When Miles Axe Copeland III was born on May 2, 1944, there was a very bright star in the sky, though no one is certain which star it was. There were also V-1 and V-2 rockets dropping in the near vicinity, as it was the height of the World War II blitz of London. Miles’ father, Miles Axe Copeland, Jr., was stationed in England in the American army doing counter-intelligence for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services), where he met and married Miles’ future mother, Lorraine Adie, who was in British Intelligence S.O.E (Special Operations Executive).
Miles’ passport shows his birth date as April 2 because father Miles made a mistake on the original application. Throughout life, Miles has had surprise birthday parties thrown on April 2 and people wish him happy birthday one month early. Rarely has anyone, except close family, wished him happy birthday on May 2. (The psychological damage done to him due to this fluke is unknown).
After the war, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where father Miles and a small nucleus of intelligence officers were given the task of organizing a central intelligence gathering organization combining the best of the various forces intelligence corps including the O.S.S. This resulted in the foundation of the C.I.A. In 1948, he was sent to Damascus, Syria as the CIA operative with the title “Culture Attaché.” While in Damascus, he was directly involved in the overthrow of the Syrian government, the first overthrow of a foreign government by an U.S. government operative using covert means. While in Damascus, young Miles became fluent in Arabic, which has come in handy recently with his launch into World Music, particularly music emanating from the Middle East. Apparently losing some of this aptitude over the years, Miles’ current Arabic fluency is convincing only to those who don’t speak a word of Arabic. He is, however, quite proficient in French.
The family then alternated between Middle East posts and Washington D.C. In 1953, father Miles Jr. was loaned by the C.I.A. to Gamal Abdul Nasser (President of Egypt) to organize the Egyptian secret intelligence, The Muhabarat. He soon became Nasser’s closest western advisor. It was here that Lorraine Copeland took up archeology and Miles III took up an interest in collecting anything ancient, from mummy parts to coins. It was also here that young Miles became friends with Col. Hasan Tuhami, Nasser’s machine gun toting bodyguard who lived next door. In later years, this friendship became extremely useful as Mr. Tuhami became Vice Prime Minister of Egypt and came to the rescue of The Police, whose equipment was stuck in Egyptian customs, jeopardizing a concert at the Cairo University that night. Father Miles’ exploits are recounted in three books: Game of Nations, The Real Spy World and his autobiography, The Game Player.
From 1957-68 the Copeland family was stationed in Beirut, Lebanon during the hey-day of that city. Miles attended high school at the American Community School where he was president of his senior class. Along with his archeologist mother, he further developed his fascination for ancient civilizations, especially their art and architecture. This interest took him to travel widely throughout Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. During the summer breaks, he taught judo, having previously earned a first-degree black belt. He was the first person ever to put on a judo exhibition for Lebanese television, his first television appearance. He was also presented with a license to teach Judo to the Lebanese Army. He accepts no responsibility for the ineffectiveness of that army in subsequent years.
From 1962-66, he attended Birmingham Southern College (receiving his B.A. in History and Political Science) in Birmingham, Alabama, the birthplace of his father and home to various Copelands (cousins, grandmother, etc.). He spent one semester at American University in Washington, D.C. (the Washington semester program), studying the workings of the US government up close and personal. From 1966-69, he attended the American University of Beirut, earning his M.A. in Economics. Courses focused largely on how to bring a third world country into the 20th century (without huge oil revenues). Meanwhile, times were strange in Beirut as the seeds of civil war were finding soil and at one point, Miles and other Americans were secretly whisked out of the country for their own protection, returning months later when deemed “relatively safe.” He promoted his first music concert at the University in 1968, the first “psychedelic” style happening in Beirut.
This caught the attention of a local Lebanese concert promoter who was soon to bring a British pop group to perform in Beirut and wanted to beef up the show with some of Miles’ production ideas, which included projection, black lights, and “go-go” girls. The British group, Ruperts People, performed all summer and came to rely completely on Miles to save them from the perfidity of the promoter and general untogetherness. Miles soon discovered he was good at this and loved the challenge. Summer over, Ruperts People returned to England, plotting how to rope this energetic American into helping them back in “Blighty.”
In 1968, he formed his first business partnership, Middle East Security Consultants, with his close friend, Amer Ghaleb, son of Egypt’s Ambassador to Lebanon (known to run the largest spy network in Lebanon). Various incidents caused both the CIA local chief and Ambassador Ghaleb to put an end to this enterprise. Of particular embarrassment was Miles’ unfortunate habit of answering the phone, “CIA, how can we help you?”
It should be interjected here that at this point, one could have assumed Miles would move into a career in international politics, Middle East business, or even the CIA, following in the footsteps of his colorful father. But no- a completely different path evolved; set in motion by father Miles’ astute predictions. It is significant that father Miles was fascinated with the operation of the human mind.
