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Tom Frouge

Tom Frouge

Tom Frouge and his penchant for truth in music

—KEIKO OHNUMA
Read his résumé, and you’ll picture Tom Frouge as a slick, garrulous promoter. He’s been senior vice-president of marketing, senior vice-president of promotion, artist manager, producer, and director at half a dozen record labels and radio stations over the last twenty years, and he currently co-produces the heavily-hyped music festival Globalquerque, which he founded.

What you might not expect to encounter is this long-haired dude in shorts, sandals, and a day’s growth of fashionable stubble, burning his eyeballs into a laptop in a booth at the Flying Star, where he greets you with a giant grin. Frouge, as you get to know him, embodies all the cultural contradictions of the contemporary music industry.

On the one hand, the fifty-one-year-old divorced Placitas father is like a guy you knew in high school. He grows animated recounting the time he first heard Led Zeppelin on the radio back in the early 1970s: Man! Because everyone at school shared that incredible moment—not like today, when the industry has fractured into a million marketing niches, from ambient to synthpop.

At the same time, your long-haired hippie friend clearly knows his way around a corporate ladder, too. Fresh out of college with a degree in political science, Frouge floated around Boston playing music before getting work as an alt-country radio DJ back home in Bridgeport, Connecticut. An old acquaintance got him a stint in the warehouse at the Celtic record label Green Linnet. Before he knew it, Frouge was managing the warehouse. Two months later, he had become director of national promotion. Over the next five years, as he attended conferences and met the players in the world music industry, he was courted away by Putumayo World Music just as the label began signing its own artists.

Today Frouge has his thumb in a dizzying number of ventures: media director of Santa Fe Music Fest, founding board member of the North American World Music Coalition, manager of Iraqi musician Rahim Al Haj, music liaison for Albuquerque’s Economic Development Department, and programmer for two online radio streams, among a half-dozen other occupations. Most notable, though, is his part in creating Globalquerque, which he points out is the only world music festival in the Southwest and, indeed, between California and Chicago.

Initially conceived as an industry showcase for promoters and producers, Globalquerque as riffed through Frouge’s dream machine has morphed in its third year into tie-dye happening meets tourism buzz. This year the festival will feature seventeen acts staggered on three stages over two nights, plus a free program of activities for families on Saturday afternoon.

Frouge says Globalquerque was conceived, in its five-year plan, as rapidly growing into a “destination event.” Timed to bridge world music festivals in the Midwest in August and the Womex industry conference in Europe in October, the festival was sold to the city and state as a potential gold mine of hotel bookings.

The city of Albuquerque “got it,” Frouge notes, donning his hat as city liaison to the music industry. “Economic development is not just smokestacks, and Albuquerque understands that.” Mayor Martin Chavez gave him and festival co-producer Neil Copperman an eager thumbs-up; the event has top billing on the state tourism calendar, and has scored hotel and rental car sponsors offering vacation packages, which has lured a stream of travel-magazine coverage. “We are the Balloon Fiesta of music,” Frouge says without a trace of sarcasm.

Never mind that the Globalquerque lineup may be as foreign to you as the performers’ lyrics. Frouge believes audiences will come to “trust the Globalquerque brand,” brainchild of a music geek who owns twenty-five thousand CDs and has spent a lifetime thinking about what makes music worth listening to. His personal tastes run the gamut from “The Clash to Cash,” Frouge says, but it’s not just about what he likes. He’s learned the importance of respecting musical traditions, and he’s dug for those bands that have deep cultural roots, or what he calls “a penchant for truth.”

“Above and beyond that, when people ask me to define why I keep a CD, it’s ‘attitude,’” Frouge muses. “It’s hard to define. It doesn’t have to be aggressive; it can be soft.” Like his client Al-Haj: He plays classical Iraqi oud music, “but there’s an attitude that comes through, about wanting to communicate something about his country.”

“Every year the ‘buzz’ bands are the ones no one’s ever heard of,” Frouge adds with a touch of pride. “It’s that sense of discovery—that’s the ethnomusicologist in me, the part I really like.” Likewise, though his selections are not really political, introducing culture through the easy entry point of music is a clear motivation for the longtime activist. “The first year we had both an Iraqi band and one from Iran,” Frouge grins. “It was a soft statement.”

