Millenium Marks Quarter Century Of Excellence For Shanachie Entertainment

Millenium Marks Quarter Century Of Excellence For Shanachie Entertainment

The story of Shanachie Entertainment is a surprising tale of an independent label growing from an upstart purveyor of traditional Irish music to a sizable corporation that has scored commercial radio hits while expanding to include a wide variety of music including jazz, reggae, blues, folk, World music, jam bands, Latin music, rock, funk and much more. A video division boasts over 150 titles including acclaimed documentaries and concert videos. With nearly 50 employees, Shanachie is poised to grow as one of a handful of entertainment companies occupying the middle ground between the blockbuster-oriented majors and the more limited grassroots independents.

It began, as all good things do, with a genuine enthusiasm. Working from an apartment in the Bronx in 1975, musicologist Richard Nevins and musician Dan Collins set out to release a few records of traditional Irish music, not because it was necessarily a good business decision, but because they loved it, and thought other people should, too. They named their fledgling company Shanachie, a simplified spelling of the Irish word for "traveling bard." For a quarter century, the pair's enthusiasm has not only survived, but thrived, and expanded to embrace music from all over the world. Shanachie has thrived, too, becoming one of the longest-lived and most acclaimed independent labels extant, with numerous awards and an international reputation in World and Celtic music, reggae, contemporary jazz, blues, and other genres.

"We're truly independent," says Shanachie General Manager Randall Grass, who joined the company in 1981. "No major label owns any part of us, and we're with truly independent distribution as well. We try to be an independent that functions in between the major label complexes and the more grassroots independents. We have a bigger catalog and more resources than most indies, but we don't play the pop-music game -- we don't see how many records we can put out, and hope that maybe a few will make it. We have the ability to develop artists and be a true home for them throughout their careers."

Indeed, an incredible array of artists have called Shanachie their home. In the early days, the label was privileged to introduce America to now legendary Irish/Celtic acts such as Planxty, Clannad, De Dannan and Silly Wizard. More recently Shanachie's continuing commitment to the music has brought forth acclaimed and immensely popular albums by Seamus Egan and his Celtic supergroup, Solas and the young, up-and-coming Irish band DanĂº.

In the early '80s, the island rhythms of reggae captured the country's attention, and Shanachie was right there with seminal releases such as the Augustus Pablo's dub landmark "King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown" and Rita Marley's "One Draw." The label's reggae roster has also sported a virtual who's-who of Jamaican music, including Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, Judy Mowatt, Culture, the Mighty Diamonds, Mutabaruka, the Skatalites, Yellowman, and Bunny Wailer.

African music became a label specialty in the early '80s, with releases by South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the definitive mbaqanga compilation "The Indestructible Beat of Soweto," the latter of which did more than perhaps any other work of art to point up the resilience of South Africans living under the outrageous injustice of apartheid. It also paved the way for Paul Simon's pop smash "Graceland," which broke America's appetite for African music as wide open as it's ever been. Over the years, Shanachie has spotlighted other African acts such as Tabu Ley Rochereau, Sonny Okosun, Ebenezer Obey, Samite, Loketo, Diblo, and many more via essential collections such as "African Heartbeat," "Soweto Never Sleeps," and "Holding Up Half the Sky: Voices of African Women."

From there it was on to the rest of the world: the label has featured the works of Israeli singing star Ofra Haza and Anglo/Indian singer Najma, and the astonishing work of Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu; Pakistani superstars Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the Sabri Brothers; Norwegian fiddler Annbjorg Lien; Polynesian vocal collective the Tahitian Choir; and many others. Also among the label's world-music achievements are Henry Kaiser and David Lindley's musical excursions to Madagascar, "A World Out of Time," and to Norway, "The Sweet Sunny North."

Of course, not all of Shanachie's success has been with music from overseas. They've also mined a deep vein of Americana with artists such as Norman and Nancy Blake, R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders, cowboy singers like The Sons of the San Joaquin and Don Edwards and cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell. The alt-country scene has been represented by releases from Kevin Gordon and The Hangdogs and New Orleans' fertile music scene has brought forth music from Wayne Toups, Kieth Frank, New Orleans Klezmer Orchestra and Lil Band O' Gold. Acoustic acts including The Four Bitchin' Babes, jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, and singer/songwriters Richard Shindell and Sara Hickman have made their presence felt as well.

In the realm of the blues, Shanachie has long been known for its Yazoo imprint, which features outstanding archival releases by the likes of Charley Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, Barbecue Bob, and Blind Willie McTell, among many others. In recent years, the label has developed a stellar contemporary blues roster including Anders Osborne, Debbie Davies, Duke Robillard, Curtis Salgado, and Mem Shannon.

Contemporary jazz is also a label priority, as last year brought unprecedented acclaim and Top Ten chart numbers for such performers as Kim Waters, Chuck Loeb, Walter Beasley, Nelson Rangell, Chieli Minucci & Special EFX, Nestor Torres and acid jazz groups Liquid Soul, Groove Collective and Brooklyn Funk Essentials.

Shanachie has far-reaching musical tastes, with 50-75 releases each year including recordings of jazz, blues, Irish, reggae, pop, rock, gospel, Latin, klezmer, and world releases. Meanwhile, the label's decade-old video division has released many PBS aired documentaries, musical documentaries of artists ranging from jazz great Charles Mingus to Ireland's Clancy Brothers, and as well as concert videos of performers including world/jazz pioneer Hugh Masekela and Irish songwriter/pianist Phil Coulter.

Of course, the wide range of the label's interests should hardly be a surprise. With its relentless dedication to quality and a willingness to bring exciting new sights and sounds to the fore, Shanachie remains dedicated to its artists and the great work they represent, and to being a true trendsetter.

Posted: Wed - February 12, 2003 at 10:13 AM