Finishing with college and having become somewhat disenchanted with developments in the Middle East, Miles rejoined the family who had subsequently set up base in London, England. Here, he reunited with Ruperts People, who launched him on a crash course in the music business.
Alas, it became apparent as Miles was becoming “educated” that the day of the “pretty boy” pop group like Ruperts People was over, being supplanted by the scruffy musician-oriented progressive rock era. One night at a club in northwest London, Miles met two such “progressive rock” musicians and became inspired to help them form a group. The result was Wishbone Ash, which became a successful progressive rock band that eventually led Miles to sign Climax Blues Band, Renaissance, Al Stewart, Joan Armatrading, Curved Air, and Caravan. Wishbone’s first LP went top 30 and they were voted Best New Band by the major U.K. music press. The band’s third LP was unanimously voted Album of the Year in the U.K. Wishbone Ash, and later Miles’ other clients, made numerous tours of the U.S., making Miles an unrivaled expert in every aspect of touring British bands in the U.S. market.
“What makes Johnny tick? Environment or genetics?” A certified genius himself, with an IQ of 162, he knew genius resided in his wife’s, Adie, side of the family also. Brother-in-law, Ian Adie, was reading ancient Greek at age 3- currently could speak every European language, plus was fluent in Chinese. On a visit to Beirut, he impressed all by (1) tuning into Radio Peking on the family “Ham” radio and laughing at all the jokes and (2) figuring out the Arabic language by the time he left two weeks later. He was also in the intelligence “business,” becoming the world’s leading expert on Sino-Soviet relations. Therefore, suitably stocked with intelligence, he set about to build an encouraging environment. He decided that exposing his children to the picadillos and intrigues of the real world- whether they were then interested or not- would impart by osmosis, perception, instinctive understanding, and, hopefully, wisdom that would come in handy in later years. This was not too difficult when one’s “hobnobbing” circle included over the years: President Nasser of Egypt (“leader of the Arab World”), Kim Philby (Britain’s most famous spy who ended up as a general in the KGB), Adnan Khasochggi (famous arms dealer and general wheeler dealer), as well as countless lesser and behind the scenes personages of power, intrigue, and general skullduggery. The family Sunday lunch was more likely than not to feature discussions of what the Sudanese Liberation Army was up to (Father Miles having taken Miles to a meeting with them in Washington) or which military leader was likely to come out on top in Ghana politics.
It as at this time that Miles the elder made it clear to Miles, soon to be graduating from college, that a career in the CIA should be furthest from his thoughts. “It will disappoint and frustrate you and there’s no money in it,” he cautioned. He had come to realize that there were two powerful forces working against the CIA: one coming from the “left” and one from the “right.” The “left” was generally opposed to the CIA and opposed behind the scenes skullduggery on moral grounds, even if in the interests of all US, basically the old “the ends do not justify the means” argument. The “right” was basically and unabashedly anti-intellectual. When father Miles was involved in setting up the CIA in its earliest days, recruitment focused on finding people who were experts on or had firsthand knowledge of their subject. Staff for the “Russian Desk” should speak and read Russian, for instance. College professors and recent immigrants were obvious choices. They would have not only knowledge, but also perception. As the Vietnam War progressed, the CIA became more “operations” oriented (covert actions), rather than intelligence-gathering, which meant more and more recruitment of military types. The military mind is historically suspicious of the intellectual and certainly suspicious of the immigrant who may harbor secret sympathies for the homeland. As the military mind set eventually “took over,” it now became policy to put people on “Russian Desk” who would have no connection at all to Russia- could not speak the language, etc.- so there was no danger of latent sympathies. This “safe” policy obviously had its drawbacks (to put it mildly), as we have seen from recent events wherein the CIA and, hence, the US government was taken by surprise by huge international events, and has generally operated on in the dark or with completely wrong information.
As father Miles’ fears turned out to be justified, it is fortuitous he completely discouraged his son from a career in government. Besides, he wanted his sons to make REAL money, something he never did. Also, as US law does not permit foreign-born citizens to become President and Miles Copeland III was born in London, why go into a job where you can never be top man?
During this first period of Miles’ career, he formed his first record label, BTM (British Talent Managers) Records, became partners in a UK concert booking agency, which first employed brother Ian back fresh from Vietnam, and started a music industry magazine, College Event, keeping his name out of it via a front man editor so he could write glowing articles about all his artists. Coincidentally, the magazine revolutionized concert booking in the UK simply by publishing regular lists of touring artists, their average fees, who their booking agent was, and the phone numbers. This eliminated a whole layer of middlemen who up to that time bought and sold artists from agent to agent, promoter to promoter because they knew who was who and how to get hold of them.
Also in this period, Miles befriended a brash, eager young New York lawyer unhappy in a sleepy law firm. Seeing in him a possible exit scenario, he talked Miles into setting up a New York office with him in one room and Miles in another. That lawyer was the now-legendary Allen Grubman and the office; the beginning of what is now the world’s most powerful music business law firm.
