Real World 25

Various Artists, 2014

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Beautifully packaged Clamshell Box with 3 CD wallets, 28 page booklet containing the story of 25 Years of Real World Records, and a collection of Real World Tales with contributions from musicians, producers, designer and managers.

Discover more on the Real World 25 website

Real World 25

How, then, to condense a quarter century? How to represent a record label that blazed trails, opened doors and introduced a whole new world of music? It was never going to be easy, or definitive. But with Real World 25 - a celebratory 3CD set boasting big names, hidden gems and tracks chosen by listeners - we're giving it a go.

"We've always been vibrant, alive and kicking," says Peter Gabriel of Real World Records, the label he launched in 1989, a few years after establishing the WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) Festival. "We worked hard to create an environment where the artists felt respected and supported, so that they were able to deliver extraordinary performances."

The magic was there from the off: an old mill building, transformed into state-of-the-art studios, on the edge of a pond fringed with bulrushes, in landscaped gardens bordered by a river, in the village of Box in the southwest of England.

Nearby, the ancient standing stones of Avebury and Stonehenge. About the grounds, in cottages built from wood and warm Bath stone, a team of music enthusiasts with vision and know how.

Into this place of freedom and possibility, this mix of the handmade and the high-tech, came musicians from elsewhere. Says Gabriel: "I was thinking about this sort of music when we designed the studios" - where a large interactive space called The Big Room puts artists on a par with engineers and producers - "and eventually Thomas Brooman, WOMAD's former artistic director, convinced me of the need to try a label."

Nusrat Fateh Ali KhanArmed with a philosophy that variously involved openness, interconnectedness and the right to fail, Real World Records was born. Its first release, Passion, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, duly won a Grammy. Passion's follow up, Passion - Sources, gave a platform to the world class but lesser known artists who'd inspired the soundtrack. Albums by Sufi devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; Tabu Ley Rochereau, the Congolese vocalist and bandleader; and the popular Orquesta Revé, a son-changui outfit from Cuba, followed.

"We started out as a label driven by Peter's passion for music other than rock and pop," says label manager Amanda Jones. "In the Eighties it was a big revelation for him to discover he could be as excited about a pipa player from China or a singer from Pakistan as he was about a blues guitarist from America."

Real World Records had no agenda. Perhaps the closest it came to a template was the maverick aesthetic of BBC DJ John Peel, who would follow a track by The Fall with a song by a Siberian throat singer - along with that of its unconventional elder sibling, the WOMAD Festival.

"We just knew we wanted to work with music that has real passion, atmosphere and grooves," says Gabriel. "Music that would touch those open enough to listen."

Remmy Ongala

In exploring the relationship between Western producers and non-Western artists, Real World Records set a precedent. Nowhere was this more in evidence than during the three extraordinary Recording Weeks that took place in the summers of 1991, 1992 and 1995, when artists from all over the world converged on the village of Box to collaborate, create and investigate.

"It was a giant playpen, a bring-your-own studio party," remembers Gabriel with a smile. "We were curators of this sort of living mass."

While the likes of Tanzanian singer-guitarist Remmy Ongala, Sardinian vocal quartet Tenores di Bitti and Afro-Colombian singer Totó la Momposina, recorded entire albums, myriad collaborations went on elsewhere.

Big Blue Ball, a compilation built from all three Recording Weeks, features contributions by several artists who would make albums for Real World Records: Congolese soukous star Papa Wemba. American singer- songwriter Joseph Arthur. Tanzanian vocalist Hukwe Zawose. Irish sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird - the voice of the phenomenal Afro Celt Sound System.

AfroWith more than one million albums sold, Afro Celt Sound System is one of the most successful world fusion acts, ever. The Blind Boys of Alabama have racked up three quarters of a million albums; other RWR bestsellers include Kenyan artist Ayub Ogada, Ugandan musician Geoffrey Oryema, South Indian singer Sheila Chandra and Mercury-nominated East London minimalists, Portico Quartet.

Such commercial heavyweight releases enabled releases by lesser-known artists: Afro-Brazilian diva Daudé, say, or Senegalese vocal duo Pape & Cheikh. Real World Records has released more than 200 albums to date. Each one still sounds freshly pressed. Every artist still feels relevant and compelling.

"Looking back we realise how lucky we were to be working with so many extraordinary artists from all over the world," says Gabriel. "We have a rich, vibrant and varied catalogue of authentic and soulful music."

Joe Strummer at Real World studios
Real World Records still eagerly looks forward, squinting into the blinding light of what lies ahead. 2014 has seen new working relationships develop with albums from Irish-American outfit The Gloaming and Welsh-language moodists 9Bach. The Gloaming project has been hugely successful in transforming the idea of what a traditional Irish sound could be, right now. 9Bach are a bright, very contemporary Welsh language band, whose recently released album Tincian is gaining rave reviews. Later in the year comes a superb new album from Garifuna singer, songwriter and guitarist, Aurelio. Looking forward to 2015, the wonderfully prolific Joseph Arthur will have a new album ready, and there are further additions to the re-issue series, Real World Gold.

Today, with much traditional music accessible in a click, Real World Records has adapted accordingly. The drive to discover and record quality music -- music that is entertaining, exciting, obscure - is the same as it ever was; the commitment to getting it out there is just as fierce: "Whether it's on vinyl, download, digital, cross-platform mobile apps," says Jones, "or beaming in from outer space."

Or by magic. Real World has always had that.

Real World 25 has it, too.