The evolution has been natural for the admittedly slick, yet funny and likeable music promoter, businessman, and father of Talis, age seven: from punk musician to alt-country DJ to New Age producer (he was general manager and partner of Triloka Records) to world music maven. “I just do projects I dig,” he shrugs, “so it doesn’t feel stressful.”

New Mexico, on the other hand, has been a tough lily pad to leap. Frouge first felt the enchantment in 1979, on a classic “hippie trip” out west in a VW bus: “I got to New Mexico with hair down to my ass, and I got caught in the vortex,” he gestures skyward. For the next twenty-five years, he kept looking for a way to stay—not just to live in New Mexico, as the saying goes, but to make a living here.

That’s why Globalquerque makes so much sense in Albuquerque—not only for all the marketing reasons he can list, but because it puts the city on the musical map, with Frouge at the center of his vortex. Though it has yet to earn him or Copperman a dime, the labor of love keeps the two aging hippies on that magic bus. The joke between them, Frouge says, gesturing to imaginary headphones, is that someday they may actually get to go to

Globalquerque.


Heard Around the West

—BETSY MARSTON/HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

OREGON
The weekly Farmer’s Market in Corvallis, Ore., has an unlikely hit on its hands. It’s the “Meet a black guy” booth, where white folks can chat about race relations with two young men skilled at improvisational comedy, reports the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Jeff Oliver, who is black, and Sean Brown, who is white, say they “just want to get people to talk.” The event has garnered national attention, but what’s even bigger is a Web site called rent-a-negro.com, the deft domain of Portland writer and artist damali ayo. She features T-shirts of a black woman with the message: “My new friend,” as well as photos of an earnest white man closely examining the kinky hair of a patient black man. She also sells a greeting card – she calls it “the race card” -- sporting the message: “We don’t always take the time to talk about racism,” and another that admits: “So I’m your only black friend.” She’s written a book outlining in detail how white folks can dramatically improve their “race-dar”; it’s titled How to Rent a Negro.

ARIZONA
Male chauvinism continues to reign supreme inside the Phoenix Country Club. And if you’re a man and you speak up for women’s rights, you’re liable to get booted, reports the Arizona Republic. That’s what happened to Russell Brown, a lawyer and six-time golfing champion at the club whose membership was cancelled. His misstep was trying to broker an end to the club’s discriminatory dining rooms – a spacious one for men, complete with big-screen TVs, fancy bar and carving station, and a room so small and tacky for women that the chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano called it “a pinochle parlor from the ‘50s.” What probably most riled the country club honchos was Brown telling the New York Times that men become leaders of the club “by being visible, and you become visible by being seen in the Men’s Grill, and the way the Men’s Grill is set up suits those men.” The club’s leading lights include Andrew McCain, son of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, as well as the rock star Alice Cooper and business owners of several major-league sports teams. In June, the state’s civil rights division found that gender-specific dining rooms violated state anti-discrimination laws. But the opinion had no legal force, so as long as the century-old country club continues its separate and unequal dining tradition, Gov. Napolitano remains barred from the Men’s Grill.

UTAH
“A GPS system is no substitute for common sense,” says the Salt Lake Tribune – a statement that should be emblazoned on every global positioning system sold. Some of the tourists visiting southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are convinced that a GPS can get them wherever they want to go, regardless of topographic realities. Recently, 26 members of a Southern California family en route to the Grand Canyon decided to visit Grosvenor Arch in the Grand Staircase. They chose the most direct route, according to their GPS -- and got “monumentally lost,” ending up on the edge of a 500-foot cliff in the middle of the night. At that point they panicked and called 911 for help. Kane County Deputy Sheriff Tracy Glover says dozens of tourists have been led astray by their GPS and the quixotic nature of the monument: “People can start down a nice graded dirt road and it can soon turn into boulders and deep washes, but they continue driving instead of turning around.” In late spring, a family from Connecticut used a GPS for guidance within the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante, but got stopped cold when their vehicle bogged down in sand. Their recourse was theft: “They stole a rancher’s pickup to try and tow their car out, but ran out of gas. They were rescued by the rancher whose truck they stole when he came by driving in a ranch hand’s vehicle.”

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (betsym@hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard Around the West.

 

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