Matsuli music, a blog of “music african and otherwise” has been unearthing gems lately…

vintage afroyoutubery & album rips. from late 70s Jah Shaka dance footage to a Syliphone compilation of Guinean bands from the 60s & 70s — a period i love — replete with hefty label discography.

(in the past, i’ve upped Syliphone tracks here, here, and here).

the Vieux Farka Toure solos are worth watching. He’ll be touring east coast USA in february.

Uncanny, amazing, casual. The talent has passed so completely from father to son it seems as if he’s channeling… also, Vieux makes it appear unbearably easy. Tuning-up becomes the intro to a massive solo, he smiles, looks, twists about (why is the lens round?). Sparks!


  1. hey wayne — Calabash seem decent, but their ‘fair trade’ spiel strikes me as slightly disingenuous. They promise “whenever we work directly with an independent artist they earn 50% from every sale.”

    2 problems with this –

    1) is it NEVER obvious what albums are on there as a result of Calabash working w/ labels and which are sold directly by the artists. One of the ways in which this ambiguity is maintained is by not listing the record label, even in cases — the majority — where the music is on a label. i assume that most other digital download services make the ‘label of origin’ obvious.

    Also note that they display their artist agreements online but NOT their label agreements. Which strikes me as odd, considering that they must have more label agreements. Pretty much all African artists being sold to a Western audience have record-deals, labels, managers, etc.

    2) Even in those cases, rare, when the artist manages to work directly with Calabash — 50/50 profit split after expenses are recouped is the STANDARD indie record label deal. so when Calabash starts talking about how this is what they offer artists direct deals as “fair trade” it seems… like marketing. Smart marketing. And again, it obscures the fact that most of the available music has been recorded & produced by labels, who (hopefully) have the standard indie deal — meaning that *most* of the music on Calabash gets — if they are lucky — a maximum of 25% profit to the artist.

    of course, there IS all this positive social issues/global consciousness raising going on there, but its hardly what i think of as ‘fair trade’

    my conception of Fair Trade, in the digital realm, has less to do with ‘fair trade’ profit splits from socially-conscious middlemen and much more to do with SEEDS, spreading free & open-source software — ie if we are talking about free & open ‘web-shop’ applications.

    . . .

    am i missing something in Calabash’s fine print? do they have a page where they list all the artist-direct deals?

  2. thanks for the response, jace. you raise very good points and your concerns dovetail with my own, which is why i too put “fair trade” in farequotes.

    i think perhaps it would be best to hear someone from calabash respond.

    i would say, though, that while i agree with you totally about cutting out the middlemen, i do find calabash’s approach to be a move in the right direction at least for this level of brokerage (which i don’t see going anywhere, at least immediately). moreover, their anti-DRM policy is refreshing and the sheer level of variety they offer (including lots of independents) is a good alternative to the iTunes of the worldwidewebs. but, yeah, i’d like to see more about the actual deals myself, and the licensing with labels (whose own deals are anything but transparent, and often alarming) is problematic.

    it helps that i’ve met a couple of the middleguys that work at calabash–one is an ethnomusicologist–and they’re nice people who mean well. erich? simeon? any thoughts?

  3. w&w & jace –
    thanks for starting this discussion up. i’ve got so many thoughts. i’ll try and put a few down here before i head into the ‘bash for the day . . .
    as you’ve probably seen, we’ve removed the “world’s first fair trade music company” from our header and main look. not that we’re backing away from fair trade, but removing it helps us focus on actually implementing fair trade type policies, rather than defending those words as a title.

    we started selling downloads before itunes did, and obviously at that time, the world was much different. offering artists a direct deal and giving them 50% was (and for the most part, still is) way way better than any other deal out there for artists. itunes will work with individual artists, maybe, sometimes, but you better have a good in there. otherwise, if you are solo, you have to go through an aggregator, which is not a bad thing, but it is not a direct feed. calabash will (and does) take content directly from artists. we always have.

    i’m going to dig up and post a talk i gave in south africa at Moshito on fair-trade in music. i’ll put it up on my blog – but please continue this thread over here at negrophonic. basically, the problem is this – there is no definition of fair trade in music. so anyone can call themselves fair trade. we know what fair trade in coffee is, we know what fair trade in handcrafts is, but we don’t know what fair trade in music is. but we have defined several aspects of fair-trade and applied them to calabash, without caring that no one is going to slap a nice label on us. some of those aspects involve transparency, which is why we have the artist agreements up. putting label agreements on line would be a burdensome task, since many of them have slight changes. we’d probably be happy putting up a stock agreement and saying to the labels – take it or leave it, but i don’t think they’d be happy, and ultimately this would cut our content, making our customers happy. we’re trying to please several masters here, and of course, have to make sacrifices and choices. we do hope that we can talk about these choices in public and either realize we made the right choice, or change our policies and practices and make a new better choice. as an independent, small, and listening company, we reserve the right to listen to our customers, critics, and artists and change course whenever.

    in terms on content coming into calabash, you are right, the majority of content is label provided. however, we are getting more and more from artists, and working with local folks around the globe to provide us with direct connections to the best local artists, meaning we’ll have more and more GOOD global international independent content. we’ll also continue to get label/aggregated content to make our customers happy.

    i’ve also been thinking about creating a “Genre” on our site specifically to feature those artists that we’ve done a direct deal with, and your posting may just push me over that edge. any ideas on what to call that genre would be appreciated . . .

    ok, that’s way enough for now, but let’s keep this discussion rolling.

