Archive For The “Music” Category

Briston Maroney Is Writing Powerful Rock Songs With Grit And Heart

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Briston Maroney Is Writing Powerful Rock Songs With Grit And Heart

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  • “I’ve Been Waiting”
  • “Freakin’ Out On the Interstate”
  • “Fool’s Gold”

Briston Maroney came into our studio with green-tinged curly long hair and a plaid flannel shirt — looking way more Kurt Cobain than Carrie Underwood. I had to double check my notes before asking him about his experience auditioning for American Idol when he was still in high school.

Briston has lived in lots of places, including Knoxville, Los Angeles and Nashville, where, like lots of our guests who have spent time in Nashville, he has a story about John Prine at the grocery store. He’s young but he has lived a lot of life — before he was even legally allowed to drink, he went to rehab — and he wears all that experience in a way that really makes you want to root for him and his dreams.

Briston came in with his bandmates, Jack and Noah, to perform songs from his latest EP which came out in May, Indiana, and from his 2018 EP, Carnival. Hear it all in the player.

World Cafe: 7/16/19

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‘Jazz From Detroit’ Offers A Mosaic Portrait Of A Larger Scene

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‘Jazz From Detroit’ Offers A Mosaic Portrait Of A Larger Scene

Mark Stryker covered jazz and its people for the Detroit Free Press for decades. He uses his reporter’s eye and critic’s ear to chronicle the musicians from the city who made their mark on the world.

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Blood Orange Re-Envisions 18th Century European Aristocracy In ‘Benzo’ Video

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Blood Orange Re-Envisions 18th Century European Aristocracy In ‘Benzo’ Video

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Dev Hynes, also known as Blood Orange, has released a new music video for his song “Benzo.” The video itself is a re-imagining the opulent period of Marie Antoinette with new millennium tweaks. The track is off the artist’s latest project, Angel’s Pulse, which also features Toro y Moi, Kelsey Lu, Justine Skye and more.

In the lavish and self-directed visual, Blood Orange plays cello for a crowd of aristocrats lounging in their salon before the instrumentation turns completely electronic. The mellow saxophone and simple bass line make the song a great addition to the U.K. native’s repertoire.

“Benzo” is rather short — only two verses, two chorus lines and a few musical interludes and there’s a neo-soul sound to the piece, with a musical references to jazz. What is perhaps most interesting about the music video is the playful and dramatic imagery: Pastel, powdered wigs, men dressed in drag with rhinestone masks and an all-black ensemble. Fellow artists Gitoo and Ian Isiah cue up the video with a short, comical exchange. These visual elements of high class aristocrats, with pointe ballet dancers and feathered fans, are not often visually depicted with members of the African-American community. The longing to be free and open is a stark contrast to the stuffy, royal parlor scene where the video takes place.

“What’s worse? Ego? / Thinking that it’s something that you’re owed / 2 a.m. It’s not like it was / Listen to the fears that you hear now,” Blood orange sings. As the chorus repeats, it picks up additional instrumentation and background vocals: “Open the door / leave me with arms exposed oh / Outside, I saw where I belong.”

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GoldLink Talks ‘Diaspora’ And The Global Future Of Music

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GoldLink Talks ‘Diaspora’ And The Global Future Of Music

“If you want to make a diaspora of things, you need to reach to a diaspora of people,” GoldLink says.

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Josh Brasted/Getty Images

On this episode of All Songs Considered we’ve got a conversation with GoldLink about his latest album, Diaspora. (Hear the full interview with the play button at the top of the page).

GoldLink has never been satisfied with just one sound. Since his breakout mixtape, 2013’s The God Complex, the DMV rapper — that’s Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia — created a dedicated online community during his mixtapes days by weaving together go-go, house, R&B and boom-bap. His fearless and wily disregard for genre rules caught the attention of producers like Rick Rubin and Kaytranada, and his 2016 single “Crew,” featuring DMV contemporaries Shy Glizzy and Brent Faiyaz, earned ‘Link a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance — not to mention becoming an unofficial anthem for his hometown.

Now, GoldLink goes global. Diaspora, his debut album on RCA Records, blends together Afrobeat, juju, bossa nova, reggae and so much more. It’s all to create what GoldLink calls the decentralized future of music.

