The Best Songs You Missed (#3)

Most evenings, I post a song on social media — what I call the soundtrack to tonight — and add it to an ongoing playlist covering all genres of music. Here are the five best songs you missed in the last couple weeks, plus a special obit to William Onyeabor, previously featured.

And here is the full ongoing playlist for those following along at home. (I recommend listening on random.)

If you grew up listening to Dead Can Dance or This Mortal Coil or anything on the 4AD label in the 80s, you probably heard segments from the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir, whose eternal and haunting vocals preserve that country’s rich folk tradition. Besides being sampled on a number of the label’s tracks, 4AD also re-released an album of the choir’s music in the late 80s under the French name “Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares” (which actually won a Grammy).
Ivo Watts-Russell, 4AD’s founder, was introduced to that album by Bauhaus’s lead singer, who had a cassette copy of a copy of a copy of the original recording by the Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier, who worked tirelessly to preserve the folk traditions of southeastern Europe through the middle of the 20th century until his death in 2013.

I missed this song last year somehow. I only caught it because it made it to the top of a couple “Best of the Year” lists that I follow. And they weren’t kidding.

Mondo Cozmo channels Dylan with a decidedly modern vibe — smoky and strumming and heartfelt and wide.

R.I.P. William Onyeabor The world only just knew ya.

Word just today reached my music sources that Mr. Onyeabor died peacefully on Sunday at the age of 70. He has one of the coolest stories in music. Born in Nigeria, he self-published eight unabashedly African funk albums in as many years, from 1977 to 1985. But hardly anyone took notice. And I don’t just mean the Western world. In an interview several years ago, Onyeabor claimed he has never played live in his life.

In 1985 he became a born-again Christian and refused to talk about his music. He got married and had four kids, and eventually four grandkids. And somewhere in the 90s — almost certainly fueled by the internet, although as far as I know, no one knows for sure — his music started trickling out of his native Nigeria, but not in it’s original form. A master of funk, Western DJs were sampling his tracks for their mixes and original works. I first became aware of him in the early 2000s when I heard Scientist’s remix of his track “Body and Soul,” although I had no context for who he was until Ariel Pink also remixed one of his tracks a few years ago.

But by the 2010s, he became a veritable star in hardcore music circles. Two of his tracks, including this one, have already been your soundtrack to tonight. But since I’m quite certain not enough people have heard him, I am re-sharing “Atomic Bomb,” which is my favorite.

Delia Derbyshire was an English composer of electronic music best known for her eerie arrangement of Rob Grainer’s 1963 theme to Doctor Who. Born in Coventry in 1937 to working class parents, she won a mathematics scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge, at a time when 90% of students were male. She seems to have done poorly at math, however, and switched her major to music, graduating with a Bachelor’s in 1959, whereupon she took a job as a studio assistant at the BBC.

But it was her work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which produced the Doctor Who theme, that first suggested her prodigious talent. One has to assume her background in mathematics played a role. Grainer was so amazed by her arrangement that he supposedly exclaimed “Did I really write this?” to which Delia replied “Most of it.”

Tidbit for all you Whovians: according to Wikipedia, Derbyshire never approved of any other version of the theme. Only the original bore her stamp.

Kirby Lauryen, known professionally as KIRBY, was the songwriting talent behind several hits by Kanye West, Beyonce, and Ariana Grande, among others. She got her start by writing a song a day on YouTube for 275 straight days. The month after she finished, she was signed by pop artist managers Roc Nation. Here she stretches her vocal talents on a minimal doo-wop-inspired soul track

Ten Thousand Japanese Sing the “Ode to Joy”

Osaka’s “No. 9 Chorus” — so named for the only song they sing, the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — is a ten-thousand-person choir who gather annually to sing the most popular holiday (which means New Year’s) song in Japan.

For those who don’t know, the words are not Beethoven’s, but rather come from a poem by Friedrich Schiller which Ludwig Van rearranged to better fit his music — and which I had to memorize once upon a time for German class.

With close to 23 million people in the Kansai region, getting 10,000 Japanese together to sing a very popular song isn’t necessarily a Herculean feat, but the results are no less extraordinary, especially since they do it every year, and all ages participate — kids and grandparents, men and women, businessmen and teachers.

You should listen to the whole thing. Really. You’ll be glad you did. But if you are a Grinch, jump to the 5:30 mark and listen for the next 90 seconds or so.

And a bonus track just for fun!