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In 1989, ex-Talking Head David Byrne spearheaded the "BRAZIL CLASSICS" compilation series, which later became the foundation of his Luaka Bop label. Although at the time some Brazilian purists complained that the series concentrated too heavily on well-known and outdated pop from the 1960s and 1970s, Byrne countered that he just wanted to put out records of music that appealed to him personally. More power to him. The BRAZIL CLASSICS discs are still the best introductions to non-bossa nova Brazilian pop you can find anywhere.

Various Artists "BRAZIL CLASSICS 1: TROPICALIA" (Sire/Fly Records, 1989)
You couldn't ask for a better sampler of post-bossa nova pop than this. Well, you could, but it'd be darned hard to find. Byrne did a fabulous job cherry-picking the best of '70s and early '80s MPB, throwing in several super-catchy tunes such as Jorge Ben's "Umbabarauma" and Caetano Veloso's "Ile Ale," songs which really stick in your head and win you over. Also included: "Sonho Meu," perhaps the sweetest song recorded by either Gal Costa or Maria Bethania; several songs by Chico Buarque, including a wonderful duet with Milton Nascimento ("Calice"), and a couple of interesting tracks by the lesser-known female singer, Nazare Pereira. Admittedly, the second half of this record slides into cheesier terrain, but the slippage is relatively minor. This remains one of the best -- if not the best -- introduction to Brazilian pop available.

Various Artists "BRAZIL CLASSICS 2: O SAMBA -- SAMBA AND PAGODE" (Luaka Bop, 1989)
As stunning as the first volume -- maybe even moreso. Includes seductive vocals by big-name stars such as Clara Nunes, Beth Carvalho, Martinho da Vila and Almir Guineto, as well as tracks by lesser-known but also excellent artists. Another Byrne-produced album which has perfect pitch. Highly recommended, and sexy as all hell.

Various Artists "BRAZIL CLASSICS 3: FORRO, ETC." (Luaka Bop, 1991)
-- Really fun, catchy, accordion-based dance music from the Northeastern regions of Brazil. This collection features more pop-oriented material than other forro discs, and in some ways that makes it even better. Minor complaint: the liner notes describing forro are kind of lame. "A mixture of ska with polka in overdrive?" Oh, puh-lease!! Ska?!? (The Rough Guide To World Music makes the same error in trying to pitch forro to yankees by using comparisons which they think will sound familiar. They compare forro to Zydeco, another accordion-based genre...) Maybe a more accurate description might be a mix of polka, samba and Columbian cumbia. But why quibble? Regardless, this disc is a really cool collection! Among other things, it's got a classic track by Jackson Do Pandeiro on it. I want more!

"BRAZIL CLASSICS 4 and 5: Tom Ze" -- See my Tom Ze page

Doesn't exist yet. And why not?!!?

Various Artists "BRAZIL CLASSICS: BELEZA TROPICAL 2" (Luaka Bop, 1998)
OOOPS. I stand corrected... Well, they've done it again. Although the cheesiness of Brazilian pop has continued unabated since the CLASSICS series started a decade ago, David Byrne has managed to pull several gems out of the murk, once again proving his skill as an anthologist. Along with the inclusion of a deceptively promising Gilberto Gil tune (his output has been terrible for decades), this disc also includes new stars such as Marisa Monte and Daniela Mercury, as well as relative unknowns such as the dreamy Lenine, and the rather Beat Happening-y Arnaldo Antunes. A couple of disasterous tracks (Sergio Mendes) but mostly a nice sampler of 1990s MPB that's worth checking out.

Various Artists "AFROPEA 3: TELLING STORIES TO THE SEA" (Luaka Bop, 1995)
Although Luaka Bop was slightly ahead of the curve with this solid set of Lusophone pop, it has since been superceded by the recent adulation and wide exposure of artists such as Cesaria Evora and Angola's Bonga. Still, if you can find it, it's well worth checking out. Mostly oriented towards modern dance music, this features artists from Cape Verde, Angola, and Sao Tome, and has a strong Afro-Beat bias. (The more blues-oriented music of Mozambique, for example, is not included.) Among the more striking tracks are the pleasant high-life styles of Africa Negra and the slightly askew, warped-sounding production on Jacinta Sanches' "Vizinha Ka Bale."

