From the Exclaim! article: Four Labels to Watch in 2004 Year in Review 2003 Limitless Sky A label to watch not only for great music, but for its relationship to the business of world music. Michel and Rosa Tyabji spent three years in Tanzania recording folkloric and popular musicians and staging free concerts. The first three releases came out this year, kicked off by the absolutely crucial New African Composers Vol 1 and the propulsive soukous of Yellow Card by Ndala Kasheba. The Tyabjis' goal is to help Tanzanian artists understand and negotiate intellectual property rights, issues of international copyright and artist representation. Most record companies releasing music by African artists do so through recording or licensing music in London, Paris and New York, with little involvement in the communities from whence the music originated. Limitless Sky shows how the encouragement of musical diversity can be a means to social development around the world. David Dacks - December 02, 2003
Look at a map of Africa and try to find Tanzania. For a lot of people, it only exists in the shadowy world of new stories on terrorism. But it's there, on the east coast of Africa, in the city of Dar es Salaam, that Michel and Rosa Tyabji established their Makuti Studio in 1998. After three years they've returned to the U.S. and settled in Seattle, where they've begun releasing the fruits of their labors on their Limitless Sky label- a compilation, New African Composers, Vol. 1, and Yellow Card by expatriate Congolese singer/guitarist Ndala Kasheba. Together, they start to shine a light on a region of the continent that's been musically neglected in the West. The inspiration came from Michel Tyabji, whose father works with UNICEF, "so I always moved to a different country every four or six years. A large part of the time was in Africa. We'd drive from Somalia to South Africa and back on holiday. I was really taken by the music of the whole region, not really Tanzania. I came to SUNY to study music, and I didn't too well. Since I'm a musician, I went to study audio engineering, which is where Rosa and I met. I just knew there was all this music in Tanzania, but there's very little here, especially traditional music. I thought I have all this training, and Rosa and I have all these machines, and we're sitting in New York - couldn't we go to Tanzania and record this music?" Putting out feelers through his father, who was stationed in Tanzania, they discovered that the Ministry of Culture was very interested. The Tyabjis wrote a proposal to the government. "We bought more equipment to do mobile recording, and my fantasy was to go into villages and record, multitrack like we were in a studio," recalled Michel. "The government invited us. But they couldn't give us any money." "We weren't coming with our ideas about their culture, we were just a production entity, and wanted to work with their musicians," Rosa added. Even after they'd arrived, nothing happened overnight. Sweden and Norway had donated money to a cultural fund, but it wasn't available yet. The Tyabjis began educating musicians about the music business. "We kept talking about rights and copyright, and people opened to us," Rosa explained. "It took over a year and a half for the government to initiate our proposal. So they told use to use our studio to live. Eventually some of the larger players in the pop scene came to us as our reputation spread." Even those big names weren't wealthy - they were playing in clubs three nights a week, for six or seven hours at a time "and they make maybe a dollar fifty a night." But, as New African Composers Vol.1 makes obvious, their music was magic. Finally, some cultural funds were released, but it became apparent that the logistics of taking a studio on the road simply wouldn't work. Politics, two rainy seasons a year, and terrible roads conspired against the couple. They did make one trip to a rural area, and ended up with their equipment ruined. "It was easier for government representatives to bus village musicians to Dar es Salaam, where we could do a better job," noted Michel. They do plan to release the traditional music they recorded, which has been used to begin a government archive, "but we're not going to release it until everything is ready. It's important we present it as a modern archive - it's living tradition, and the oral tradition is important. We're not sure yet how to do that." One of their big hopes is to help their artists tour, and already it seems as if one, Zimbabwean Garikayi Tirikoti, whose own CD will appear soon, will make it to the Northwest for Zimfest, to be held in Oregon. But with Tanzania now on the I.N.S. blacklist, the Tyabjis know they face an uphill battle. "Europe is moving ahead, artists coming over. America's just pulling itself away." They plan to return to Tanzania, where they've left Makuti Studio in the hands of a local man they trained. "We think of it as another home," said Rosa.