Peter Gabriel helped pioneer progressive rock as the theatrical leader of Genesis, which he left in the mid-'70s for a solo career, where he incorporated masterful production details and innovative use of synthesizer on groundbreaking tunes such as "Solsbury Hill" and "Games Without Frontiers." Inklings of Gabriel's interest in world music and human rights came together on the Afro-rocker "Biko" from his third eponymous solo album (often referred to as Melt) in 1980, which paid tribute to the South African antiapartheid activist and became one of the era's most memorable songs of protest.
As his solo efforts continued to generate interest, Gabriel launched the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival in 1980. Since the first WOMAD festival in Shepton Mallett, England, in 1982, WOMAD has presented more than 145 events in 22 different countries and islands. The festivals were obviously designed to introduce artists to international audiences but Gabriel sees them as something more. On the WOMAD Web site Gabriel says, "The festivals have also allowed many different audiences to gain an insight into cultures other than their own through the enjoyment of music. Music is a universal language, it draws people together and proves as well as anything the stupidity of racism." The festivals are usually weekend-long, family-oriented, active and diverse musical events, featuring simultaneous performances on two or three stages, including workshops, special events for children and dance sessions hosted by many of the visiting artists.
Gabriel's 1982 album, Security, was a success but his lush 1986 album, So (produced by Daniel Lanois), was a worldwide smash and featured the hits "Sledgehammer" and "Red Rain." Longtime activist Gabriel joined Sting and U2 for an Amnesty International benefit tour in 1986 and 1988. His first world-music recording, and the first for his Real World label, was Passion, the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ. The album featured field recordings collected from Turkey, Senegal and Egypt blended with a synth sheen. Interest in Passion was such that Real World released the untouched field recordings as Passion Sources in 1993.
Gabriel followed So with the long delayed Us in 1992, but the wait would be even longer for his next proper album. Instead, Gabriel issued Secret World Live (Geffen) and in 2000 he curated the multimedia release OVO: Millennium Show for Real World, which incorporated disparate international styles and artists of music. In 2002 he contributed music to the soundtrack Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence and finally released a new studio album, the dark, dense and difficult Up.
In 1987 and 1988 Gabriel built the one-of-a-kind Real World Studios, one of the world's premier recording facilities, in a converted 200-year-old water mill and its adjacent buildings near the village of Box in Wiltshire, England.
The Real World discography is incredibly varied but standout artists include WOMAD favorites Afro-Celt Sound System who fuse African and Irish music, U.K. dub producer Adrian Sherwood, eclectic Los Angeles act Ozomatli and Mexican hip-hoppers Los De Abajo and the q The label is responsible for the worldwide breakthrough (outside of India) of the master qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who issued nine albums with the label before his death in 1997.
In 2006, the label launched realworldremixed.com, which allows users to download studio tracks by Real World artists, remix them on their computers and upload the finished songs back to the Web site. John Dugan