Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on May 26th 2009 3:00PM by Steve Hochman
"We were supposed to see all these bands playing at a school," he says. "But there weren't any bands playing. We kept going in and out of the room where it was supposed to be. There was a poster announcing it with the names of the bands. Tara, my associate who was with me, at some point says, 'There's a noise coming from behind that door.' So we went in and there were all these people there, singing along, dancing. And it was so great! An experience that was so positive. And we signed the band."
The exotic locale? Brooklyn -- right where Luaka Bop, founded and still owned by David Byrne, is headquartered. And the band? They're called the Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, a collective with a revolving lineup known for concerts that are, as Evelev learned, rather free-form participatory experiences more than mere music performances.
"I'm not into the idea of world music anymore," he admits. "I don't like going to world music festivals or world music conferences. Don't want to go to a place where people are going, 'Look at us -- we're from somewhere else and are going to entertain you.' I want things more integrated. I was a jazz person and jazz had so much honesty to me. I got into world music because it was as honest as that, people making music because that was the music they made. Nowadays, so much of it seems to be made for the marketplace, and that distanced me from it."
Well, one could argue that he's got no one but himself to blame. The market of which he speaks barely existed when he joined Luaka Bop a year after Byrne launched it out of his growing passion for global music explorations. And the years since have been a rather remarkable "adolescence." As the compilation album chronicles, it was a time in which Luaka introduced such astounding sounds as this song from Brazil's psychedelic icons Os Mutantes:
Os Mutantes, 'Baby'
as well as this one from the same country's musical mad modernist Tom Zé (pictured above):
Tom Zé, 'Defeito 2: Curiosodade'
and this bit of insanity: 'Keleya,' by Mali's Moussa Doumbia, featured on 2005 'Love's a Real Thing' collection, which brought '70s African pychedelia to international mainstream attention.
Moussa Doumbia, 'Keleya'
In those years, with distribution first from Warner Bros. and later EMI's Virgin Records, the label sold a fairly astounding 350,000 copies of the 1989 anthology of '70s Brazilian classics, 'Beleza Tropical,' pretty much kick-starting the Tropicalia revival that inspired Beck and so many others in recent years. And it reached 400,000 with a compilation from legendary Cuban revolutionary Nueva Troba poet-singer Silvio Rodriguez. It sold hundreds of thousands from such disparate acts as Anglo-Indian alt-hybridists Cornershop and Afro-European crossover Zap Mama, while shining the spotlight on everything from Afro-Peruvian culture (and its biggest star, Susana Baca) to the Okinawan art-folk-rock of Shoukichi Kina.
But thanks to Luaka, along with Peter Gabriel's Real World, Chris Blackwell's Island family, Nick Gold's World Circuit and a few others, music that was unusual 20 or 30 years ago is now pretty, well, usual. That, Evelev says, was in fact the goal, whether it was music from other hemispheres or the dark-toned songs of musician and visual artist Jim White, who, in an earlier look in Luaka Bop's own back yard, was plucked from his then-job as a New York City cab driver.
"We never really wanted to be exotic," Evelev says. "What we always wanted to do was make the music we listened to be the same, de-exoticize it, make people feel the could listen to music in another language or from another culture and feel it's not really different from what they normally listen to."
And he got it.
"Music changed so much. Music people have accepted now is so different. Used to be any kinds of sounds from somewhere else were too weird, out of the norm. Now it's being incorporated into music anyone listens to. It's a different world. Great world. It's exciting."
So Luaka Bop helped bring outside sounds inside. "I feel we did," Evelev says. "That's what we wanted to do."
It was never about specific sounds or about geography but about cultural relationships.
"I think one of the main things we did was when Tom Zé toured with Tortoise," he says. "People weren't making those connections, and to think a quote-unquote world music act could go out with a quote-unquote alternative band opened some eyes, made some connections people hadn't expected. And the 'World Psychedelic Classics' series, which we started because the concept of psychedelic music from somewhere else was a stretch for some people -- 'Psychedelic from Africa or Brazil? What the hell?' But now people don't blink an eye."
If the context has changed, though, the mission has not.
"We're still looking for people doing something different," Evelev says. "But at the end of the day we want to have music that has emotional content for people. It might be in English, but maybe the words aren't important or it's about the emotions you might get carried away with and get there in a different way than you would normally do."
Aside from the Terror Pigeon crew, another new act he's signed is a band called Javelin, which the label is launching with a series of podcast mix-tapes sessions: "It's two guys that use a lot of world-y source material to make new music," he says, noting that he has asked them to do a remix version of the 'Twenty First Year' anthology material. "They've been doing it, but instead of taking a song and doing a remix, they're taking a full alum from our catalog and mixing it into one three- or four-minute piece. So far, they've done that with our [Bollywood composer] Vijaya Anand album."
And so the search continues for, well, whatever it is. He's found it of late in Javelin and Terror Pigeon. He's found it in the recently released disc of bedroom-made bossa nova by an artist known as Yonlu, a brilliant but troubled Brazilian teen who took his own life three years ago.
"It isn't authenticity," Evelev says. "It's about the decisions you make as an artist, what's behind the decision you made and the music you made."
Even if those decisions are sometimes made purely to entertain audiences.
"It's natural for bands to work toward the context," he says. "But it's ..."
He realizes that after all this time he just can't nail "it" down, and simply concludes, "I don't know ..."