Various Artists "CUISINE NON-STOP" (Luaka Bop, 2002)
David Byrne's far-reaching Luaka Bop label has finally made it to the Gallic territories, with this loopy set of kooky, postmodern cabaret tunes, a quirky update of the Parisian cafe music of the 1930s. The album opens with the crosscultural acoustic world-jazz of Lo'Jo, and moves into a succession of likeminded contemporaries... The spirits of Tom Waits, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet hover over this collection, which gives a welcome alternative to the more staid tradition of French pop vocals. A set like this bodes well: I hope Byrne & Co. have a volume or two of other French material on tap -- samplers of great indie rock by the likes of Francoiz Breut, Katarine and Etienne Charry would also be welcome, as well as a look at modern French hip-hop and electronica. Oui! (For more info on this style of music, check out my French music section.

Artist Albums

Vijaya Anand "Asia Classics I: Dance Raja Dance - The South Indian Film Music of Vijaya Anand" (Luaka Bop, 1992)
A bouncy retrospective of modern Indian filmi (soundtrack music) from one of the up-and-coming composers of the 1990s... It's easy to see why David Byrne would be attracted to such perky, goofy material - Anand's got a lighter touch than many filmi composers, and favors a perky, synth-heavy style that anticipates the gleeful dorkiness of bands such as Pizzicato Five and Stereo Total. Still, despite the creative vigor this once represented, I don't really think these tracks from the 1980s hold up all that well. There's way better playback music to be found out there.

Susana Baca "Eco De Sombras" (Luaka Bop, 2000)
Swanky, smooth Spanish-language ballads by this Peruvian diva... Here Baca sidles away from her more pop-soul side, and embraces boloero-style slow songs, approaching many of them with a stylistic gravity that approaches that of Portuguese fados. Her backup here draws heavily from the NYC artsy-latin scene, folks such as Marc Ribot, John Medeski and Greg Cohen... It's moody, lavish stuff, which is a little too heavily produced for my tastes, but beautiful nonetheless.

Waldemar Bastos "Pretaluz" (Luaka Bop, 1998)
An Angolan-Congolese expatriate living in Portugal, Bastos produced this lovely album with the help of Arto Lindsay, whose delicate touch is easy to spot. This is a perfect mix of acoustic balladry and the driving, ringing guitar styles of West Africa. It's gorgeous from start to finish, but also lulling and captivatingly subtle. One of Luaka Bop's best artist albums --highly recommended!

Paulo Braganca "Amai" (Luaka Bop, 1996)
One of Luaka's goopier efforts, this modernized Portuguese fado album integrates a variety of pop styles, from rather iffy 4AD/This Mortal Coil goth-iness and funky drummer trip-hop, to rolling tango-fado mixes. It's an accomplished effort, but after a while it started to get on my nerves. You might like it a lot more than I did.

Cornershop "When I Was Born For The 7th Time" (Luaka Bop, 1997)
Although their early singles seemed like pretty standard indiepop fare, this lushly-produced, intermittently brilliant, album lives up to the hype of an organic Indian/Brit pop crossover... True, they owe more to Portishead and Oasis than to Kishor Kumar, but the affectionate name-dropping in the hit single "Brimful of Asha" (a tribute to bhangra, filmi, and soul music) is pretty convincing. So far, various side projects by vocalist Tjinder Singh haven't been enough to satisfy those of us waiting for a follow-up... but I certainly have my fingers crossed!

Los Amigos Invisibles "The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera" (Luaka Bop, 1998)
A South American morph of Fat Boy Slim and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, these fellas play what they call gozadera... a mix old-style funk, house, semi-big beat and kitschy, tongue-in-cheek loungecore... basically, no-brainer party music. And what's wrong with that?

Los De Abajo "Cybertropic Chilango Power" (Luaka Bop, 2002)
A very cool set of funky modern rock from Mexico City, with unexpected heavy doses of genuine-sounding traditional music coming up in the mix. This is a very interesting album!

Tom Ze "Fabrication Defect: Com Defecto de Fabricacao" (Luaka Bop, 1998)
Great new album by this artsy, dadaist, Brazilian tropicalia old-timer. Very listenable, and very clever. He's using his same old bag of tricks -- surrealistic lyrics, found sounds and triggered tape loops, etc. Various songs parody different styles of MPB, such as the baroque avant-pop of Edu Lobo, or the loungey cabaret affectations of old-time bossa nova. The lyrics to one song, "Defect 6" Esteticar," are a plagiarist's manifesto that even Negativland could be proud of. More than anything else what comes through is Ze's irrepressible sense of humor and playfulness -- it's great he found a kindred spirit in Luaka Bop head, David Byrne, who also released two albums worth of Ze's old stuff several years earlier.

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