April 2000

Label Watch: Tinder Records

World music, if not exactly a boom of great commercial proportions, has been steadily gaining in popularity during the ’90s, a situation which has fueled the formation of a host of new world-oriented labels. One of the notable new companies serving the scene is Tinder Records, based in the Bay Area. Having just passed the five-year milestone in 1999, a cautious optimism hovers around the operation.

It started out auspiciously seven years ago, when Sandrine DiRienzo and her partner, Didier Pilon, ran a distribution company specializing in African music. As DiRienzo explains, in the early years, they were “importing African and French music, until we realized there was a need in those areas to develop some artists. The French companies [we were working with] didn’t want to do too much promotion or anything, so we decided to do it ourselves.”

Amongst independent labels, the struggle for distribution is legendary. But Tinder has an edge: it grew out of the distribution business. Just recently, the partners split into separate operations: DiRienzo running the Tinder label side, and Pilon taking care of the distribution business as a distinct entity—but the interaction continues.

To date, almost 40 albums have been released on both the Tinder label, proper, and its newer Latin-oriented imprint, Candela, formed a year and a half ago. The African contingent still reigns supreme, with strong titles from artists such as Amadou et Mariam, Boy Ge Mendes, Sally Nyolo, Henri Dikongue and, from Algeria, the Rai star Cheb Mami, who was recently given wider western exposure through a connection with Sting. Tinder has also put out reissues such as Bonga’s Angola ’74 and compilations like The Spirit of Cape Verde.

Still, other global points are fair game, too: one of the most popular Tinder titles to date is from the French group Paris Combo. “I don’t just look at African artists,” DiRienzo says. “I am working with Paris Combo and another French band right now. I’m also working with gypsy music. It’s just whenever the music grabs me and I have a feeling that it fits on the Tinder label, I just pick it up. I don’t really look at matters like where it’s from. It’s whatever grabs me, and whatever will keep Tinder’s flames up.”

There comes a need for clarification of identity, and the creation of Candela stemmed from the recognition of Tinder’s gradual stylistic expansion. “When we started putting all those different artists on the label, we realized that it would be good to help people understand which was which,” DiRienzo explains. “We started working with a few Cuban artists, and we wanted to keep it all separate, for the retailers to understand that it’s a different kind of music. Latin music really has its [own] place in the stores.”

Tinder has grown steadily in its years of operation, but in a world music scene full of options and temptations, DiRienzo is concerned with keeping things manageable. “This year,” she comments, “I’m starting something new. I always wanted to really focus on my artists and try to do as much as I can. With the interest that the American audience has in world music, this year, I will try to only put six albums out. There’s so much coming out every month,

I really want to concentrate and take time and do the things that are needed for each
individual artist.”

That attitude epitomizes one advantage of an indie label: being small enough to offer more personal, hands-on care to its artists, who might otherwise be lost in the shuffle on a major label. Could DiRienzo work within a more corporate environment? “No. I’m a stubborn person, and whenever I decide to do something, I will do everything I can to get to it. I can’t be stopped. I can’t be bothered with all those rules and all those little things that you have to follow,” she says. “That’s why I have my little label here, and want to focus on six albums this year, and I’m still trying to go in different directions and see which one works best.

“I like the way I am. I’m a little independent. I’m here for the love of it. I’m enjoying the people I work with and sharing the love that they have when they’re creating. Of course, like everyone else, I want to share the music with everybody. I wish I was able to cross over a little faster and bigger than what I’m doing right now, but everything takes time. Between when I started the label and now, there is already a huge difference.”

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