Blackwell Reimagining World Music With Universal

Music industry legend Chris Blackwell, who brought the world Bob Marley, U2 and a host of others, has some more music to sell from outside the pop mainstream.

Music industry legend Chris Blackwell, who brought the world Bob Marley, U2 and a host of others, has some more music to sell from outside the pop mainstream. And he is trying to do it by dragging Universal Music Group, the world's biggest record company, into yoga studios, organic food shops, spas, bookstores and museums to peddle its wares.

Blackwell's Palm Pictures has teamed with UMG to sell lavish boxed sets of "world music" -- each complete with DVD, CD, book, photographs and National Geographic map -- in a monthly series called Palm World Voices.

The first three are "Vedic Path," from India; "Africa," from the continent whose music Blackwell said he first heard through one of his former Island Records artists, the late rocker Robert Palmer; and "Baaba Maal" (release date: Aug. 9), featuring the Senegalese singer and bandleader.

Blackwell aims to sell 300,000 copies of each release, quite a bit more than most world music, "if we do it this way. Only 10 percent will sell in record stores," he said.

Blackwell hopes the Palm World Voices series will run for years. The next few releases will feature Brazil, the Sahara and South Africa. He is targeting customers over 35, "more likely females at the point of sale," who are involved in "the movement there is now for wellness, for yoga, for finding one's spiritual self.

"World music really is in a sense organic music. It's not processed pop music. I felt this was really a time when world music could find an audience."

Blackwell said Palm World Voices' videos are as unusual as the marketing: "The DVDs are not cut to be stimulating visually. They're cut actually more to be soporific, in a sense. If you go on a hike and you get to a great view, you sit down and look at the view. There's nobody editing it."

As for the music: "It's mellow, but definitely not Muzak -- we don't want elevator music." In this age of digital downloading, "The best way to compete is packaging," Blackwell said.


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