In 1975, Miles embarked on a major moving festival tour throughout Europe, much like today’s Lollapalooza, called “Startrucking 75,” which featured most of his acts, plus Tina Turner, Lou Reed and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. The first of its kind, Startrucking was, in concept, a success, but it was a financial quagmire that forced Miles to dissolve his management company and start again. The final straw occurred on the last several shows when Lou Reed failed to show up as he had locked himself in a bathroom in New Zealand and there was no indication of when he would come out.
This comeuppance proved to be an invaluable lesson in life. Namely, what goes up, can also come down, and when down, one really finds out who one’s friends are. One consequence was Miles was now stuck in England and had to give up his office in New York. He also gave up the magazine, record company, and the booking agency partnership.
Miles’ way back up coincided with the punk explosion in the United Kingdom where he found an affinity because the punk rockers didn’t care that Miles no longer had any money. They just wanted someone to pay attention to them, and Miles did.
During this anarchic period, 1977-79, Miles acted in various roles as agent, manager, producer, and record company (founding Illegal Records, Deptford Fun City Records and Step Forward in 1977) for almost every act in the punk/new wave scene: The Sex Pistols (as agent for the first and only European tour), The Clash (for about three weeks), Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Cherry Vanilla, Generation X (with Billy Idol), Blondie (being the first to bring the group to the U.K.), Television, John Cale, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and many more. The depth of his relationships in the punk scene made him the obvious choice to executive produce the first movie dedicated to the scene, Michael White’s, “Urgh! A Music War,” which still airs occasionally on TV around the world. His office also became the headquarters for the Rolling Stone magazine of the punk movement, Sniffing Glue, the most famous and influential fanzine of the day. With Miles’ help, the fanzine grew from selling a few hundred copies to a 20,000 circulation accomplished largely by hard work, word of mouth, and a unique product at the right time and the right place.
Creating Firstars Management, he was manager for Squeeze and for his brother Stewart’s new band, The Police. Miles recorded John Cale, Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, Chelsea, The Cortinas, Sham 69, The Cramps, The Fall, Alternative TV and both The Police’s and Squeeze’s first singles. In 1978, he recorded The Police’s first album and, after hearing Roxanne, decided that the group would require the distribution of a major company. By making A & M Records an offer they couldn’t refuse, The Police were signed to that company.
Miles then independently financed the group’s first U.S. tour, which sent word of mouth wheels in motion and which subsequently saw the group become the hottest band in the world. In The Police, Miles found three individuals with the same positive energy and lack of commitment to old ways of doing things that he had. No idea was too crazy to at least consider. All four of them- Sting, Andy, Stewart, and Miles- recognized early on it was their combination of contrasts- merger of things that “shouldn’t” belong together from the music mixture of punk, pop, jazz, and reggae to their unique stripped down touring style- that made them different. When Miles dreamed up the title of the first album to encapsulate the essence of what was going on, “Outlandos d’amour” (combining outlaw-commandos of love), it was immediately adopted. Miles went on to title the next two albums, “Regatta de Blanc” and “Zenyatta Mondatta.” Miles’ original title for the third LP was “Trimondo Blondomina” (three blondes conquering three worlds), but it was a bit too much for Sting. But in truth, the group had, in fact, conquered all three worlds. They were the first Western group to play in India and one of the very few to do Egypt. They re-opened Greece to Rock & Roll after years of military dictatorship. The Police performed to huge, ecstatic crowds in Argentina and Chile. Much of this was captured in “Police in the East” and “Police Around the World” videos. Meanwhile, a monthly magazine was launched in the UK titled, “The Police,” which reached a circulation of over 100,000, and featured photos of The Police in these various exotic and picturesque locales. Photo credits were more often than not: Miles Copeland III.
The success of The Police and the novel methods used to break them enabled Miles to talk Jerry Moss (head of A & M) into distributing a U.S. version of his U.K. labels with A & M in the United States, and I.R.S. Records was born. In the next few years, the company had hits with The Buzzcocks, The Beat, The Cramps, Wall of Voodoo, Timbuk 3, R.E.M. and a number one album with the all-girl group, The Go-Gos. This album ended up as the number one seller in the U.S. for the entire year. This formula established the label as one of the most innovative in the business, and, at the same time, The Police rose to greater and greater heights, giving Miles and I.R.S. an immense profile. On July 2, 1982, Miles was the front page of the UK Marketing Week magazine with the headline “The Empire Built on Rock.”
This period featured many articles in the press detailing his exploits, style, and accomplishments, even some scurrilous ones associating him with various movie starlets. All this served to reinforce the idea “don’t believe everything you read.” Miles also now learned firsthand the meaning of his father’s joking advice: “don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” The media’s propensity to exaggerate and embellish, whether positive or negative, is worth fully appreciating.
