Those who have only a passing familiarity with Luaka Bop are likely to think of it as “David Byrne’s World Music Label.” While this may be a useful shorthand, it fails to tell the full story of an imprint that’s focused on finding music that would have no other natural home.
When I talked to Yale Evelev, David Byrne’s partner and President of Luaka Bop, he confirmed that they “never really thought of [themselves] as a ‘world music’ label.”
“We’re a label that’s more about impurity in a way,” he says. “We want music that doesn’t quite fit in anywhere else. It’s not about tribalism. Or if it is, it’s about the kinds of tribes that could exist in New Jersey as well as in Peru.”
Luaka Bop was born in 1989. When David Byrne signed a contract with Warner Bros to release his Afro-Cuban and Brazilian-infused solo album Rei Momo, the creation of his own personal imprint was part of the deal.
Although Rei Momo became the first album to carry the Luaka Bop logo, “Brazil Classics 1” was the first record made specifically for the new label. It was the start of a successful series of compilations that evolved from Byrne and Evelev’s personal mixtapes, and went on to sell over 350,000 copies…