Sharps & Flats

Celebrating 10 years of David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, "Zero Accidents on the Job" shows how to do world music right.

Published March 27, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

In the '90s, world music became once
again a touchy-feely subset of lifestyle
music -- itself a creation as old as the
music industry. Whereas the parents of
baby boomers set their dinner parties to
the exotic strains of Hawaiian guitars
or strolling zithers, and the boomers
themselves used Ravi Shankar for the
same purpose, in the '90s it was young
adults (as well as boomers) who found
new strains of music that were neither
Anglo nor indigenous to any U.S.
minority communities. For most, this
meant a brief flirtation with any number
of recordings by chanting monks or
Celtic folkies that now hold the same
place in American CD collections as the
Tijuana Brass once held in American LP

That's part of why ex-Talking Head and
eclectic David Byrne founded the
Luaka Bop label 10 years ago. Back then,
he decided to work within the admittedly
colonialist confines of world music and
seek out pop that most Americans had
previously considered at most exotic and
at least unlistenable.

Rather than venture into the bush to
bring back recordings of drumming
pygmies and savage flautists, Byrne
sought out pop misfits and funky
miscreants. Those are the kind of
artists who populate "Zero Accidents on
the Job: Luaka Bop 10th Anniversary," a
double-CD compilation that proves Byrne
has found world music that is at its
heart as populist as it is progressive.

There are tracks on "Zero Accidents"
that sound as though they could have
been penned by Byrne himself. Los
Amigos' "Sexy," for instance, has the
same brainy funk that characterized some
of the more compelling moments in "Stop Making Sense."
But to say that the sum of Luaka Bop's
output resulted from Byrne looking into
a mirror-coated globe would be grossly
incorrect. Without the forum of Luaka
Bop -- and perhaps, a solid anticipation
of the worldly '90s zeitgeist -- it's
hard to say whether or not Cornershop
would have captured the indie
imagination. And it would have been near
impossible to predict the transformation
-- and eventual Luaka Bop canonization
-- of Os Mutantes from forgotten
Brazilian popsters to their current
status as the new Velvet Underground.

Those two bands bookend "Zero Accidents"
-- Cornershop with Fatboy Slim's remix
of "Brimful of Asha" and Os Mutantes
with their re-working of Caetano
Veloso's "Baby." In the loopy world of
Luaka Bop, those two are the gateway
groups. But if you stick around for the
23 artists between those bands --
Tropicalia oddball Tom Zi, smoky
chanteuse Susana Baca, African diva
Cisaria Ivora -- you'll realize what an
achievement and labor of love Luaka Bop
has been.

By Joey Sweeney

Joey Sweeney is a contributing editor at Philadelphia Weekly.

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