Looking back on the I.R.S. legacy, it becomes apparent that not only was the label influential in marketing music, but it ended up populating the business with a surprisingly large number of top executives who got their start there and who credit Miles with launching their careers.
Another major success Miles had was with The Bangles, whom he managed from their early beginnings until several months before the group’s dissolution. In 1986, the all-girl group had the number one worldwide hit of the year, “Walk Like An Egyptian.” Though Miles had always seen this song as a smash hit, it was not considered a single neither by the group's U.S. nor UK record companies. Miles couldn’t talk the U.S. company into releasing it, but did manage to cajole the UK company into releasing it as the fourth single. It took off immediately as a virtual worldwide phenomenon.
By coincidence, this period also witnessed the beginning of MTV and Miles was one of the first to recognize the fledgling networks potential. The Police became the first artist to be sponsored by MTV and Miles became the first (and until now only) to have his record company produce its own show on MTV, the IRS Cutting Edge. This novel show ran for five years and was the first to expose many of the decade’s later stars on television.
Also in the world of television Miles developed Jools Holland, the young keyboard player from Squeeze, into a major TV host/personality. Believing Jools had that special something; he talked The Police into using him as the host on their upcoming TV special. It worked for The Police AND for Jools, landing him in a five-year contract as host on Channel 4s music show, “The Tube.” After “The Tube” had run its course, Jools continued to be very much in demand. At one point, Miles had the poor bastard commuting back and forth across the Atlantic (on the Concorde of course) hosting a Sunday TV show for Lorne Michaels (producer of Saturday Night Live) in New York and a BBC show in London on Wednesdays.
Meanwhile, on a parallel and symbiotic path, the third Copeland brother, Ian, was going from strength to strength as the premier booking agent of the new wave. Calling his agency Frontier Booking International (FBI), he was soon booking all of Miles’ bands, plus a host of others. His exploits are recounted in his notorious autobiography published by Simon and Schuster, “Wild Thing.”
Miles has been a keynote speaker at the New Music Seminar and the Juno Awards and has been featured speaker at South by Southwest. In England, he was given a one-hour program for Channel 4 Television titled “Miles Copeland's England,” aired nationally in prime time where Miles spoke about the good and bad sides of the United Kingdom, a fairly notorious program in that country, and apparently a favorite of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The program was picked up by Danish television and more recently, by Norwegian television who liked its capitalist sentiments. Interestingly, the show was scheduled for another airing on Channel 4, but was pulled after intense lobbying by several left-wing members of the programming board fearing it would have “undue influence” on the upcoming national elections. It is rumored that Miles was somewhat disappointed at this turn of events as the Conservative Party could now claim victory without Miles’ help. He also made numerous other television appearances in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. He has been featured in four of VH-1 “Behind The Music” programs on The Police, Sting, The Go-Gos and The Bangles, plus several programs on R.E.M for British television.
In 1984, The Police went into permanent hibernation and Miles carried on managing Sting through seven solo albums, and continues to work with brother Stewart, who is one of the major soundtrack composers in the movies today. He watches over Stewart’s interests in various bands, Animal Logic (with Stanley Clarke), Oysterhead (with Trey Anastasio and Les Claypool), and projects with Andy Summers, the third member of The Police. He launched Stewart’s major current business, film soundtracks, by securing the score for him on Frances Ford Coppola's “Rumblefish.” Stewart has gone from strength to strength with countless soundtracks under his belt.
I.R.S. Records moved to MCA with hits that included Belinda Carlisle, the 1989 number one hit album from The Fine Young Cannibals and highly successful albums from R.E.M. (1982 through 1988). In the 1990, I.R.S. joined the EMI family and had hits with Concrete Blonde, Stan Ridgeway, dada, and #1 hits in the U.K. with Pato Banton and Doctor and the Medics. Another signing was Torch Song containing William Orbit. Quickly realizing that William was the magic of the group and a production genius, Miles encouraged him to produce other IRS artists, thereby launching William’s producing career. (Recently William produced Madonna.)
Miles broadened the base of the company in 1987 to take in films with I.R.S. Media, Inc., and has acted as Executive Producer for over twenty-five films to date beginning with the company’s first film, “The Decline of the Western Civilization Part II,” “The Metal Years” (directed by Penelope Spheeris), “One False Move” (directed by Carl Franklin, written by Billy Bob Thornton, and chosen as the Best Movie of 1992) and “Tom and Viv,” which was nominated for two Academy Awards (1995). Miles himself appears in one of the films, “Bank Robber” with Patrick Dempsey as a TV evangelist, a role he felt particularly suited to. The film division was closed in 1996 to re-focus the company back to its core business of music. As a footnote, Miles also appeared in two memorable scenes in Sting’s film, “Bring on the Night.”
