Sunday, August 01, 1999

MALANDRO RECORDS


Brazilian music tough sell in U.S.

BY LARRY NAGER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[warm]
Rick Warm forged a fascination with the music and culture of Brazil while traveling there as an executive.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        Rick Warm stands in the middle of his cluttered basement office. CDs, tapes, music 'zines and instruments cover every surface, as if some musical bomb has gone off.

        In shorts and polo shirt, his ponytail bobbing enthusiastically, he details his passion for Brazilian music.

        It's hard to imagine him in the button-down corporate world, but he spent almost a decade with such companies as NCR, Westinghouse and Standard Textile, using his master's degree in international business. (He speaks 11 languages).

        Since starting Malandro Records three years ago, Mr. Warm, 36, combines his formal schooling with his musical obsession in the only Cincinnati-based label to exclusively release Brazilian music by Brazilian musicians.

        It's no easy sell in a town where the chicken dance, not the samba, rules.

        “We probably ask ourselves every day, "Why the hell are we doing this?' ” he says, laughing.

        “And the only time it becomes crystal clear is when I'm listening to the music. Especially live, when I'm there and experiencing it. Then there's nothing else I could possibly be doing. It's almost not a choice.” @subhed:Nine CDs this year @body: Malandro, named after a folkloric Brazilian trickster/hustler/Robin Hood figure, has released nine CDs of Brazilian music. Three more are due before year's end.

        Brazilian music has enjoyed sporadic popularity in the States since the '40s, when the samba rode the Latin American dance wave along with the rhumba and the cha-cha.

        In the '60s, the bossa nova craze made “The Girl From Ipanema” a pop hit and brought Brazilian artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim to North American attention. Mr. Jobim even did a duet LP with Frank Sinatra.

        In the '70s, Brazilian music infused progressive rock through jazz-fusion and the work of percussionist Airto and singer Flora Purim. That's when Mr. Warm, then a student at Walnut Hills High School, caught the Brazilian bug.

        “I remember hearing Brazilian music on WNOP and even WEBN back then,” he says.

        Mr. Warm played piano in high school and wanted a career in music.

        “When I went to college I wanted to go to music school, and my father said, "Look, a musician's life is very tough. Go do something else, learn business, learn something else. Then, after that, if you really want to go to music school, I'll pay for it.'

        “He was smart. I give him credit. I hope I'm that good with my kids.”

        Mr. Warm and wife Lauren have four children — Talia, 5; Marisa, 3; and the twins, Adin and Noah, 8 months.

        He could make far more money in the corporate world, a thought that's has occurred to him. But Lauren, a hand therapist at Bethesda Hospital, has been very understanding of her husband's obsession.

        “Luckily she knew me well enough before we got married that it wasn't a huge surprise. My wife has been super supportive about it and that's really about all I could ask.”

        The couple recently purchased a new house in Wyoming, one with a carriage house for the Malandro office. For now, Rick and his younger brother and vice president Mike, 31, work out of the basement.

        “My role is kind of more visionary,” Rick explains. “Mike makes it happen. Without him I arguably might not be here today.”

        While one may argue that there are better places than Cincinnati for a Brazilian record company, Mr. Warm insists otherwise.

        “Now it really doesn't matter,” he says. “You don't have to be in New York. You don't need to be in L.A. You don't need to be in Rio. We pretty much have a direct flight to Brazil from here. We have fax and e-mail and a phone.”

        He travels to Brazil as often as he can.

        “The music there has got a very strong rhythmic side, it's got a very strong harmonic side and oftentimes, when you have something like bossa nova, you've got incredible, incredible lyrics. Even though the people live in some level of poverty, music is the way people cope.”

        His problem is the music is a tough sell in the States. It's sung in exotic Portuguese and heard on virtually no North American radio stations. It's easier in Europe and bossa nova-crazed Japan, where Malandro has three distributors.

        Though Ricky Martin is Puerto Rican and the Buena Vista Social Club is Cuban, the Latin music boom has made Brazilian language and rhythms a tad less foreign.

        A Web site helps (www.worldbop.com/malandro/). So does Malandro's First Editions Club. For $16 annually, members get discounts on CDs and can buy them weeks before their official release. They also get the cassette interviews Mr. Warm produces with Malandro artists, a series called “Music and Musings.”

        “I had learned that it's really about promoting the genre of music in a lot of ways,” he explains.

        “So actually, my focus has always been first promoting Brazilian music, then promoting the label Malandro Records, and then the artist.

        “Not that the artist is of the least importance, quite the contrary. But because the majority of people that we release, nobody knows their names, let alone maybe even how to pronounce them.”

        Things are finally improving. After three years of negotiations, a pending deal with the Brazilian government would provide underwriting for a Malandro-produced syndicated radio series, TV productions and an expanded Brazilian music Internet site.

        “We're not going backwards, we're definitely going forwards,” Mr. Warm says. “And each time I ponder whether we should give it up, I always see another light at the end of the tunnel. And it's been a long tunnel.

        “But ultimately,” he adds with a chuckle. “If I were to quit, if I were to give up, I could never go back to Brazil. And I can't do that.”

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