Probably the last thing most Yale students — scratch that — most Americans are looking to add to their music collection is the latest alternative hits from Slovakia. The cultural pipeline has always run in reverse, with overpriced, underwhelming American pop flooding the radio waves and record stores of every other nation. For inexpensive foreign music to make itself available in America now is a rare and overdue event. For the sounds to be coming from the general direction of Eastern Europe is, in the strictest sense of the word, phenomenal.
You learn something new every day. Today, the lesson is XenoMusic: Music without Borders. Run jointly by ZeneMusic International Kft. in Budapest, Hungary and its parent company Intermusic Publications LLC in New York, Xenomusic is a self-described “media, e-commerce and electronic publishing site.” Xeno, which means foreign or strange, expresses both the purpose and the content of the site perfectly. Catering mainly to refugee populations who can’t get the music of their origins wherever they are currently displaced, XenoMusic is primarily a magazine about Eastern European music and secondarily a source for ethnic music from all over the world. The potential to appeal to college campuses and the public radio crowd is still an untapped resource, but Yalies should have no problem being the head wave in a new trend, considering many of the people who run it, including the president, have Yale affiliations.
Douglas Hoppe ’97 started XenoMusic while studying conducting, piano, ear training and composition at the Liszt Conservatory in Budapest, just around the time the mp3 craze was starting in America.
“I saw mp3 as a way to enable talented artists from developing countries (such as those in Eastern Europe) to promote themselves and sell their music abroad, in distant, affluent markets, such as those in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, etc. Besides wanting to help out local artists, back then during the dot-com craze, a big number of recent college grads — myself included — thought we could all make it rich by starting Internet companies,” Hoppe said.
Sculpting his entrepreneurial side at Yale helped him to succeed in his venture. His ability to secure funding from various sources allowed him to launch the Pierson Camerata, a chamber orchestra, which he ran for three years. A double major in music and Italian, Hoppe also got a grant to study orchestra conducting in Siena, Italy, at the Accademia Chigiana in the summer of his junior year.
“So a combination of the noble goals of helping out artists who deserve better and improving cultural understanding around the world — Music Without Borders — merged with my inherent entrepreneurial nature,” Hoppe said, “to create projects that benefit me and others financially or otherwise.”
More importantly, XenoMusic offers more than a Slavic version of Kazaa. Its news section, XenoFiles, holds a great selection of cultural articles on topics ranging from reviews of the 10th annual Sziget festival — a large music festival in Budapest — to daily previews of the upcoming Monterey World Music Festival in California, including one by Adam Click ’05.
As one of many Yalie interns at the New York office over the summer, Click was able to combine his three loves: journalism, music and international relations.
“Working at XenoMusic offered me an opportunity to gain a cultural international perspective,” Click said. “[The Web site] has music you can honestly find nowhere else.”
Click is a staff reporter for the Yale Daily News.
And it isn’t just the music you won’t be able to find anywhere else. XenoMusic is just as focused on political issues as it is on music. For example, there is the Be ethnic! link, two lines beneath the Refugee Music link. Through a campaign inspired by the events of Sept. 11, Xenomusic’s dedication to exhibiting Eastern European music and music of other refugee cultures has evolved into an out and out political campaign, highlighting the problems of the region.
“I felt obligated to explore the Balkan situation — I’ve been in Kosovo, Bosnia, and all other parts of the former Yugoslavia numerous times — musically and politically,” Hoppe said. “Anyway, I figured that most of the refugees in the Hungarian camps would be from the Balkans. Many were, but we were shocked by the amount from Africa: Angola, Sierra Leone, Guinea, etc. And there were a sizable contingent of refugees from Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Because of Sept. 11, we decided to feature some of our Afghan recordings, and the media really went wild with it.”
Xenomusic received attention from publications like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and radio shows like Public Radio International’s “The World.” Hoppe said he thought the coverage helped the situation of the refugees, at the same time it brought in a larger audience for XenoMusic.
“A few days later I noticed an article in The New York Times with a negative tone regarding the Hungarian and Czech governments’ treatment of Afghan refugees, who were being imprisoned and denied freedom of movement for their own safety,” Hoppe said.
Another difference from Kazaa is that Xenomusic charges for its mp3s. Most cost around $1, and none are more than $2. The highlight is that every album on their site offers one track for free, and free samples from the rest. Overall, the prices are almost always cheaper than buying a new compact disc.
“The music selections really open your mind up to possibilities,” Hoppe said. “What kind of ska do they play in Bulgaria? What is at the top of the pop charts in Estonia? What political messages are hidden in underground Polish gothic music? What does Czech punk sound like? What does traditional Armenian folk music sound like? How do orthodox chants sound when sung by people in Russia or Bulgaria, and not just by the Yale Slavic Chorus?”
“XenoMusic is entertainment,” Hoppe said, “but also education.”