Music publishing has always been a core business for Miles. IRS Music, Illegal Songs, and Bugle Songs operate in London and Los Angeles. Miles hosts an annual songwriter’s retreat where he brings together writers and artists from all over the world to his 14th century castle in the Dordogne region of France. This has led to hits for platinum selling artists such as Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Jars of Clay, Toby Keith, Aaron Tippin, Keith Urban, and Jon Bon Jovi. Attendees have included Cher (who claims the retreat was one of the greatest experiences of her life), Carole King, Ted Nugent, Jeff Beck, Jon Bon Jovi, Hanson, Keith Urban and many more.
In 1988, in the U.K., he joined with booking agent veteran Phil Banfield, purchased several other agencies, and created what has now become the third largest booking agency in Europe, CODA, representing a wide array of artists from dance to pop to rock and whose roster includes Zucchero, Jeff Beck, Scissor Sisters, Supertramp, Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance, Bellydance Superstars, and Emma Shapplin to name a few of the over one hundred artists represented. The company is particularly strong in the DJ and dance market fluctuating between 1 and 2 in that market.
Along with his brothers, Stewart and Ian, Miles was honoree and recipient of the Humanitarian Award from the AMC Cancer Research Center in 1985. The awards program noted:
Seventeen years ago, the first AMC Humanitarian Award went to Judy
Holliday, a brilliant musical star and actress. Tonight, we are proud to
continue the tradition and honor Miles, Ian, and Stewart Copeland and their famous, and often times infamous, contributions to the music/entertainment industry.
Early in each of their individual careers, the Copeland Brothers were considered mavericks- the new frontiersman. Miles, attending to music management; Ian, involved as a music agent; and, Stewart, a talented composer, engaged as a drummer in The Police- all were iconoclasts. While they were bucking the established institution, practices and attitudes of the music industry, they were on the cutting edge of pioneering “new music” into the United States. Their methods, once scorned, are now imitated. It is fitting that we pay tribute to the Copeland Brothers and their pioneering spirit.
Billboard Magazine has also acknowledged him with an award for his contributions to the music world. In the U.K., during The Police years, he organized and ran, together with British M.P. (Member of Parliament) Anthony Steen, The Outlandos Trust, which donated a portion of Police’s earnings to many youth music projects throughout Britain. He has also supported Sting and Trudie Styler's Rainforest Foundation.
In 1997, when EMI closed a number of labels, including I.R.S., in a major consolidation effort, Miles established the independent label ARK21 distributed by EMI worldwide. The roster included Waylon Jennings, Leon Russell, Liquid Soul, Beautiful South, Human League, Belinda Carlisle, Paul Carrack, Howard Jones, Alannah Myles, Tony Williams and Paul Thorn. Subsidiaries of the label include Mondo Melodia (world music), Pagan Records (techno/dance), and Pangaea Records (co-owned by Sting and devoted to soundtracks including “Leaving Las Vegas,” “The Object of My Affection,” “The Mighty,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” and “Red Planet”). In 2001, Pangaea became a wholly owned subsidiary of ARK21.
ARK21 moved distribution to Universal in 1999, now the world’s number one record distributor. Initial success was achieved in Europe with presence on the Pagan label and “The Thomas Crown Affair” soundtrack on the Pangaea label.
Married in 1989 to Argentinean model and sculptress, Adriana Corajoria, the Copelands have three children, Miles Axe IV, Aeson Armstrong, and Axton Emerson who reside in Los Angeles and Chateau Marouatte in France.
This marriage and the prevalence of the Spanish language in the Copeland household fostered an interest in the Latin Music market, particularly Rock en Español. Consequently, Miles found himself one of the few Anglos paying attention to this exciting new musical hybrid. He released Manu Chao’s first solo album, Heroes Del Silencio, Mano Negra and El Gran Silencio, plus a compilation of the top Rock en Español stars from throughout Latin America performing Spanish language versions of The Police songs on “Outlandos D’ Americas.” The most recent signing in this market is Tomas Rodriguez from Puerto Rico.
More recently, Miles has become influenced by the Raï music movement in Algeria and France, which led him to encourage the collaboration of Raï Superstar Cheb Mami with Sting on Desert Rose from Stings Brand New Day album. This became a worldwide super hit and was performed at the Superbowl and Grammys (which was the first time Arabic was heard at both these events). Ark 21 released Cheb Mamis Meli Meli album in the U.S. in October 1999. This was followed by Khaled, Rachid Taha, Faudel and a number of other superstar Arab artists, including Kazem Al Saher, Ragheb Alame and Hakim.