Diaspora

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The 26-year-old pulled collaborators from different diaspora — from Congolese artist Antonio “Zapaterro StrongMan” Nvuala on “Zulu Screams” to Hong Kong rapper Jackson Wang on “Rumble” — to give Diaspora its border-jumping feel. But he still made sure to give DMV-hailing staples Lil Nei, Bibi Bourelly and Pusha T time to shine. “If you want to make a diaspora of things, you need to reach to a diaspora of people,” he says.

GoldLink joined All Songs Considered from the BBC in London to discuss the new music, rapid gentrification in D.C. and what he’s learned about the universal black experience.

“Black people in Amsterdam or aboriginal people from Australia or black people from D.C., we don’t know that we all have the same upbringing,” he says. “That maybe all our aunts have plastic on their couches or maybe we all have that grandma in the neighborhood. That actually happens everywhere.”

Tom Huizenga produced this episode for air.

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This Tiny Desk Contestant Processes Pain Through Music: ‘It Became Our Safety Place’

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This Tiny Desk Contestant Processes Pain Through Music: ‘It Became Our Safety Place’

Ephraim Bugumba’s song “Voices in My Head” was a stand-out entry in this year’s Tiny Desk Contest.

Nolis Anderson/Courtesy of the artist


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Nolis Anderson/Courtesy of the artist

Quinn Christopherson won 2019’s Tiny Desk Contest, but many of the other 6,000-plus entries impressed and moved the contest’s judges. This summer, Weekend Edition continues to spotlight some of the stand-out contestants.

One stand-out entrant is Ephraim Bugumba, who submitted his song “Voices in My Head” for the contest. Currently residing in DeKalb, Ill., Bugumba originally hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Congolese village where he was born, it is an honored tradition to tell history, sacred myths and family lore through music — so it makes perfect sense that the 23-year-old musician also goes by the name StoryTeller.

The story that Bugumba tells in “Voices in My Head” is one of emotional scars and vulnerability. Bugumba, a refugee who came to the United States with his family seven years ago, survived the 1999 massacre at Makobola that left as many as 600 dead.

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Bugumba was 3 years old at the time of the massacre, and 16 when he arrived in the U.S. For the years in between, he says, his family moved from country to country near the Congo in “whatever ways possible.” After his mother had disguised him as a young girl — because the rebels behind the massacre often killed boys or turned them into child soldiers — they fled the Congo for a refugee camp in Tanzania. From Tanzania, they walked and hitchhiked their way to Malawi, then to Mozambique, and eventually to Johannesburg, South Africa for 10 years. Bugumba’s father had royal lineage that prevented the family from returning safely to the Congo, so they filed a case for refugee status with the UNHCR. Finally, in 2012, the Bugumba family emigrated as refugees to the U.S.

Through that 13-year ordeal, music acted as a sort of oasis for Bugumba. He describes how, before the Makobola massacre, music centered his family on a daily basis — and how, after the massacre, that tradition took on even more importance.

“We gathered at 8 p.m. every night and we sang,” Bugumba says. “We read hymns and my mom told us some stories from the Bible. That’s how we got through the regular days. Then, when we were fleeing in the forest and the wilderness, in all that madness, my parents would always still gather us, and we would still pray and we would sing. So it became our safety place. In a world where everything was just uncertain — you were not sure if your next meal was going to come around, you were not sure if you were going to make it to the next meal — music was the one thing that was sacred and safe. I knew that 8 PM was gonna come along and we were gonna have a good time.”

In the U.S., singing and playing music has continued to play a central role in Bugumba’s life. In 2018, he was one of the top 50 contestants on American Idol. And beyond his reality TV stint, Bugumba finds a critical emotional outlet in the music that he writes. He says that his relationship with his girlfriend has helped him recognize his learned tendency to suppress emotions in other ways.

“Growing up, we learned to suppress our emotions,” Bugumba says. “It’s not that we don’t want to value it; It’s just life didn’t allow it. So we learned to conceal, per se, because everybody was traumatized, and you were just another traumatized person. The most important part of life was surviving. So emotions weren’t really that important.”

