INTERVIEWS > Twenty Years of Network

Interview with Christian Scholze, owner of the World music label Network, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

"Twenty years of Network -- has that been a constant state of musical intoxication?" one journalist asked company founder, manager and producer Christian Scholze.

He replied: "The Network boat has lurched through the music world's heavy seas and has sometimes even drifted in calm warm waters. Now and then the experience was one of intoxication, but in between there was a lot of bureaucracy and even hard physical work having the goods delivered punctually to our meantime more than thirty distributors worldwide."

Q: Is there something like a typical Network sound?

A: That's a difficult question. Many people claim there is. We have a few basic principles as regards our productions: strictly acoustic recordings so that the respective sounds should be as close and warm as possible. Along with the musical arrangement, the arrangement of the atmosphere is at least of equal importance. It's all about intense feelings. A minor mistake is not all that important when the joy, the longing, the pain are expressed genuinely. I believe the listeners feel that.

Q: More than one million CDs from the WorldNetwork series and more than 500,000 double CDs from the anthology series, like Desert Blues and Musica Negra in the Americas, have been sold worldwide. Can one speak of a niche market?

A: Well, yes and no. World music has still only cornered a small portion of the market. But at the moment, it seems to be the only area with clear growth rates. People's interest in foreign cultures has grown, in other experiences of space and time, and in the direct expression of joie de vivre or deep feelings. All the more so in highly industrialised societies where isolation and the loss of meaning are leading to a greater coldness. World music will only leave its niche when it is finally taken more seriously by the big media, above all radio and television. Surveys have shown that listeners want more mixed programmes, which is the exact opposite of the programme makers' mainstream thinking and the key-hole perspective of doctor or container series. World music would also benefit from being presented live more often. It urgently needs more public support and less bureaucratic obstacles such as visa problems and the absurd tax deduction for appearances by artists from the so-called Third World.

Q: Some music critics don’t like the term World Music and for some it even has negative connotations. Network doesn't seem to have a problem with that.

A: It would probably be semantically more correct to call Anglo-American pop World Music, because it is the dominant music on radio stations, in discos and in journals throughout the world – in much the same way that jeans in all their various forms have become a kind of world-trousers uniform. As far as I know, the term World Music was actually coined more than a century ago in Berlin. An institute there was studying the musical arts of various cultures, and this led to concerts in Europe, including a gamelan orchestra from Indonesia which played at the World Exposition in Paris. The people who claim to have invented the term in the 80s in London, and constantly remind us of it, had a very practical interest: they were looking for a category, for a classification, to use in the record shops. It caught on. To talk about this being ghettoization, as people like David Byrne do, is merely splitting hairs. If somebody who visits me happens to hear some music from Armenia, and asks me what it is, I don’t say "that’s World Music", I say "it’s music from Armenia, the performer is called Djivan Gasparyan". If that person then goes to a record shop there is no need for him or her to search among thousands of A titles or G titles. He or she simply goes to the World Music department and will, I hope, find the country and the musician listed there. I’ve noticed that the very people who have no problem with pop music’s less than respectful tendency to borrow from World Music without bothering to mention the sources are the same people who tend to disparage folk romantics without opening their minds to the enormous wealth of this music. This narrow-minded loss of values sometimes makes me sad – it’s high time it became a public issue.

Q: Did a Network project ever encounter any almost insurmountable technical difficulties with sound systems or recording equipment?

A: Every production is a new challenge. We have to find the right sound for each music. We gather a lot of valuable experience, but there is never a standard solution. One fiddle is not the same as the next, just as one room is not the same as the next. We worked under very difficult and unusual conditions when we were recording the Mozart Requiem together with the rituals of the Tibetan monks. With more than 100 musicians on stage, we had to use very sensitive microphones hung very high and placed with great precision. Zanzibar was something else altogether. The only place we could do the recordings was in the group’s big rehearsal room. Not all the windows could be closed properly, and the traffic had to be re-routed. Only a few hours of each day were quiet enough for us to work. Once we had to interrupt the session because of a strange squeaking sound. I looked everywhere, checked the musicians and their instruments, and was beginning to despair when I finally discovered a cat with new-born kittens under the floorboards. So we managed to continue our Spices of Zanzibar project. In Armenia the only place available for us to work was the huge recording studio of the legendary Radio Eriwan. The building was dilapidated and the roof was leaking. Our sound engineer Radu Marinescu had to potter around for ages with the dusty old recording system before we were able to plug in our microphones. By the time we finished, only 18 of the 32 channels were working properly, but that was exactly the number we needed for the big ensemble. It wouldn’t have held out one more day. That’s the reason – apart from the incredible hospitality of the Armenians – why we only got 15 hours’ sleep in the 7 days we were there. A very different kind of challenge was the first Women’s Salsa Festival we organised and recorded on Cuba. In the end there were nine groups, more than 100 mulattas on the stage driving a crowd of 5000 into a frenzy. We had also been a little too generous with the rum for the sound engineers ... in the end, it was a minor miracle that a CD of that unique event was ever released.

Q: Most Network productions are recorded in the home country of the musicians. Is that a matter of principle?

A: It is basically easier and, in a sense, more honest, to record locally, without all the distractions of new and unfamiliar surroundings. It is also easier to include other local musicians off the cuff. Although it does sometimes mean less technical perfection, the most important thing is that this approach is more likely to capture the local or regional atmosphere and all its charm – and the producer is also more involved.

Q: Journalists sometimes find it difficult to follow the sheer speed of Network’s prolific production of as many as 2 or 3 albums every couple of months. Are there some productions that disappoint because they get too little feedback when the producer feels they deserve more attention?

A: Every production goes involves real enthusiasm. It is difficult to be impartial, especially since we are in charge of everything from the first idea to the recordings, the design, the packaging . All in all, we are very pleased with the competence of the many journalists throughout the world who review our work so favourably and give them so many awards. Of course there are some productions I would have hoped might gain more attention. One of them is the exciting and musically very demanding Ankala and World Orchestra project "Didje Blows the Games". Or the gentle voice of Loudovikos from Crete with his sensitive arrangements – one of my personal favourites. Then there’s the new CD by Bayuba Cante. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to label this Afro-Latino-Flamenco cross-over as Afro-Cuban. But I’m sure that once they have played a few more gigs, this joyful group will be more successful.

Q: What is the difference between Christian Scholze and Christos Scholzakis?

A: I use the Greek variation of my name for productions in the Balkans. Crete is my second home. We celebrated the turn of the millenium there with the Paris-based group Bratsch and lots of friends, many of them musicians, at our new musical domicile on the south coast. Years ago, my best friend on Crete insisted that I should baptize his son. He indicated that there was just one small formality to deal with beforehand. Before I knew it, this rascal had me attending my own baptism in the early hours of the morning. An old priest with a long beard conducted a lengthy ritual in which I had to step naked into a big basin of water, and was officially given my second name. That was the "small formality" that qualified me to become a godfather.

Q: Why have you got your own website?

A: It was a birthday present from the team at Network. At first I found it rather embarrassing and wanted to delete it. But now ... well, maybe I’ll use it for anecdotes about my travels and recording sessions, with some nice photos ...

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