September 1999 saw the re-entry into the market of Sting with his new album, Brand New Day. This album and the world tour (October 1999 thru April 2001) had Miles and the company heavily involved in all aspects of Sting. The album sold 8 million copies worldwide. The tour grossed 70 million. Unwittingly Miles virtually revolutionized the use of corporate advertising by a unique deal with Jaguar to promote the Desert Rose single. Upon first viewing the video for Desert Rose, Miles noticed that the Jaguar car inadvertently used came off as good as the song did. He immediately tracked down the advertising account executive for Jaguar and offered the video in return for a major TV campaign that advertised Stings song and album. The result was a fourfold sales jump for Sting AND Jaguar. This synergistic marriage of art and commerce has become the ultimate model that everyone has been trying to emulate ever since. A full chapter is devoted to it in “Madison & Vine” by Scott Donaton (McGraw-Hill).
Many corporations had bad experiences working with music personalities and their entourages. Musicians by nature are suspicious and anti-establishment. Most would not believe there was actually promotion or image enhancing-potential to be had; only money. The Sting Jaguar commercial changed this forever. Miles’ knack of marrying art and commerce to mutual advantage led to a number of lucrative speaking engagements, something Miles likes to do and seems to be good at. As a manager, publisher, record exec and agent for other acts, he found it a refreshing challenge to be an “act” himself.
Late 2001 saw the launch of an offshoot of the Mondo Melodia label, Mondo Rhythmica, to release the exciting new hybrid World Music sounds with modern rhythms coming out of the U.S.A., U.K. and France. Releases included Trans Global Underground, Shabaz, Oojami, Shani, Zohar and the legendary Rachid Taha. Mondo Melodia itself has become the most important source of world music in the USA, featuring artists from all over the Middle East, Persia, Greece, Italy, France, India, Africa, Spain, Turkey, North America, and Latin America.
Firstars Management also carefully expanded by signing pop opera superstar Emma Shapplin, the Moody Blues, the Anglo-Latin rap artists Delinquent Habits, and Greek opera star, Mario Frangoulis.
Emma Shapplin’s album was released by ARK21 in May 2002 with several territories releasing in September and in the United States at the end of 2003. Emma has already reached number one in Israel, Greece, Turkey and Canada with Top Tens in Holland, Argentina and a host of other countries.
September 11 was a dramatic shock to Miles beyond the sorrow of those tragic events. The next day he had two Arab stars with an entourage of Arab musicians (28 in all) booked to fly to the U.S. for an eagerly anticipated tour. Needless to say, neither Hakim from Egypt, nor Khaled from Algeria felt it appropriate to tour the U.S.A., aside from the fact there were now no flights. The tour, which had virtually already sold out, was moved to March 2002 and proceeded without a hitch. The start date coincided with the World Economic Forum being held in New York City, hosted by Mayor Giuliani and then-Vivendi head, Jean-Marie Messier. Miles, who seems to have become known as Mr. World Music and Mr. Cultural Diversity, was asked to organize duets for the concert being held for the event. The brief: cultural diversity and different cultures working together. Miles called Israeli superstar Noa to join Khaled in singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” in Hebrew, Arabic and English. This Arab-Israeli, Jewish-Muslim collaboration brought the house down and remains one of the most powerful music moments in Miles’ colorful career. Also on the bill, Miles paired Hakim with Puerto Rican superstar Olga Tañon singing an Arabic-Spanish duet written at the previous year’s songwriting event in France. So powerful was this song, that the pair were invited to perform at Radio City Music Hall in New York for the One World Jam (for cultural diversity) that resulted in the second major Arab star singing on mainstream U.S. television. Following in this tradition, Miles, with the help of famous producer, Narda Michael Walden, created a new duet for Hakim for his upcoming (January 2005) CD release with soul icon, James Brown.
2001 and 2002 saw great changes in the music business with a great deal of debate surrounding digital rights, Napster, artist relations with labels, piracy, CD burners, etc. Many articles appeared expounding all sorts of notions usually to the detriment of the record companies. Though Miles has had strong and vocal opinions about many aspects of the record business, he saw no value in killing the Golden Goose with unfair and misrepresented attacks. Accordingly, he wrote several articles for various magazines that were picked up on various websites including the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). In trying to bring common sense into the argument as well as the real facts, Miles found himself one of the few willing to be outspoken in defense of the industry. This caught the attention of the RIAA, who asked him to join them in Sacramento for a California Senate hearing on artist rights. Miles was asked to be the industry spokesman at the press conference, while Don Henley represented the other side. Miles admits to a certain amount of awkwardness at being lumped in as an industry man, as most of his life has involved in pushing artists interests. His basic view is that if the industry is to be attacked. It should be based on facts, not wild misinformation and supposition, and it should DEFINITELY not be done in a way to weaken the industry’s ability to protect BOTH artists, company rights, assets being besieged by the public’s new demand, and ability to get music for FREE. The debate goes on.