But his girlfriend, who Bugumba described as “a green-eyed beauty from the Quad Cities” in a letter he wrote to the Tiny Desk judges, has encouraged him to express his feelings. “She comes from a different world, where emotions are very important, very valued. She is a very expressive person,” Bugumba says. “She wants to talk about her emotions; she wants to do everything based off of emotions. And I found myself struggling, because I didn’t know how to tell her when I didn’t feel OK.”

This struggle is the subject of Bugumba’s song “Voices in My Head,” which itself serves as a space for his emotional expression. “That’s the role music plays,” Bugumba explains. “My best way of expressing myself is through music. Words are a little hard for me sometimes.”

Bugumba says that he hopes his music can also inspire others to feel hope and show vulnerability.

“I want to give hope. I want to remind people that no matter how dark it gets, it can always get better,” Bugumba says, reflecting on his work. “I want to tell people that it’s OK to talk about not being OK. I want to allow people to express themselves. I want to allow vulnerability, even amongst men. We have a great fear of being perceived as weak when we cry, or when we laugh too loud, when we show compassion. I just want to let us all know that it’s OK — that we’re created for a reason. We have those things so we could get through life with them.”

Listen to the full aired interview through the audio link.

Rosalind Faulkner contributed to the digital version of this story.

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Video Of An Uber Driver In South Africa Singing Opera Goes Viral

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Video Of An Uber Driver In South Africa Singing Opera Goes Viral

Kim Davey (left), a passenger in Menzi Mngoma’s Uber, made a video of his in-car opera singing that went viral.

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Kim Davey/Facebook

When Menzi Mngoma decided to get a job as an Uber driver, it was mostly out of necessity. The 27-year-old has a fiancé, kids and his parents to support, and his life’s passion, opera, wasn’t paying the bills. But he was also making a bet. “You need to be well-connected to go overseas,” he told NPR. Though he’s currently based in Durban, South Africa, Mngoma dreams of becoming an international musical sensation; he thought that driving Uber might help him make connections with people who could further his career.

After more than a year, the bet finally paid off for Mngoma. In late May, he was driving a woman from Johannesburg named Kim Davey while she was in Durban for a business trip.

“From the moment I started chatting to Menzi in the Uber, I just knew he was a kind and special soul,” Davey says. They got to talking, and Mngoma revealed he is an opera singer. Davey asked him to sing; he complied with several arias. The videos she took of his performance, showcasing his lyric tenor, have since racked up hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook.

And how talented is he? Tim Ashley, opera critic for the Guardian, wrote that Mngoma sang “perfectly decently and with no strain at the top [of the voice].”

The exposure has rocketed Mngoma to semi-stardom. He has since been interviewed by radio and TV stations across the country and auditioned for the Cape Town Opera. He has even been invited to participate in iPop, an international talent contest in L.A. this December — a step toward his dream of international stardom.

Mngoma says he always stuck out a little in his hometown of Richards Bay, a seaside community near Durban with a high unemployment and poverty rate (though his family wasn’t very poor, he says, they were also far from wealthy). While other boys played soccer, he’d be cooking or cleaning or spending time looking at sheet music and playing DVDs to learn about different musical styles.

He says he’s been singing since “I knew myself” and turned to opera when he was 14. “It [made] me feel so unique around my age group,” he says. “Most people listened to R&B.” His friends called him Pavarotti after the famed Italian tenor. It’s fitting, then, that Mngoma’s favorite aria is one that Pavarotti and many other tenors have recorded from Verdi’s La Traviata.

When he first performed it in high school, his music teachers were impressed, he recalls. “For a very young guy like me in grade 8, [they were] surprised — I can go to every range, I can pronounce the Italian in the way that I did,” he says.

Mngoma says he’s always been a hard worker when it comes to singing, sometimes too much so. He says he failed a term in high school because he was always sneaking away from class to sing.

He’s taught himself but also taken lessons. He says he practices about 2 hours a day four times a week.

After high school, Mngoma moved to Durban in 2011. He sang in choirs and landed some roles in operas. But his various gigs didn’t add up to a living. Before he drove an Uber he taught singing at a primary school.

Mngoma still hasn’t been able to quit his day job. But he believes his future as a full-time performer might not be too far off.

