Ahead of the 2020 Grammy ceremony, Discogs spoke with each of the nominees for Best Album Package about the importance of design and the physical record experience.
Nominated for the second time is the team behind Chaco World Music‘s Anónimas & Resilientes including producer Manuel Garcia-Orozco and art directors Carlos Dussán, Juliana Jaramillo Buenaventura and Luisa Maria Arango of Cactus Studio
To begin, Manuel can you give a little background on where this project began?
MG: Bullerengue is traditional music from the Columbian Caribbean, which is sung and led by women. Petrona Martínez was a peasant musician who made a living picking up sand from the rivers and selling it to construction. In the late 90s, a French documentarian made a film about her, and she put out a record, Colombie: Le Bullerengue. She started to tour Europe and in 2010, I was called on to be a producer for her, and we’ve been working together since. All my framework and knowledge about the way I produce this type of music starts with Petrona.
How did you go about discovering the women on this record who were previously anonymous, as the title alludes?
MG: Petrona wanted to have a bullerengue round where all these ladies would sing overnight. These are all very elderly women, but Petrona has a terrific memory and she remembers them all & constantly mentions them in her songs. She thought she was the last carrier of this tradition, but I thought there had to be more people. I remember seeing a video of Juana del Toro — who is on the record — in 2008, and learning she had never been on stage. If that was the case, there had to be more performers in the deep mountains of Columbia.
So I started the search with Petrona, and we travelled the region looking for those anonymous and resilient voices of bullerengue. And this record is the result of that journey.
Manuel Garcia-Orozco of Chaco World Music
What is the philosophy behind your label Chaco World Music?
MG: Everything is about telling stories. I think of records as a space for multiple stories to be read and reinterpreted through different times and geographies. We didn’t have bullerengue records until the late 90s, which is crazy because this tradition has been around since colonial times. I want to amplify the voices of those who have been oppressed, silenced and living in marginalized communities.
How did you divide the roles in the creative direction?
MG: I’m a musician first. My background was originally in music composition, but I’ve become involved in the process of making records from conceptualizing to printing to the liner notes to the mixing and mastering.
CD: I was the art director. We were all art directors though, I suppose. A lot of teamwork. These kinds of projects that we do with Chaco are very unusual in that there is very thorough ethnographic research on the music. That is very rare for a record design project.
Usually there are more commercial concerns – you have to see the artists photographed on the cover. But, having this research allowed us to design concepts that are more accurate to the spirit of the music. So it’s nice to have this interdisciplinary relationship. It’s hard to say where the work of one person starts as opposed to the other.
JJ: I’m a graphic designer, the director of Cactus Studio. But for this project, I was focused on the production. Finding the printer, managing the schedule, glueing the boxes…
CD: This is actually the first record where we haven’t solely done the design. We also did the production [of the packaging]. Usually you do the design, pass it off to the print shop and supervise the work. But this time we decided to do the serigraphy and — as in Factory Records first recordings — we glued the packages ourselves. All while listening to bullerengue, of course.
How did this first experiment at physical production go?
JJ: How do you say this in English… sufrimos!
CD: [laughs] We suffered a little bit. Thinking about costs, and time… Maybe it’s been done before, but for us it was some sort of epiphany about the possibilities of mixing traditional and new media.
JJ: It was a chaotic month, but it ended in gorgeous work.
So, to clarify, you guys hand-glued each copy yourselves?
CD: Yes! One of my biggest design idols is Peter Saville of Factory Records. They did a Durutti Column record that was designed with sandpaper. When you pulled it out, it was supposed to destroy the record. I read that the Joy Division guys and Tony Wilson were gluing the first edition of that record. I stumbled on that, and thought ‘hey, we’re just like Factory Records!’ Up at one in the morning, listening to bullerengue, joking around and glueing records.
The printing is so intricate! How did you begin to produce such a complex package?
CD: We started with the idea of serigraphy (screen printing). And because it had the intricate die-cut pattern, we used laser cut. We only produced 100 units, so we didn’t use the traditional metallic cut. It wouldn’t have the same level of detail. It became a mix of the artisanal tradition, with getting your hands in the ink, and the very precise technological process. Getting the best of both worlds: digital manufacturing and traditional printing.
LA: I did all the illustrations by hand, and then digitized it with a lot of rustic brushes and textures in Photoshop. I wanted it to look like rust. A similar digital and hand done process as well.
That mirrors the record… bringing old world music into a contemporary era.
How much of it was actual serigraphy vs. made to look like it was screen printed?
CD: [laughs] It’s funny because it was made to look screen-printed. We started thinking about the regular four-ink offset printing. But then we figured, why not a mixture of both? It was made-to-look screen printed, but ended up actually screen-printed.
You see for example, it has an offset. The color doesn’t necessarily stay within the outline. But, it was made to look like that on purpose. It ended up being useful, because when we were laser-cutting, things could shift. But since the aesthetic was made to look like that it was perfect.
MG: Every copy is unique. All the little imperfections. I said that we should only make 100 records and give them away to the performers. It’s a kind of dissident musical production. To go against the industry.
CD: We wanted to give them back what they had given us.
Luisa and Juliana, as female artists working on this project, was there a particular significance is lifting up these anonymous female voices?
LA: I am glad that these women are still around and amused that you don’t really hear this music. You can’t believe they are actually singing. I think it’s cool that it has gotten to the Grammys, and that people know it’s these women singing.