  • Mac Edition Radio's The Best of 2014 If music is an affirmation of our humanity then Real World 25 is a potent reminder of its power. Read more. (USA)
  • Folk Works top pick of 2014 ...reminding me of treasures in need of revisiting, revealing overlooked nuggets... (USA)
  • Peter Gabriel's label has been the guardian angel of so-called world music... Real World 25 celebrates the quarter-century milestone in a suitable style with a box set that supplies a cross section of the company's rich back catalogue. Rhythms Magazine (Australia)
  • Former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel launched his record label, Real World, a quarter-century ago... showcase great music from around the globe. His batting average has been impossibly high and he has been invaluable in introducing Western listeners to worthy music from even the most distant and remote corners of the world. Read more. UT San Diago online (USA)
  • NPR: Best Global Music of 2014 This is a 3-CD compilation, not a new release. But in an era in which there is constant conversation about whether or not we can move past the sobriquet of "world music" altogether, it's particularly great to note the 25th anniversary of the founding of Peter Gabriel's internationally focused label.Read more. NPR Music (USA)
  • * * * * ...hidden gems... ...everything from Chinese folk rock to Uzbek disco. Financial Times (UK)
  • Real World Records turns 25 this year. That any record label dedicated to global sounds has survived this long is impressive; ...many others have gone by the wayside or changed course. But Real World has done more than merely survive. Driven by the passion-more on that in a moment-of its founder and overseer Peter Gabriel and a loyal and dedicated staff, the label has pursued a highly idiosyncratic course, traversing nationalities, genres and the full spectrum from folklore to techno-pop. Amanda Jones talks to Afropop Worldwide. Read more. Afropop Worldwide (USA)
  • No. 3 - FRoots Critics Poll - Best Reissues & Compilations Of 2014 FRoots Magazine (UK)
  • No. 3 - FRoots Critics Poll - Best Package Album 2014 FRoots Magazine (UK)
  • The Planet's Best World Music Label Celebrates 25 Years Real World has consistently identified top talent throughout the world and has revealed it to the rest of the world. ...Trailblazing. Read more. (USA)
  • This is a wonderful set of music... and an admirable way for Real World to celebrate a quartet of a century's worth of releases - here's hoping for many more years of exciting records to come. Folk Roots Magazine (UK)
  • 4 / 5 This anthology is representative of the plethora of music on the Real World label and the world roots scene as a whole should be externally grateful to Pete Gabriel for having the foresight and courage to chronicle so much of it. UK Vibe (Online )
  • Peter Gabriel's Real World imprint has forged an eminently worthy niche for itself over the past 25 years... a small boutique concern where "world music" artists could find a welcoming, hi-tech home for their output. Record Collector (UK)
  • * * * * * Stereo Magazine (Germany )
  • * * * * * Audio Magazine (Germany )
  • 8 / 10 Stereoplay Magazine (Germany)
  • * * * * * A scintillating survey of modern music from all points of the compass... The sheer guts of the label in backing the mad, the unorthodox and the audacious as well as the wronged and the exiled, is something to really celebrate. Songlines Magazine (UK)
  • Real World 25 celebrates in style New Internationalist (UK)
  • Diversity is the unifying factor here... approach that successfully opened Western ears to new sounds rich in culture and imagination. Long may it continue. UNCUT (UK)
  • A remarkable 48 song tribute to a game-changing label. Stamp The Wax (UK)
  • * * * * * Real World 25 stands not only as a reminder about this label's longevity, but also its quality. of the most comprehensive anthologies of world music out there. All About Jazz (Online)
  • * * * * This remarkable three-CD box celebrates the first 25 years of the Real World label. When Peter Gabriel set it up after establishing WOMAD, it was with no limiting agenda - simply a desire to explore the possibilities in a relationship between western producers and non-western artists. Here we have some of the fruits which have resulted, some being forgotten gems, others being tracks chosen by listeners. From the Armenian Djivan Gasparian to the Sardinian Tenores Di Bitti, from the Creole Choir of Cuba to the Blind Boys of Alabama, it's a real treasure trove. The Scotsman (UK)
  • * * * * What makes this a cut above is the sequencing... which the listener's journey from China to Finland to Sardinia is as smooth as one of Patrick Bateman's Armani suits. Mojo Magazine (UK)
  • * * * * It's a tribute to [Peter Gabriel's] proselytising that the sounds of... ...Sheila Chandra, Papa Wemba, et al, once so exotic, are now part of the aural landscape. The Sunday Times (UK)
  • * * * * A substantial set... ...celebrating a little-acknowledged British institution. The Independent on Sunday (UK)
  • The Planet's Best World Music Label Celebrates 25 Years World Music Central online (USA)
  • Peter Gabriel talks to Mark Maconie... on BBC Radio 6 about 25 years of Real World Records. Listen again.... BBC Radio 6 Music (UK)
  • * * * * One of the most adventurous of the great British record labels... ...Real World changed the musical landscape - and this album shows exactly how and why. The Guardian (UK)
  • * * * * This is how you celebrate a record label anniversary - with the sort of release that makes you thirsty for another quarter century. Classic Pop (UK)
  • Real World 25 truly is a musical extravaganza. To anyone thinking that World music is only from Africa think again. Real World 25 spans, literally the world. If ever there was a compilation that was needed to introduce everything from around the globe, then this was it. Read more. Louder Than War Online (Online)
  • Peter Gabriel's world-music label has been marching to its own beat for a quarter of a century... it more than deserves to throw a party for itself. do some of the recordings flirt with the anodyne harmonies of new age? Yes, but the best of the company's output - exemplified by the Creole Choir of Cuba, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Los de Abajo, Toto La Momposina and Dub Colossus - is a reminder of how much Gabriel and co have done to bring this music to the mainstream. Here's to another 25 years. The Sunday Times - Culture (UK)