On Friday, Mngoma put out his first single, “Feel the Love,” which he calls “pop-era” — a mix of pop and opera. East Coast Radio arranged for Davey to fly down from Johannesburg and surprise Mngoma in studio. The two, who’ve become close friends, hugged fiercely. “His reaction was priceless,” she says.

You can preview the song here. And even though it’s definitely not opera, Mngoma is just happy to be singing for a worldwide audience.

Susie Neilson is an intern on NPR’s Science Desk. Contact her @susieneilson

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Betty Who Creates ‘A Space That People Feel Joy In’ With Independent Debut

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Betty Who Creates ‘A Space That People Feel Joy In’ With Independent Debut

Betty Who’s latest album, Betty, is out now.

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In 2013, a video of a marriage proposal set to Betty Who‘s “Somebody Loves You” went viral on YouTube. The video shows a colorfully clad group perform a coordinated, joyful dance to the pop song in the middle of a Home Depot in Salt Lake City. According to Betty Who, the Home Depot performance is one of a number of proposals and wedding dances with the same soundtrack.

“People love to dance and cry at the same time,” the Australian singer reflects on “Somebody Loves You,” which was her breakout single. She says she actually wrote the song “ironically enough” as a break-up track — but the way that it’s been taken up as a celebratory anthem is fitting, too. At the end of the day, whether the crying-and-dancing comes from the ecstasy of a proposal or the sadness of a break-up, Betty Who hopes to create fun for all through her music.

YouTube

Now, the 27-year-old artist has released her third studio album, Betty. A lot has changed for Betty Who since that viral break-out moment — namely the artist’s label ties. She produced this album independently, making it her first without the backing of a major label. But the musician still strives to give her fans opportunities for joy.

Betty Who spoke with NPR’s Ari Shapiro about having and sharing fun onstage, the benefits of working independently, and how she models uncompromising self-confidence. Read on for interview highlights, including some that weren’t aired.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On fostering joy through music

I want to be 80 and look back on the music I’ve made my whole life and know that I did everything that I could to make people really happy. That’s what I really wanna do. You know, if you have a purpose on this planet, my purpose is — I wanna provide a space that people feel joy in, people feel safe enough, also, to cry in, and to be themselves in. But the number one compliment anybody could give me is they’re having a bad day, and they listen to my song and it makes them feel better.

I think [that occurred to me], actually, after I’d been doing it by accident for a couple years. ‘Cause I wrote “Somebody Loves You”; I put an EP out that was really poppy and really fun. And I’m smiley and happy and warm and that’s also my personality, and I think that came out in the music.

You know, a lot of people walk down the aisle to “Somebody Loves You.” They tell me all the time. I want to be the song that’s played at weddings. I don’t think I want to have the song that’s played at funerals. Unless it’s, like, a really fun funeral.

On hearing artistic independence on Betty

I hear it in “The One.” “The One,” for me, is a song that I was always wanting to make. It is very Britney- and ‘N Sync-esque. You know, Britney Spears Live on HBO at Las Vegas is, like, one of my favorite shows of all time. I watch it on DVD all the time. I collect tour DVDs. The Beyoncé “I Am…” Live Tour is one of my favorites. When Homecoming came out, I was just, like, drooling. I love watching other, particularly female, awesome performers perform.

I wanted to feel like Britney Spears every night, and so I wrote this song. And I think if I had been signed to a label, this song may have either not come out or it would have been totally misunderstood for something else than me being like, “I’m a 27-year-old who is literally living 10-year-old me’s actual dream.” Like, if 10-year-old me had a dream, it’s this. It was to be Britney Spears. And I’m an adult now, and I’m an independent artist, and nobody can tell me what to do. So I’m gonna make a song that I get to, every night, feel like I’m in ‘N Sync.

To me, it’s so indicative of the fact that now, I get to just make choices. Because it’s supposed to be fun. Music is supposed to be fun, and I spent so many years not having fun doing it because so many people put too much pressure on it. And I really am just trying to make, first off, myself happy. But also other people. I just want it to be fun and easy. And I work harder than anybody I know — and I’m cool with that. So if that’s gonna be my life forever, when it’s good, it should be really good. And I think that’s what I hear on the record. When it’s good, I’m having so much fun.