At first, I told Carlos I didn’t want to put the men in the artwork. [laughs] But they’re musicians in this music too, and they are important.
Because the music is from a place in Columbian culture that has been largely unexplored, was there a pressure to properly introduce it to the world from a visual perspective?
LA: It was a great opportunity to explore. I started by listening to the music and watching the videos the Chaco [Manuel] had shot. The musicians were 80 years old! I wanted to give the illustration a younger look — something I would like to see and listen to. There had to be a lot of color, and a sketch look. Our historical visual references were a bit boring…
CD: We actually used Discogs and Bandcamp to search for bullerengue records. We wanted to see what was done in the past. What we found is that they focused more on the instruments and the environments, but we wanted to go beyond that.
Because the record speaks toward their anonymity, the idea is that you started to peeling these layers until you know them. Discovering who these people are behind the music. And it was Luisa’s idea to start with their environment.
LA: I thought we should just tell their story right away. So on the front you see their house and their instruments. And then you open it and the musicians are inside.
It feels like a real scene. You’ve set that scene before you listen to the music, and you are already in the world.
LA: I’m really glad you feel that way. When I was watching Chaco’s reference videos, the first thing I saw was the house, so I wanted people to feel like they were there, listening to bullerengue with the singers in the house. We thought it would be more fun to give it a rock or pop vibe though.
That’s really cool because when you get to the inner cover, they look like old rock stars!
CD: It was Luisa’s idea to have a limited color palette. There are only four colors: black, red, yellow and green. We originally thought to do the faces in that color palette, but we could not deny their color. We had to properly show the African-Columbian culture, so this ink only appears for the skin tone.
Was there a sense of healing or camaraderie that was built with these women finally getting to record their music?
MG: That is a question that you need to ask the musicians. But in my opinion, the album is not a simple commodity. It transforms lives and that is the beauty of it.
They were happy when we were making the record because they had never been in the studio. A year after we recorded, we went back with the album and gave it to everyone. It’s not only their voices on the record, but also their spoken voices are printed on the booklet. None of them read or write, so I read them the testimonies and that was very moving.
Are there any secrets hidden in the design?
MG: In the booklet, which is either in English or Spanish, I wrote a kind of poetry from the 15th century in the palenquero language — the Creole language that they speak in this particular Columbian region. To read it though, you have to turn the booklet upside down and go backwards.
CD: Chaco also wanted to have the names of other bullerengue singers that aren’t featured this record, but influenced the artists. He said, “I have these names, what should we do with them?” And I said, we can include them in the inner sleeve, so they will at least be seen.
LA: On the cover, we put a cactus for the name of our studio, Cactus Studio. I also want to point out that I made one illustration for each song as well. That was my favorite part of this.
CD: And we actually originally had the drums on the innermost cover on the actual cover, but Chaco said those are not traditional bullerengue drums. So we changed the drums on the cover, but we left them here.
MG: I wanted the drums to look like they would in the 1940s. When the ladies on the record were kids.
So all the finer details, like the native plants are all quite accurate?
MG: Yes! It’s a representation, but that could be in any of those towns in the region.
What do your record collections look like?
CD: I became obsessed with a book called ¡Que viva la música! — translated in English as Liveforever — by Andrés Caicedo, who is from our hometown, Cali. He had a discography at the end of the book. At that time, in the early 2000s, you couldn’t find those salsa records online. You had to go and buy them. That’s how my record collection started.
Half of my record collection is designed by Izzy Sanabria. Most of the records in the 50s were designed in an American aesthetic. He created a sort of salsa narrative. He designed the salsa look. When you live on the south coast [of Columbia], people are so fond of salsa.
JJ: We’re working on a salsa show right now, and Izzy is the partner for the direction.
MG: The term ‘world music’ comes from the 80s and 90s, people like Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel especially. Major pop stars who saw something special in traditional musicians and nurtured them as artists. It was controversial, but from my perspective as a Columbian and as a producer who broke into world music in the 1990s, I saw it as an opportunity.
People in the cities were not aware of these traditions and the idea of world music has become very beneficial for these traditions. People in Columbia did not see it with respect, but I took bullerengue and put it into the ‘world music’ perspective, and people paid more attention. Musicians from the traditions deserve to have a voice first and create a dialogue with global pop stars.
We’ve talked quite a bit about bringing the old world into the modern world. What do you guys think is the importance of putting together a physical package in a world of digital music?
CD: When we were little, we had records. I liked a lot of American records that didn’t have a lot of media exposure when I was little, so you had to make a lot of decisions based on the cover. I’ll buy it, and then see how it sounds.
One of Peter Saville’s influences on this, is that he was one of the first designers to think of the package as a space to communicate. In Latin music, people like Izzy Sanabria, who designed everything for Fania Records, is very influential as well.
We approach it as fans. We are collectors and we love music. We think, ‘what would we like to see in a record?’ We’d love to see screen printing, and intricate die-cuts. Now we’re working on a project that is only digital artwork, but using linocut.
Now that digital has dematerialized records, you have to create packaging that goes beyond the traditional. They have to become an experience that helps you tell the story the music wants to tell. Not just an image, but how you open it. It has to go beyond the booklet or jewel box. It has to become some sort of collectable object.
MG: [This record] is a documentary. It’s to be read and reinterpreted. An ethnographic record first, and then a beautiful object to collect.