I caught Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 this morning. I am usually at work at the time it is broadcast and although it’s a British institution (broadcast since 1942), I have never taken time out to listen online. For those who are not familiar with the format, a celebrity is invited to list the 10 tracks they would want to have with them on a desert island and the reasons behind the choice. Over the hour, the listener gets a pretty good idea of the life story of the interviewee.
This got me thinking about what my desert island discs would be. What would I want on my MP3 player if I was stranded, and how would those tracks reflect my travels and interactions with other cultures?
1. The Girl from Ipanema – Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto and Stan Getz
I have never been to Brazil and this track was actually my karaoke signature tune when I lived in Japan (despite the unpredictability of whether the English or Portugese version would emerge from the speakers). I love the sunny singsong of bossa nova. When I visited Agentina in the early 2000s, all the bars were playing bossa-fied versions of pop classics. Yes, Bossa Nova can be cheesey, but the Gilbertos and Getz are the real deal.
2. Milk Tea – UA
UA was my favourite chart artist when I lived in Japan in the mid-90s. At the time there was lots of cutesy pop and Eastern jazz-funk going on, but I loved the way UA made every genre her own. Each song on her second album, Ametora (love tiger?!), which was huge when I lived in UA’s native Kansai region, is recorded in a different style but each one exhibits her unique voice. In Japan, sweet milk tea is available warm in cans from vending machines. And because I’m British, I must love it, surely?! I love the idea that “ua” apparently means both ‘flower’ and ‘kill’ in Swahili.
3. Ya Rayah – Dahmane El Harrachi
This song gained broad appeal when it was covered by Khaled, Rachid Taha and Faudel at their massive Bercy concert which was recorded live for the album 1,2,3 Soleils – a pinnacle of rai music and one of my favourite all-time albums. Given the waves of migration from North Africa into Europe since the mid-20th century, the appeal among the disaffected youth of immigrant communities made the cover versions of the 90s a sure-fire success, especially in France. I still love the chaabi original, though, and the lyrics have a broad appeal with anyone who has left their hometown for a better life or on other travels and longs to return.
4. Abdelkader ya Boualem – Cheb Khaled
Cheb Khaled has a massive discography and is huge in France (due to the large Algerian diaspora) but is little known in UK, other than for his hit Aïsha. I love lots of Khaled’s songs, but this is a particular favourite, and like Ya Rayah has as historical relevance and broad appeal. The song is an interpretation of a poem by Sheikh Abdelkader Bentobdji, which is dedicated to the Sufi sheikh Abdelkader GIlani (and not, as I originally thought, to Emir Abdelkader el- Jazā’irī, national hero of Algeria and also a disciple of Gilani’s Qadiri sufi order).
5. Gozando en la Habana – David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera ft. El Chacal
It was only when I was researching the lyrics for this post (many thanks to another wordpress blog), that I realised this is yet another tale of exile and of the grass not really being greener on the other side. I love this track because it was a big hit during both my trips to Cuba and has a great beat for salsa, but I guess I must have an ear for the pining exile even when I don’t understand the language!
6. Premier Gaou – Magic System
Magic System may be from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, but this, their first European hit, has strong memories for me of Brussels, Belgium. Brussels has a connection to West and Central Africa through Belgian colonial history and modern migration flows that my hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland never exposed me to. It was in the clubs of Brussels that I first heard the West African dance style, Zouglou. The story is of a musician whose girlfriend leaves him because he’s poor and then tries to win him back once he’s successful. The message is that he’s the first fool, but she’s the real fool. I am pleased to say that I have subsequently heard Magic System played in a club in Edinburgh and their tracks always bring a smile to my face!
7. Dudu – Tarkan
Tarkan’s songs – this one in particular – remind me of the four years I spent in Berlin, the largest Turkish city outside Turkey. By that time, his massive hit Kiss Kiss was well known in Continental Europe and Holly Vallance’s cover version had brought it to the UK. This track recalls memories of a bellydancing class. That phase lasted a bit more than a year but today I still appreciate all I learned about isolation when I’m dancing salsa. And when I visited Istanbul, I bought Tarkan’s English language album, Come Closer.
8. Represent – Orishas
I discovered Orishas and many of my other World Music favourites through a 2002 compilation called Door to the Souk, which was tagged the ‘PoNaNa music experience’. I always found the PoNaNa nightclub in Edinburgh a lot more mainstream than their Moroccan décor and Fes-wearing mascot would suggest, but it’s the best album I’ve ever bought. Orishas are based in Europe and I had the good fortune to see them live at a free open air gig in Brussels in 2007, but I discovered when I tried to buy their CDs in Havana that these are only available under the counter. The US trade embargo prevents the Orisha members’ neighbours and childhood friends from buying their CDs legitimately. This track is particularly memorable for me because I crashed my car while playing it. You don’t forget something like that quickly!
9. Anfass – 3Ma
This is the first track on the 3Ma (so called because there are three of them and they come from Madagascar, Mali and Maroc – Morocco in French) album by Rajery, Ballaké Sissoko and Driss El Malmouni (collectively 3Ma). I saw 3Ma live in Brussels at one of the incredible schedule of world music gigs organised by Muzeikpublique at their Thêatre Molière. Despite my admiration for the organisation and my best intentions, this was the only Muzeikpublique concert have I ever made it to.
10. Find my Love – Fairground Attraction
Finally, something from home. I could have picked any track off Fairground Attraction’s first album, First of a million kisses (the most well-known is Perfect), and I can sing them all from beginning to end, but this one just pips the others to the position of favourite. If I was on a desert island, even if the weather was perfect, I’d probably be a little homesick and, as Eddie Reader sings, “as lonely as a boat, out on the sea, when the night is black and the tide is high.”
If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d want to be reminded of some of the happiest moments of my life, many of which have been on my travels. I think I’d also take the opportunity to dance and sing while no-one was watching/listening. I think my top ten ticks those boxes. What would be your desert island disc selection?
© Lynn Sheppard