to the man responsible, I was after all intrigued by why he had named his company after a part of Colombia very few people ever venture to.

Putumayo (the company) was founded as a clothing company in 1975 by Dan Storper, and was later sold, with Storper once again using the Putumayo name to later launch Putumayo World Music in 1993. This is the record label that has recently released albums like Latin Beat, African Party and many others representing the rootsier, often more playful, sound of music from all over the world. All of this releases have featured colourful, folkloric illustrations on their covers, which have become their trademark. If you have a look at their website you will no doubt have encountered these albums at some point, especially as the company’s releases are more likely to be found in gift or coffee shops than traditional music retailers.

I wanted to find out why Storper has named his company after this area of Colombia, a region whose name literally means “gushing river.” Here’s what Dan had to say.

What was so special about Putumayo that you decided to name your company after the region?

I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Sibundoy, a village in the Putumayo river valley in Colombia that was known for its handicrafts. One afternoon during Carnival celebrations, I was sitting by the side of a stream with the Andes in the background, beautiful birds swirling around and the indigenous people of the village getting dressed in their Carnival costumes. It was colourful and filled with pageantry, yet rootsy and charming. Later, when I found out that the Putumayo River flows along the borders of four countries, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil where I imported handicrafts from, it made sense to me to name my company after that river and valley.

What was your original reason for travelling around this region, and would you recommend others to travel there?

I had majored in Latin American studies and wanted to visit the countries I’d studied. Unfortunately, the Putumayo River valley has become a center of drugs and violence related to a longtime rebellion, so it’s hard to visit. Much of Colombia including its larger cities such as Bogotá and Cartagena, has become safe and fascinating to visit. I’m a fan of the region and think everyone should try to visit some of its highlights including the historic city of Cuzco and the ancient ruins of Macchu Picchu in Peru. I also love Guatemala and the historic and indigenous areas in Mexico.

Do you still visit Putumayo?

Since I began to focus on music and sold my clothing business, I stopped traveling to this area. I was invited four years ago by President Uribe of Colombia to visit the Putumayo with him and I’ll never forget the outdoors “town hall meeting” with leaders of the province. One indigenous lady recalled her dad talking about a visitor from America who named his company Putumayo and promoted the crafts and the region around the world. It apparently made the community very proud and, as you might imagine, moved me immensely.

Since you started your company Putumayo have you visited any places that you thought, well I could have named the company that instead?

Every time I think of my time in the Putumayo valley, I smile. There’s never been another name that’s come along that I would have preferred.

You can find out more about Putumayo World Music here.

If you would like to find out more about Colombia and it’s culture check out our current campaign to raise funds for a book about Colombian music and culture.

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