Astar Artes is the vision of long-time musical adventurer John Hollis ……
It all began at school in Sudbury, Suffolk in the late 70s, when he put on his first show with a local rock band. At University in Bristol, in the early 80s, he presented shows with Black Roots, Pig Bag and others. The taste for fine music and an almighty groove led him to manage, and later perform with, a young reggae band called Restriction. For several years they toured the UK, recorded for BBC Radio 1 and then with the Mad Professor. The band started performing in Paris in 1985, before they all went their separate ways, and it was here John came into contact with Francophone Africa, discovering artists and albums from Senegal and Mali that were to lead him into an inspiring and strangely familiar world.
He tour managed Super Diamano de Dakar in Europe and was then approached by the Womad Festival who were keen to develop contacts with French speaking artists and make more of the enormous potential harboured in Paris. This led to a creative working relationship with Womad which went on for several years. John worked on festival programming and helped take the festival overseas, later organising tours for participating artists which brought him into contact with many musicians from different countries. He met Toumani Diabate in 1986 when he was performing in a group visiting London and they struck up an immediate friendship. John brought Toumani to the UK for his first solo performances in 1987, working on several projects together, and kick-started his international career. He also worked closely with Tanzanian star Remmy Ongala and Gambian kora maestro Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, arranged the first UK shows for Salif Keita and toured with Farafina, The Drummers of Burundi and Doudou N’Diaje Rose, whilst working with numerous other artists from Geoffey Oryema and Ali Farka Toure to Guo Yue and Joji Hirota.
In 1990 John left Womad and based himself in Senegal for a while soaking up mandinka, woolof and bambara music. During this period he freelanced as a tour manager, working with The Cambodian National Dance Company, The Jolly Boys and Totó la Momposina. Totó and family then invited him to Colombia and, on an exploratory visit in 1992, he accepted her proposition to be her manager and stayed there for two years – changing continents and immersing himself in the world of the cumbia, bullerenge and son. Since then he has managed Totó’s career and taken on other artists, notably Cuban band Asere, Cuban troubador Adan Pedroso and Colombian group Cimarrón. For a time he worked with Congolese guitarist Papa Noel and Richard Blair (aka Sidestepper). He also continued to tour manage, working with Ruben Gonzalez , Ibrahim Ferrer, Eliades Ochoa, La Familia Valera Miranda, The Sabri Brothers, Susana Baca, David Byrne and the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band.
John now concentrates on artist management and music production. Over the years, working closely with artists in rehearsals and on many studio sessions, he has developed an interest in producing music.
A chance meeting with Drum whilst recording an album for Adan Pedroso led to the birth of Astar Artes Recordings. Drum has worked for nearly 30 years in the theatre and music business having cut his teeth in the early 80s working with a number of bands before running his own studio and management company.
The word Astar is Gaelic for journey, distance, momentum.
Together we move forward, purveyors of fine music and the almighty groove.