On “tall queens” and contagious confidence

I think there’s a lot to be said about, honestly, not caring as much. I forget that I’m huge. I’m a very dominating, large person. I’m 6’2″. And I’m proportional to that — I’m not, like, some 6’2″ girl who also weighs 90 pounds soaking wet. I am strong, I’m thick, I’m built. As my future mother-in-law likes to say, “Good German stock.”

When I see other women watch me or come to me — especially a lot of tall girls who’ve been coming out of the woodwork, and come to the show — I’m like, “I love my tall queens.” Because we don’t have representation, really, in the same way. I mean, Taylor Swift is 5’10”, but also, she’s tiny. I start to see these women who come out, and they watch me, and I see them — I see it, I’ve seen it happen before — they watch me dance, and I see them in their body, trying to find the place of looseness and just kind of letting stuff go, so that they can enjoy themselves. It’s not about looking good. It’s about having fun. Sometimes I look crazy when I dance; sometimes I look awesome when I dance. Either way, I’m still having the same amount of fun.

Rosalind Faulkner contributed to the digital version of this story.

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Alt.Latino’s Tribute To João Gilberto

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Alt.Latino’s Tribute To João Gilberto

Brazilian musician João Gilberto engulfed in adoration in Rio de Janeiro in 2008.

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He was one of a kind, one of the most gifted artists I have ever met in my life.

Those kind of accolades don’t come easy in the music business, but João Gilberto inspired those kinds of emotions from musicians and fans around the world as word spread of his death on July 6.

Those particular words are from drummer Duduka Da Fonseca as part of our tribute to Gilberto this week. Fonseca goes on to quote his former boss, Antonio Carlos Jobim, saying that Gilberto was the father of bossa nova in mid-1950’s Brazil. The drummer says meeting and playing music with Gilberto in the 1970’s is “one of the greatest experiences of my life.” — kind of like any time you listen to Gilberto’s whispery vocals and delicate guitar.

Listen in as we explain what he did, how he did it and why we still listen.

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Rodrigo Y Gabriela Find Inner Peace With ‘Mettavolution’

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Rodrigo Y Gabriela Find Inner Peace With ‘Mettavolution’

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  • “Mettavolution”
  • “Electric Soul”
  • “11:11”

The first time I heard Rodrigo y Gabriela, the pair was covering Metallica‘s “Orion.” It’s a beautiful composition, but what I couldn’t wrap my head around was that this dense, majestic instrumental was being played by only two acoustic guitars.

Rod and Gab are known for their incredible live shows. The singers having busked and played throughout Ireland for almost a decade before becoming international sensations, playing the world over.

The duo’s latest album is Mettavolution. Metta is the Sanskrit word for compassion. Today, we’ll talk about how the members convey that message through their music, and why they chose to cover a legendary Pink Floyd song, one that happens to be 18 minutes long. But first, let’s get started with a performance of “Mettavolution,” the title track, from the stage of World Cafe Live. Listen in the player.

World Cafe: 7/11/19

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Stream ‘The Lion King’ Soundtrack, Featuring Beyonce And Donald Glover

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Stream ‘The Lion King’ Soundtrack, Featuring Beyonce And Donald Glover

The original motion picture soundtrack for The Lion King features Beyoncé, Donald Glover, Elton John, John Oliver, Billy Eichner and Shahadi Wright Joseph.

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Courtesy of Disney

Ahead of Disney’s 2019 live adaption of The Lion King hitting theaters on July 18, Disney Music has released the original motion picture soundtrack. We’re feeling the love already.

The soundtrack consists not only of Beyoncé‘s “Spirit” — an original single that will appear on her own album The Lion King: The Gift, which will accompany the film’s release — but also the 2019 rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Night” featuring vocals by Queen Bey, Donald Glover, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. (In the film, Glover voices the title role of Simba, and Beyoncé, of course, voices Nala. Eichner and Rogen each play Timon and Pumbaa, respectively.)

This soundtrack also includes a new Elton John contribution (“Never Too Late”) and a stirring score written by Hans Zimmer (who also composed for the 1994 classic), plus a maniacal and blood-thirsty version of “Be Prepared” performed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who voices Scar in the film. The hidden gem in the batch is Eichner and Rogen’s quirky duet of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Shout-out to Eichner for hitting those high notes!

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