Why I Nominated Emmanuel Zunz for the GOOD 100

I first wrote to Emmanuel Zunz half a dozen years ago; I had heard him on All Things Considered, talking about his work as a music producer in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

I first wrote to Emmanuel Zunz half a dozen years ago; I had heard him on All Things Considered, talking about his work as a music producer in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Since I was doing similar work with children in the slums of Recife, Brazil, I wanted to find out how he had managed to develop such amazing technical quality in his recordings. We emailed back and forth a dozen times, then finally found ourselves both in Rio and met in a bar under the Arcas de Lapa, listening to the trolley rumble over our heads as it headed up into the bohemian chic neighborhood of Santa Teresa.

Zunz has a talent for finding music, for hearing the sounds that will make sense to a world audience. As he has moved on from direct production into distribution, he's been able to find exactly the bands and artists I want to listen to, and from his success with his label, ONErpm Records, he's found the music that many, many other people want to hear, too.

For the listener and the music buyer, that good taste may be the most important thing about Zunz's work. For those of us who work in the trenches of social change, his good ethics are even more important. There’s a long history of American and European producers and marketers using world music like the Spanish used Cerro Rico at Potosi, Bolivia: as a rich vein of cultural silver to be plundered for the benefit of multinational corporations. ONErpm has reversed that story: Now, most of the money that a listener spends goes directly to the people who make the music, not to the label.

The name ‘ONErpm’ means ‘ONE Revolution People’s Music,’” Zunz explains. “‘ONE’ represents unity but also stands for our goal to be the best and ‘revolution,’ as in rpm, like vinyl, revolutions per minute to represent our goal to revolutionize the digital distribution industry through facilitating, bringing the music to the people.”

It also means a revolution in the way that musicians think of themselves: returning to seeing themselves as autonomous artists, even agents of social change, not simply as cogs in the world entertainment industry. In Latin America, where we have a long tradition of poets and musicians who work for social justice—and who have come to despise the logic of labels and distributors—this revolution may be as important as any other.

Kurt Shaw, a member of the 2013 GOOD 100, is the founder and executive director of Shine a Light, a 300-member network of organizations serving street and working children in Latin America.

Gap has teamed up with GOOD to celebrate the GOOD 100, our annual round-up of individuals at the cutting-edge of creative impact. Gap + GOOD are challenging you to join in. We all have something to offer. #letsdomore


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