Real World Records and Ellipsis Arts Essay
Real World Records and Ellipsis Arts are both prominent world music labels, though each has a distinct focus different from the other. While the former emphasizes both exposure of artists to new audiences and stylistic fusion, the latter presents an odd combination of purism and context with New Age, mass-market appeal. Real World, founded by former Genesis lead singer and solo artist Peter Gabriel in 1989, began with the avowed aim of “bringing together musicians who share an empathy with music in general, rather than a shared cultural background” (Real World Records).
Its stable of artists includes African, Celtic, Arab, and Asian performers, as well as those who freely combine these to diminish barriers between genres; Afro-Celt Sound System is an obvious example. Its music is generally not essentialist, since it does not claim to produce music wholly authentic to its nations of origin. Instead of being purist, it emphasizes novelty, mixing styles and creating an all-inclusive kind of world music. The label’s politics embrace both clear endorsements of freedom within the artists’ homelands and subtle protests against large corporations’ control over radio airplay.
In the former case, Real World includes artists such as Zimbabwean singer Thomas Mapfuno, whose albums (most recently, 2005’s Rise Up) include sharp barbs directed at his homeland’s dictator, Robert Mugabe, and Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo, whose music speaks of her experience as a refugee from the occupying Chinese (Real World Records). Where Real World Records favors fusion over purism, Ellipsis Arts’ world music has more of a traditionalist bent, though it also includes a great deal of New Age material intended for the mass market.
Ellipsis, which began in the early 1990s, recently merged with the Relaxation Company, which sells music intended for sleep aid, yoga, meditation, and mental/spiritual well-being (Relaxation Company). Its catalog includes Moroccan, Brazilian, Celtic, Cuban, Latin, and Eastern European artists, presenting them in a generally authentic context. Its CDs of Bayaka (or Pygmy) music is so faithful to the original setting that it includes African forest sounds along with the call-and-response vocals (Gallegos).
Instead of encouraging fusion and breaking down cultural barriers, the label tries to preserve not only the original style but often the context as well. According to journalist Aaron Gallegos, “Rather than focusing on professional, touring musicians [as does Real World] . . . Ellipsis offers music that was recorded as it was actually being performed in religious or ceremonial settings . . . while fulfilling its communal role” (Gallegos). The label does not promote a political point of view, but rather seems to let the music’s purity speak for itself.
In addition to this relatively purist material (because of its merger with the Relaxation Company), the label also includes more market-oriented material, such as world music for children, of which the website says, “Our Lullabies from Around the World series help little planetary citizens (and their parents) ease off to sleep while tasting the beauty of world cultures” (Relaxation Company). While the label’s entire catalog obviously cannot be considered purist, it includes a great deal of obscure, culturally authentic music along with mass-market New Age items, giving it a duality that Real World does not share.
These two labels represent two faces of world music – fusion and authenticity. While Real World Records interprets world music as the erasing of barriers and freely combining cultures and genres, Ellipsis Arts offers performers faithful to their music’s cultural context along with its senior partner’s more mainstream fare. The existence of both illustrates that the term “world music” has no single, exact definition or market orientation.