Jesse Kaminsky, host of WMBR specialty show The Intercontinental, first spoke with CMJ last year regarding his incredibly diverse and influential radio program. But in October, Kaminsky expanded from radio host to label owner with Intercontinental Transmissions Vol. 1, the inaugural volume of his new compilation label, Kala Bandar. Truly a labor of love, Kaminsky cut through miles of red tape and crossed many cultural borders to make Vol. 1 possible. Between hosting DJ night Imperialisms at Boston’s River Gods and a stint at WFMU’s yearly record fair, he took the time to chat with CMJ about the life of a crate-digging label owner.
Intercontinental Transmissions vol. 1 by Kala Bandar Records
What lead you to start a label, and what’s the meaning of “Kala Bandar”?
Starting a label was really a gradual process that started with an idea of making something physical from the work I was doing on the radio show. It’s really been a process of small steps, and I’ve been learning a lot as I go, making a lot of mistakes but really enjoying the process. I’m trying to have authorship over as much of the process as I can, which means that it’s sometimes a little eccentric or just plain wrong.
As for the name, I was looking for something that would be a little odd and memorable and wasn’t already taken, which narrows the field quite a bit. I was reading some about cryptozoology and international mythology and thinking about what makes it possible or necessary to construct fictional frameworks for the world. Sometimes, when you hear an old imported record that was made for a specific, domestic market somewhere, it’s impossible to really understand the intention, and you have to imagine a whole fictional culture for it to make sense in the world. Anyway, I read about this group of human-ape hybrids that lived in ancient India called the Kala Bandar. They co-existed with humans at the time, and I liked that notion of the exotic and familiar in a close, functional proximity, and also the words worked well together—”Kala Bandar Records”—so I went with that. Come to find out, after I started the process of making the record, I went back to look for that story and couldn’t find it anywhere. I must have imagined it! I guess I like that the genesis story of the label is apocryphal.
How did you select the tracks for Vol. 1?
I made a musical mix first. It was very important to me to have interesting songs that flowed well together. I threw out everything that had been reissued in the U.S. and everything that was easily searchable on the Internet. I also got rid of anything that was too expensive or was impermissible to use for any reason. Thematically, I tried to get a broad sample of countries and styles but wanted to highlight pre-revolutionary Iranian music in particular, which is something I am especially interested in. All the music was made in the ’60s and ’70s, which is cultural territory that has already been opened up for Western record collectors. It seemed like a good place to start with an unknown label, though I would like to push those boundaries with future releases. Also, it had to be under 40 minutes to fit on the LP, so I left off a bunch of good stuff, which is now primed for the second volume.
So we can expect a Vol. 2?
Yes, it started very casually and grew into a monster over the course of the year. I have an idea that the first one should be the hardest because I was still figuring out how to do real research. I now have more of an idea about how to find people and information and what I can expect in terms of rights and responsibilities, though it’s still very confusing out there. I’ve started work on Vol. 2. I’m hoping to have it out by late spring, though it depends on a lot of variables.
Which regions/countries are represented here?
There are four tracks from Iran and one each from Poland, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, El Salvador and Peru.
How did you gain the rights to these songs?
Licensing is complicated with a lot of these songs, especially since most of the labels are long gone. In the case of the Iranian tracks, not only are the labels gone but most of the studios and master tapes were destroyed when the Westernized popular music was made illegal by the current regime. I always approached it by attempting to locate the label first, then the composer, then the performers. I tried every possible avenue that I could think of from writing physical letters to artists and performers associations in various countries to contacting people on Facebook and YouTube. I met the drummer from Los Cometas through a video he had posted on YouTube; it was the only evidence of the Salvadoran band on the Internet. Still, there were several occasions where the only contact I could get was a phone number to someone who didn’t speak English, which is my only language. Fortunately, I have friends who were very generous with their time and translation skills, and so I got to listen in to a number of conference calls in Thai or Russian or Spanish. Those were definitely the most rewarding when I got in touch with Raúl Herrera, the composer for Conjunto Nueva Galaxia and Los Belkings. He actually whistled the tune to “Chiya Chiya” on the phone.
In our last interview, you said “I felt like the ‘world village’ idea of a global culture was the dominant model for foreign music on the radio, and that really left me cold.” Do you think this is changing in the online world and with labels like Kala Bandar?
I think it is changing, for sure. I imagine that the Internet is at least partially to thank for this. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do this project without it. I think it seems to be a matter of creating the supply and demand simultaneously. There have been labels like Sublime Frequencies and Original Music before them who are willing to put some crazy niche stuff out there before there was a market, and they’re the ones who’s wake I’m following with this first release. But there are a ton of great small labels and one-time projects who aren’t afraid to put out a U.S.-issued LP of Japanese instrumental surf guitar or Scandinavian synth-pop or whatever is out there. It’s very refreshing as a listener and collector; everyone’s rabbit hole is getting deeper.