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Tuva Throat Singers
Out of Asia: The throat singers of Tuva enchanted physicist Richard Feynman and many other world-music lovers.



Some tips on tracking down hard-to-find world music

By Christa Palmer

It didn't initially take a passport and a plane ticket to the Himalayan mountains to track down the CD of the singing Tibetan nuns that a friend heard playing on the radio, but it did entail some investigative work and a visa, of the Visa/MasterCard variety. When a radio station goes out of its way to play rare and obscure world music, listeners had better prepare for expensive excursions to music stores or endless expeditions down dead-end roads in locating some of the hard-to-find world music.

But despite the high prices and scant space allotted to imports by most music stores, there are ways to track down world music CDs. "Call the radio's studio line to get a play list," suggests Zach Ma, a world music buyer for the landmark Tower Records at Columbus and Bay. "Then shop around in different music stores. If it's not available, ask to special-order it."

Sometimes, though, finding that certain special Tuva Throat Singers CD isn't this easy. The availability of world music in stores can be a direct reflection of the competence of the buyer, whether it's a small mom-and-pop store like Round World in San Francisco and Amoeba in Berkeley or the familiar and predictable chain stores like Tower and Virgin Records. "With a good buyer who knows the international market," explains David McBurnie, one of KPFA's world music programmers, "a store will have a large, categorized selection or the means to special-order what you want."

"I tend to gear my world music program to what's on the cutting edge," he adds. "Like what's smokin' in the Caribbean, as opposed to the more traditional. So at least 90 percent of what I play can be bought or ordered from a store that has good distributors and buyers."

But sometimes programmers do entire radio programs with music that is not available in stores, playing music that's 30 to 40 years old or out of print. "People want to learn, and they want to hear original, fresh music," explains KPFA music director Michele Flannery. "Listeners may have trouble locating some music played on the radio because it could just be a cassette that is not commercially available. Most programmers, being world music fans, are collectors and have personal music libraries from their travels and are on the scoop, some working directly with distributors."

Sometimes stores can't get what their customers hear on the radio because the music hasn't even reached the distributors yet. "No one is bringing it to this country to sell," explains John McCord, general manager of the El Cerrito music store Down Home, which specializes in unusual world and African imports. "In Europe, world music is really popular, so it's slowly making its way to the U.S."

Others place the blame on retailers, often guilty of buying only a few token world music CDs at a time, knowing that they can sell big pop and country hits right away. "Retailers then have very little money left over to buy other categories of music like world, classical or New Age," explains Debby Robinson, sales representative for the distributor Koch International. "But people are looking for more; they want something different to share with their friends."

And the hunt for exotic music can entail making new friends. Robinson suggests learning more about imports by chatting with retailers who are interested in world music. Other recommendations include visiting different music stores, getting online to shop the cyberspace storefronts of Modified Alternative Music or World Music Distribution Inc., both of which specialize in hard-to-find imported and domestic CDs, or tuning into world music radio programs and requesting play lists.

Although tracking down a particularly rare world music record can entail much time and toil, the search itself can be part of the adventure and make the eventual listening all the more exotic and valuable to the listener. And did that friend ever find the CD of those singing Tibetan nuns? Well, no one really knows. She flew to Tibet and never wrote back.


Amoeba
2455 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510/549-1125
Down Home Music Store
10341 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, 510/525-2129
Rasputin's Records
2350 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510/848-9004
Round World Music
593 Guerrero, SF, 415/255-8411 (voicemail: 255-7384)
Tower Records
Columbus Avenue and Bay, SF, 415/885-0500
Virgin Megastore
2 Stockton St., SF, 415/397-4525

KPFA's world music series "First Light" airs Mon.­Fri., 5­7am; "Music of the World" airs Sat., 10am­noon; also Sat.: Latin jazz; studio line: 510/848-4425.


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From the April 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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