2002 saw ARK21 and Mondo Melodia enter into several recording ventures, which heralded exciting opportunities for the company. One was with DJ Quiks’ label, Bungalo Records, with Quiks’ first release launched in June. The second was a joint venture with Egypt’s premier record company, Alam el phan, which brought the company a host of Arabian superstars: Amr Diab, Nawal Zoughbi, Moustafa Amar, Samira Said, Mohamed Mounir, Ragheb Alame, etc.
Events in the Middle East saw Miles in demand as a spokesman with views on the Arab perspective. He appeared twice on Bill Mahers Politically Incorrect as well as a number of radio shows. In fact, Miles started his own two-hour talk show once a week on KRLA from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. every Monday for three months. As one would expect, the Palestine/Israeli conflict was a prominent theme with Miles attempting a dialogue between both sides. One show featured calls from Israelis in Tel Aviv describing their situation; others featured Palestinians. Unfortunately, Miles did not achieve a peace initiative, but still believes one is possible some day. Miles currently writes for An Nahar, an Arab/English weekly newspaper, and is political editor for Buzzine Magazine, an up market Los Angeles-based monthly artist entertainment magazine.
In his continuing support for charitable causes, particularly ones focusing on the plight of the peoples in the third world, ARK21 released in the U.S. a unique compilation album for the Sabera Foundation, a charity in Calcutta, India dedicated to orphaned girls. Miles could hardly say no to an impassioned plea from Melanie Griffith who, along with her husband Antonio Banderas, is a major supporter of this unique charity. The album features unique tracks from Sting, Ricky Martin, Alanis Morrisette, Elton John, Cher, Luciano Pavarotti, Alejandro Sanz, Bob Dylan, Antonio himself, and more. The album was released in the U.S. in November 2002.
In December 2002, Miles was in Moscow with Emma Shapplin for the first ever Christmas concert extravaganza in Russia. Emma performed with Placido Domingo, Jose Carraras, Sissel, and a 380-member orchestra and choir.
Always willing to share his view, experiences, and advice, in January 10, 2003, Miles was the keynote speaker at the Dutch music conference, Eurosonic Noorderslag Seminar. He has lectured and sat on entertainment business panels for the Beverly Hills Bar Association, Pollstar, Musician’s Institute, UCLA, University of Montana, Vanderbuilt University, EDAM, and more
In March 2003, Miles was asked to the Board of the World Peace Music Awards, a new organization aimed at honoring musicians for their good works. The first of these annual events was held in June in the beautiful island of Bali. The three-hour show was broadcast throughout the Pacific Rim to a huge audience. Miles was instrumental in booking many of the star acts. In 2005, the event will be held on August 11 in Nagasaki, Japan.
With his interest in Middle Eastern music and the obvious challenge of coming up with a way to break into the US market, Miles was on the lookout for a vehicle ever since the success of Sting’s “Desert Rose.” That song gave clear indication of the potential for an American audience to accept this sort of music on a massive scale. By chance, Miles organized a promotion for the Mondo Rhythmica album release of Oojami’s fortuitously titled, “Bellydance Breakbeats,” which featured a bellydance competition. The competition was such fun and it pointed to the fact mainstream Anglo audiences would show up to see a dance show as much, if not MORE, so than a pure music show. By putting the two together, perhaps this was the vehicle Miles was looking for.
Consequently, the first half of 2003 saw the Firstars Management team create an entertainment show featuring Middle Eastern dance and music. Titled the Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses, the show attracted the attention of the William Morris Agency and Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, who was organizing Lollapalooza 2003. Needing something different, with female energy and sex appeal, the show was booked for the entire tour performing one show in the afternoon on the second stage and an evening spot on the main stage. This took the art of bellydance to 30 cities performing in front of over 500,000 people the biggest exposure ever for the bellydance art form. So successful was the show, Miles and his Firstars team were energized to take full advantage of what they saw as a rapidly growing interest in the art of bellydance, as well as Arab music.
The company embarked on a comprehensive program to create high quality products better than anything on the market. Instructional DVDs featuring America’s top teachers, performance DVDs featuring American top dancers, bellydance CDs, and a full length feature film American Bellydancer directed by documentary maker, Jonathan Brandeis. The company has also created a quality line of bellydance apparel under the Bellystar label. See www.bellydancesuperstars.com.
With his major focus now shifting to the “bellydance business,” Miles entered similar territory he experienced in 1972-78 when he threw his lot in with the punk rock movement. Once again, the mainstream establishment was both bemused and convinced he had lost his marbles. At the same time, the bellydance establishment just like the punk “establishment” was completely suspicious of an outsider and Miles’ intentions. Word spread rapidly that he was only interested in pretty girls- not talented ones. This was, of course, half true; he WAS interested in pretty girls if he was going to have a chance of making a success in the mainstream. But he was also interested in the talent as the first criteria.
