Talking Shop with Barbés Records
Founded in 2004, Barbès Records is a label devoted to the documentation of impure music – idiosyncratic hybrids borne out of tradition but twisted into new shapes by adventurous musicians from Peru, Poland, Chile, France or the US.
Check out our brief Q&A with label head Olivier Conan below.
Fresh Pots: What’s the origin story of Barbés Records?
Olivier Conan: The label grew out of the Brooklyn club of the same name. I started it out mostly to put out records of projects I was involved with, then added bands that were performing at Barbés (Slavic Soul Party, Hazmat Modine) and little by little, I found myself with a catalog and a bit of an identity.
FP: Who makes up Barbés records?
OC: In terms of who works there, that would just be my lone self… otherwise, all the musicians whose records I have put out are really the ones who make up the label.
FP: 'The Roots of Chicha' compilation is a pandoras box of music. It opened mine and a ton of people’s ears in the US to the chicha sound. Why put together compilations and why chicha specifically?
OC: I sort of stumbled on chicha by accident. Well, almost. I’ve been into a lot of aspects of Latin music most of my life, which included Colombian cumbia. I went to Peru in 2004 for the first time, in part because I was interested in musica criolla - the mostly waltzes tradition that is super popular in Peru. While there, a street vendor started playing me all those 70’s recordings of amazonian bands - and it was a revelation. I think it had all the elements that I’ve always loved in many different styles of music, but re-arranged, organized in a totally novel way. I came back with a ton of recordings and two years later decided to put out a comp, because no one else was doing it. I never expected it to turn into the cult it has become, but I’m thrilled that I was able to play a role in making people re-discover a genre that I think is an important sort of missing link between Latin music and rock. And it’s good stuff…
FP: Miramar, Slavic Soul Party, Chicha Libre, not too many common denominators between those bands. Why do you put out the music you do.
OC: I never had a real mission statement, but as it all grew out of my personal taste and aesthetics, there is a certain cohesion - even if somewhat arbitrary - to everything I put out. I’m essentially interested in musicians who twist tradition and push it in new unexpected ways - music that challenges notions of purity of authenticity. with strong writing, strong voices.
FP: What have you been listening to?
OC: I program a lot of concerts, and in the past six months have mostly listened to music I was looking to book, so it’s been a bit all over the place. I love BCUC, the South African band, which probably puts on the best live shows I’ve seen in ages. In other newish African artists, I’ve also been listening to Noura Mint Seymali, and Mdou Moctar. Also Janka Nabay, who passed away recentlly. In general there seems to be a lot of new African artists that are coming up with very strong individual, original voices. For the past few years, I have also been listening to a lot of Meridian Brothers - and Los Pirañas, and other Bogota hybrids. The new Hailu Mergia record is great. There is a lot more of course.
FP: Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
OC: Black with sugar - please make it strong. thank you.