Some History

THE STORY OF LUAKA BOP

We used to tell people a lot of different things when they asked what Luaka Bop meant. Truth be told it is a Sri Lankan orange pekoe tea that David Byrne bought in the UK.

The eye of the Luaka Bop log is the eye of Vilaç Trimegistes, the Balkan alchemist who gave his eyes to his work, and who was the first to uncover the secrets of the Egyptian Knights. The shape and purportion of the Eye of Vilaç is in a mathematical relationship to the vessel, or “heart”. The heart being considered a vessel not only for the blood, but for the dead. The rays, “thorns” or nails that line and protect the vessel were incorporated during the middle ages, an addition that was deemed necessary in leiu of the then power of the Papacy. -David Byrne

Tibor Kalman of M&Co did all of the early design work for Luaka Bop and most of the later Talking Heads covers as well. (Amazingly enough though we might not have used Tibor on many of the later album covers we did unknowingly end up using a pile of folks who worked for him at M&Co; Stefan Sagmeister, Stephen Doyle, Alexander Isley, Scott Stowell, and Emily Oberman of #17). Tibor had a three dimensional logo made up for one of our first label compilations called “To Scratch That Itch.” Here is the item itself.

IN CONVERSATION:

David Byrne on the Origins of Luaka Bop

Why in 1988 did you think the world-at-large needed to hear Brazilian music?’


David: I act like any music fan… just the same as when I was in junior high and high school (secondary school for the rest of the world). Whenever I found a record I thought was especially cool, I’d play it for my friends and hype it and watch their reaction. I feel the same enthusisam for a lot of Brazilian “pop” music, a lot of Rock en Español… hell, for all the stuff on the label. It just so happened that I’d assembled these compilations of my Brazilian faves for myself, from my own vinyl collection, and I realized that it sounded pretty good, and I didn’t get tired of it, and more importantly I guess, I realized that there wasn’t a compilation of this stuff out there. Sure, there were bossa nova collections in existence, but I felt that that was, however wonderful, only an inkling of the vast music riches that this country has produced. So, my impulse was like any fan’s, not a do-gooder attitude… this is not school, this is pop music after all… I wanted to turn friends on to stuff I liked.

How was the record received initially, and was this a factor in starting the label?

David: I went on the road and publicized this first compilation, and it was received with suspicion by some of the rock press, but by and large people loved it… as they should… it was a collection of the best of a whole generation’s work… how could I lose with such great songs to choose from?

It turned out to be our best seller… selling more than most bands’ first records, until recently. Oddly enough, I was so naive when the liscensing rights were made that I made a terrible arrangement, and I’ve never seen any money from this collection. But it got the whole ball rolling.

When did you realize that there was desire for more than just one record, and that an entire label might be needed?

David: Almost immediately after Beleza Tropical came out, I realized I’d be doing two or three more Brazil compilations, to touch on some of the other musical styles that are so exciting there. And eventually I also knew I’d release a compilation of Tom Zé‘s best stuff… so an umbrella was needed to make things run smoothly. I picked the name because I loved the sound of it –strange, but musical… yes, it’s a really confusing name, and difficult to pronounce, but we’re stuck with it now.

In the hat business...

Overall, we think of the music we work with as contemporary pop music, and we try to present it as such. The CD covers go a long way, in my opinion, to creating this attitude. We don’t do covers that look like folkloric records or like academic records of obscure material of interest only to musicologists and a few weird fringe types… we work with the designers to come up with a graphic statement that says ‘this music is as relevant to your life and is as contemporary as Prodigy, Fiona Apple, or Cornershop.’ …

David Byrne