Getting little or no help from the mainstream booking agencies (except in Europe), and most of the established promoters, Miles descended once again into the trenches and booked and largely promoted himself a 58-city tour of North America with the help of his small team and an adventurous tour marketing company in Phoenix, Insight Management, who he met via the Moody Blues. As word spread among the bellydance community that this was the real deal, the tour began to draw crowds and sell out in quite a few cities. Major front page and double page spread features appeared in such papers as the Vancouver Sun, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Weekly, Eugene Register-Guard, as well as positive coverage in many entertainment magazines.
This momentum and positive response was duplicated even more so in Europe for the last half of 2004 with 46 shows in 7 countries, scoring glowing articles in the prestigious UK newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express, and the UK’s number one Sunday paper, The Sunday Times (5 pages), as well as major television appearances in Spain, France, and the UK. Performing on France’s number one rated show, “Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde,” the Bellydance Superstars performed to an audience of 10 million.
The net effect of all this was the growing realization that Miles had, in fact, NOT lost his marbles and if the press coverage was right, he was about to have the hottest dance sensation since Riverdance. By the end of 2004, this “left of center” enterprise had performed over 180 shows to over 700,000 people live and via over 30 television appearances to over 100 million people (not including the China broadcast where accurate numbers are not known). With the extensive bookings and new bookings for 2005, there is no longer any doubt that bellydance as an art form has every chance to succeed in a big way on the “main stage,” and that the Bellydance Superstars had set the ultimate standard as the world’s premiere (and still only) professional bellydance troupe.
2005 begins with the launch of the full-length feature film documentary, “American Bellydancer,” directed by Jonathan Brandeis and produced (and financed) by Miles. Response to the film should be interesting, as word of it has created quite a controversy in “bellydance land,” and Miles and staff inadvertently became stars of their own movie. Starting as a pure documentary on the fascinating world of bellydance in the US, director Jonathan Brandeis (A&E, Bravo), quickly saw that the events surrounding the Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses’ project and ensuing controversy- their performance in Bali, Indonesia and on Lollapalooza were very much a part of bellydance in the USA Today and gave the film a thread to give all the other footage together. At the director’s insistence and Miles’ ready agreement so the film would not be a mere self-serving exercise, total discretion in editing was given to the director to show “warts and all.” Consequently, one scene captures famed bellydance star, Suhaila, in a tirade with Miles, telling him he “knows nothing about bellydance.” The film will perform theatrically from February through April, and be shown at several film festivals, starting with the Tiburon International Film Festival on March 10, where the Bellydance Superstars will perform at the opening gala.
Also releasing in the first quarter on DVD, is the Bellydance Superstars and Desert Roses Live in Paris at the Folies Bergere. This 9-camera shoot filmed at the famed Folies Bergere in Paris on October 3, 2004 will stand as the most spectacular presentation of the art of bellydance ever filmed.
2005 will see the company continue expansion into the apparel and related “accoutrements” business begun first with introduction in 2004 of the Bellystar bellydance-oriented apparel line. This was expanded in November to re-launch the dormant Police merchandise line with major retailer, Hot Topic, quickly rising to the top 3 in sales with that chain. (Miles continues to represent the ongoing Police interests with Sting, Stewart, and Andy.)
In February 2005, the company will launch an I.R.S. line of t-shirts and related products responding to consistent demand for shirts, featuring the icon I.R.S. man.
Instructional DVDs will feature prominently in 2005 in bellydance (see www.bellydancesuperstars.com), as well as an exciting and unique new line dedicated to women’s self-defense. Discovering that not one single video/DVD existed dedicated expressly to women and teaching them to defend themselves against a mugger/attacker- and that long time family friend, Joanne Harris, had become America’s Taekwondo women’s champion while developing a “system” for exercise and self-defense for women- the company created the first in a projected series entitled “Urban Knockout” to be released in April 2005.
Several more documentary films are in the plans for 2005, plus the completion of a second bellydance film, “Behind the Shimmy,” filmed by Jordan Copeland (Stewart’s oldest son and graduate of New York Film School) on the Bellydance Superstars’ 2003 Lollapalooza tour and European tour 2004. The company begins filming the first ever documentary on Arab music in association with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, funded under the “America at the Crossroads” grant. Titled, Masika Al Arabiva El Enteshar Se Amerika (Arab Music Succeeding in America), it will feature the top Arab stars, up and comers, plus collaborations with top Western artists.
Music will remain a major part of the business with planned release of 15 albums via Universal distribution in addition to the eight DVD titles already in the can. The majority of these albums will be in the “world music” arena and feature some of the world’s biggest stars.
On January 19, 2005, Miles speaks at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which will be archived in the Hall of Fame museum.
Recent articles of interest include:
The Sunday Times (October 3, 2004)
Daily Telegraph (September 28, 2004)
Daily Express (October 2, 2004)
Arab American Business (June/July 2004)
The Middle East (December 2004)
Arabies Trends (June 2004)
Los Angeles Times (January 14, 2005)
Headshot Photo Credit -- Aaron Stipkovich