Sounds True

Dateline: 01/01/99

Sounds True is the brainchild of Tami Simon, who founded the company in 1985 to disseminate wisdom from various spiritual traditions, on audio cassette. While originally dealingonly with spoken-word recordings by leaders in the fields of psychology, meditation, creativity, healing, relationships and other esoteric topics, ten years later, in 1995, the company branched out into the world of music.

Sounds True now distributes sacred music of the world on CD and cassette, by artists such as Tibetan flautist Nawang Khechog, highlights from the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco, and recordings of the chants of nuns and monks from around the world.

Joel Davis is the company's "Minister of Music." He has been with Sounds True for almost six years. His passion for music, he says, was the reason he was given his job at Sounds True, a passion which the music industry has so far not taken from him. I asked Joel some questions about Sounds True and his role as "Minister of Music."
Paula: How did you get to be "Minister of Music"?

Joel: I've been a huge fan of music and radio all my life. In 1990, I began volunteering at KGNU-FM, Boulder's community radio station, in order to develop my on-air skills with an eye towards working in commercial radio. However, after spending only a couple of months exploring KGNU's vast and eclectic music archive, I no longer had the desire to get into commercial radio. I still do shows at KGNU, as well as on and, internet stations specializing in eclectic and world music, respectively, where I am able to continue nourishing my knowledge of and love for music of all types-but in particular music from around the world. I wouldn't be where I am today without community radio.

I started at Sounds True in 1993, primarily recording conferences around the U.S. In 1996, Tami Simon, Sounds True's founder and president, asked me to run the sacred world music label she had decided to launch. Armed with my love for music and a good challenge, the Minister of Music was ordained.

Paula: What does Sounds True look for in terms of musical artists?

Joel: As a sacred world music label, we seek music created with a certain underlying-and often hard-to-define-intent. We're looking for "world music" (a nebulous and occasionally controversial term that I define--for our purposes--as authentic music from the world's many cultures and traditions) that serves as a sort of direct transmission from the artist's source of inspiration, through the artist, to the listener. The music itself may not always be sacred in a religious context, but it should convey an underlying spirituality and take the listener to a personal sacred space. It's important to clarify that this music, ideally, comes directly from a tradition or is a "new tradition" firmly rooted in that particular's music past. These recordings should be made primarily with acoustic instruments (no synthesizers, please).

Paula: What albums right now are you the most excited about, and why?

Joel: In Fall 1998, we released two records. The Virgin's Lament is our fifth record from Irish sean nos singer Noirin Ni Riain and the Monks of Glenstal Abbey. Making Noirin's incredibly gorgeous voice available to the world was the main impetus behind starting our music label in the first place, and it's been a real honor and pleasure to work with her. Hamdulillah: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Volume II is, as the title implies, our second release from this fantastic event. We learned about the Fes Festival about three weeks after we started the label, and figured it to be only natural that a sacred world music label be part of a sacred world music festival. We made some calls, sent some faxes, and six weeks later, there I was in Fes. That first trip to Morocco resulted in B'ismillah: Highlights from the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. We've been back in 1997 and 1998; Hamdulillah documents the best from those festivals. The Festival has since gained a lot of publicity -- The New York Times sent it's chief music critic, Jon Pareles, this year, and he wrote two big pieces about the Festival for the Times in June 1998. As he put it, the Fes event is "a festival whose time has come."

I'm extremely excited about our next two releases. In February, Zaghareed comes from El-Funoun, the Palestinian Popular Arts Group. This music and dance troupe, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, has been together since 1979, enduring all forms of adversity to further their mission of preserving and also challenging traditional Palestinian culture. (They're doing a six-city U.S. tour in November 1998, in conjunction with the U.N.'s International Day of Palestinian Recognition. I've enclosed the tour schedule below if this runs in time for people to catch a show.)

We also just finished making a record with the oud master Hamza El Din. Set for release in April 1999, it marks a slight but significant change in direction for Hamza as it includes other musicians (most of his previous releases are solo albums), such as W.A. Allaudin Matthieu on piano, percussionist Hani Naser, Japanese singer Shizuru Ohtaka, and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud of the Kronos Quartet. I just received the master today, and it sounds great, sonically and musically.

Paula: Why did Sounds True branch out to include music in addition to spoken word cassettes?

Joel: Since the Sounds True Catalog's first run in 1988, Tami Simon included music titles that she felt complemented Sounds True's spoken word audio productions. We were one of the few outlets in North America for Noirin's music, and because of the expense-not to mention the condition in which they were arriving--of importing the CDs from Ireland (some directly from Glenstal Abbey), Tami decided to license them. We then learned that once you start licensing music, you've made yourself a de facto label. And so we began this odyssey of looking for and releasing music that we feel furthers Sounds True's mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom.

Paula: What do you see as the future of Sounds True music?

Joel: Based on the encouraging response we've received in our first 2 1/2 years as a label, I would have to say the future is looking quite bright. Our feeling is that much of what we're putting out is timeless. Some of the traditions represented on our releases have been in practice for hundreds if not thousands of years, and we intend for our recordings to have this same sense of timelessness. We use quality and integrity as our guides, and have firm faith that adherence to this will reap success that can be measured on many levels. In fact, it already is.

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