By the Label: Luaka Bop

    A record label usually dictates a lot of an album's culture and aesthetics yet is usually not in the spotlight. By the Label is a weekly column that features different labels and the stories behind them.

    Once you squint past the bright, flashing background of Luaka Bop's site, the excess eccentricity starts to (sort of) make sense. So what if you can't make out some of the text? You can watch this informative tongue-in-cheek tour of their factory instead.

    David Byrne (you know, of that band) started the label in 1988 and named it after tea bags. The best of Byrne's own eccentricity can be expressed through his weird antics—the somewhat soft-spoken artist is seen as a sort of crazy genius.

    Luaka Bop focuses on world music and early releases centered around the counterculture Tropicália scene of 1960's Brazil, with artists like Tropicália giants Tom Ze and Os Mutantes. The label has since expanded to other types of ethnic music with titles such as Cuba Classics, Asia Classics 1: The South Indian Film Music of Vijaya Anand and World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 3: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa.

    In recent years, Luaka Bop has signed notable contemporaries who aren't necessarily world artists but take after ethnic influences. One such example is cousin duo Javelin, who meshes dollar bin vinyl, filled with troves of hidden gems and obscure gold, with layers of drum machine beats and sounds to make extremely addictive sample-based jams. Ranging somewhere between the '50s and modern day, Javelin evades the pinpoint of a specific time period. Add to this time warp a plethora of ethnic sample origins and you've got some of the most danceable examples of culture-bending around.

    Another recent addition to the Luaka family is Delicate Steve, whose 2011 debut Wondervisions single-handedly added new meaning to the term "lyrical guitar." While more subtle, Delicate Steve's interpretations of international influences can still be found in the jumpy cauldron of Afrobeat-meets-shred, with a stop somewhere in the Tropics (seriously).

    Notable Releases

    Tom Zé - Brazil Classics 4: The Best of Tom Zé (1990)

    Really, all of Tom Zé's discography is pretty amazing. A founding father of the rebellious, Dada-influenced Brazilian Tropicália, Zé is often praised as the Brazilian Zappa with his unseemly time signatures and dissonance. "Hein?" is probably the most light-hearted Dada-inspired song you'll hear about an interjection. In Portuguese.

    Zap Mama - Adventures in Afropea 1 (1993)

    Founded by Belgian musician Marie Daulne, Zap Mama looks to bridge the gap between European and African cultures by integrating various genres including R&B and hip-hop and delivering them with a spectrum of African instruments. "Brrrlak" from this best-selling world music album of 1993 focuses on cheerful, harmonious vocals in Daulne's native tongue.

    Os Mutantes - Everything is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes (1999)

    The more psychedelic side of Tropicália, Os Mutantes are more Beatles and less Beefheart, sticking to slightly more traditional rock while still breaking into then-new, experimental grounds. "A minha menina," originally from a 1968 self-titled release, features Jorge Ben, another Tropicália artist. The psych rock influence is obvious in the track's crazy riffs and jangly beat.

    Javelin - No Más (2010)

    The duo's first full-length on a label, No Más is more than just a bunch of samples scrambled together. Indeed, most of the album consists of original beats, handcrafted from the millions of drum and sample machines. However, the more intriguing Javelin release is the hard-to-find, '80s-video-game-music-sampling, celebrity-name-portmanteau-making, self-released Jamz n Jemz.

    Delicate Steve - Wondervisions (2011)

    Breaking any defined genre boundaries, Delicate Steve is a unique concoction of equal parts shred and ethnic beats, with a healthy amount of power stances at live shows. The result is a strange steel guitar as the lyrical voice of the songs, taking center stage within uplifting, idiosyncratic melodies. In "Butterfly," melodic guitar lines take the lead above a jittery, blistering drum machine, all building up to one of the most feel-good instrumental choruses of all time.

    Bright Moments - Natives (2012)

    The solo project of Kelly Pratt (a talented multi-instrumentalist who's performed with Beirut, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem), Bright Moments's debut album Natives will be released in February. The jaunty single "Travelers" reflects Pratt's work with these collaborators. Fitting into the worldly influences of Luaka Bop, Natives features strong brass choruses that faintly echo those of Beirut's Balkan-tinged opuses.


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