  4. p.s. – regarding vieux farka toure. if you are in nyc, go to pacha on the 2nd of feb for the launch of his remix album. headed up by the globalsonic crew, vieux’s remix album will feature karsh kale, eccodek, and a bunch more hot hot remixes. (both the remix and the full album will be available at calabash by feb 13th at the latest – as that is the official launch date).

  5. Jace, Erich, W&W,
    Good to get this discussion rolling in a public sphere. Erich wrote to some of the development, timing and reasoning behind the “fair trade” label so I’ll leave those words and add a few more ideas that we’ve been tossing around. Before I do, I’ll second the notion that working to implement policies, promotions and programs that generate attention and income for musicians is ultimately more important than a definition of fair trade music.

    Calabash Music is an evolving model of music commerce, community networking, and artist empowerment. Technological and financial constraints along with the current level of internet access in the asymmetrically wired world are all pieces of the puzzle we contend with daily. Negotiating the stakeholder needs of artists, music fans, and staff all come into play as we work to develop audience and technology.

    The existing models of fair trade in physical goods (coffee, tea, clothes, baskets, etc…) do not include the enabling of producers to take part in marketing, promotion or distribution. Generally fair trade practices do not set a percentage of return to the producer rather they are a set of guidelines for livable wages and environmental sustainability. Percentages of profit sent to the producer and actual payout is not widely available (correct me if I am wrong). Accepting imperfections in the system (maintains a global wage labor culture and usually includes long distance transportation) the guidelines are far better than the plantation economies of yesteryear. Posting our artist contract and sharing our profit structure are examples of our efforts to construct guidelines for a fairer trade music system.

    Jace mentions his thoughts on “fair trade”:

    SEEDS, spreading free & open-source software — ie if we are talking about free & open ‘web-shop’ applications.

    Totally with you. Giving artists tools and means to use them is key. I take this idea of “seeds” to mean operating to enable artists to promote themselves and generate income, and engaging an audience by introducing them to artists they may not otherwise know or take interest in. Calabash Music has developed with this in mind and continues to hone the tools that artists and their listeners can use to make noise on the web while connecting it to a commerce tool. This past fall we released code for our embeddable flash player allowing people to easily post music and call attention to an artist or song.
    Generating ‘web-shop’ software for artists to use is important. There are and should be ways to buy direct from artists. However, given the wide verity of artist familiarity with programming and desire to maintain a retail outlet in the global sphere, Calabash offers an option that is relatively easy to set up and maintain. Our contracts with artists and labels are non-exclusive meaning that anyone on our site is free to sell anywhere else – we often encourage this. DRM free mp3s and DRM free contracts.
    Ultimately, we (writers, promoters, retailers, programmers, and more) are mediating musical experience. Often introducing an artist and their music to an audience that will hopefully turn around and pay for that experience by sharing the artists with another and/or putting money down. Designing tools like the embedded album, video players, rss for artist pages, and artist blogs on those pages opens up avenues for artists to represent themselves. Without spilling the beans on future developments I’ll say that we are continuing to make the interface easier for artists to have more control over their content and more direct contact with the users.

    I agree that label listing and/or a section of “artist direct” music is a step we been wanting to take and should not wait any longer on.

    keep the questions coming,

  6. thanks for the comments and context guys! much appreciated.

    for the record, i am a big fan of non-exclusive contracts for paid download services! and Erich — i think the ‘artist-direct’ genre would be a nice, useful thing.

  7. On the guinea tip, a fascinating blog from frank aka voodoo funk who moved there apparently just to dig for vinyl(bringing wife & kid with him, now there is dedication).

    things seem to be getting a bit hairy there at the moment rather inconveniantly interupting his digging mission but he’s managed to get a few mixes upped including one by the syliphone label

    great read, pics and music but the 2nd afro funk mix is the killer

  8. just back from APAP and globalFEST in nyc. heard derek spin a sick set at sutra, including his vieux remix. like he said, pacha will be a HOT show.

    also, wanted to let folks know i’ve posted my fair trade in music talk i gave in south africa at the moshito music conference on my blog ( permalink for my whole talk:

    permalink for my notes on fair trade:

    there is also a convo about the tune your world campaign on calabash’s blog. permalink for that discussion:


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