If anyone had predicted a couple of years ago that a group of septuagenarian Cuban musicians called the Buena Vista Social Club would become a record-selling phenomenon, he would have been laughed out of court. But Buena Vista has driven up sales for its producer, World Circuit, by 118% a year, from £425,000 in 1996 to £4.4m in 1999. World Circuit was set up in 1986 as a charity by Anne Hunt and Mary Farquharson and was making a precarious living organising British tours for African musicians when the current owner, Nick Gold, joined. Taking a gap year between a degree and teacher training college, Gold had been sent by the Manpower Services Commission as a temporary clerk. ‘I started part-time but was thrown into production early on and wound up working 24-hour days,’ says Gold, a self-confessed ‘record anorak’. After buying out Hunt and Farquharson, Gold ran the company from his bedroom for two years. It was only with a trip to Cuba that the company, which had been surviving through the export of CDs to countries such as Denmark and Germany, hit the big time. Gold had gone to Cuba to make a record with a group of West African musicians. When they failed to turn up he was introduced to some local 1950s dance-hall musicians. He was so impressed he decided to record with them instead. The rest is history. Buena Vista has gone on to make a series of best-selling albums and was the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary by the German film-maker Wim Wenders. On the back of this success World Circuit, which also produces the top African artists Ali Farka Toure and Cheikh Lo, has tripled its staff to 12 in two years. Gold has also employed a general manager to run day-to- day operations, leaving him plenty of time to go talent spotting in Cuban dance halls.
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