I never thought I wouldn’t have time for music. It has always been so vital for me, essential as a pulse. But seeking out new music does take energy and resources, and sometimes my brain doesn’t have the bandwidth for it.
Then last week, a new piece of music wafted out of my radio speaker. Warm notes curled upwards like smoke. The music spread from my nostrils and through the cavities in my skull, then spread like a pulse down to my feet, until my whole body was filled with electricity. I couldn’t remember the last time a piece of music had reached me like that.
The man who introduced this piece of music was a voice from the past. Donal Dineen, presenter of an alternative radio show called Here Comes the Night, which enjoyed a cult following at the turn of the century. His show regularly provided me with those electric moments.
Musical Magical Carpet
The only radio competition I have ever entered was on Here Comes the Night. In my entry, I described the show as a musical magical carpet ride – you never knew where you were going to land next. For my efforts, I won concert tickets and CDs. While it’s true that I had my eyes on the prize, I did actually mean what I had said. Every tune was a surprise, a marvel in its own way.
The show was a portal into a world of music I might never otherwise have heard. The tunes broke the boundaries of genre, of traditional melody. You would hear yelps, scratching sounds, bongo drums, the throb of a Hammond organ, skanky street raps and a haunting vocal – often within the one tune.
The artists stitched old sounds together to make new ones. They built rich layers of sound which melded together to form one unified sound. They used sound give shape to their world and their experiences. On a given night, you would hear hip hop, world music, electronica, folk music and medieval choral music.
The music was not for the faint hearted. If you’re a fan of easy melodies, this wouldn’t have been the show for you. The tunes challenged your ears, but then rewarded them a thousand times over. I spent my nights floating on waves of sound, which filled crevices inside of me.
Most of the time, Donal Dineen stood back from the music he played, but from time to time, his cool, clipped voice could be heard, intoning a litany of names, of artists, record labels, remixes. The names jumbled together, and I couldn’t retain them. I just cheekily taped the tunes and hoped for the best.
When the show came to an end, I allowed that music to fade out of my life. The music was hard to find, and I was too lazy to seek it out. My tapes wore out and stereo systems were no longer sold with cassette decks. Tumbleweed formed over the tunes and I let myself be drawn back into the doldrums of pop radio.
Carving Out Time for Music
Then Spotify came along and I was reunited with the music. And I now knew the names of the tunes. Donal Dineen began a podcast and began to appear on a national arts show. It was on this slot that I heard the electrifying piece of music, by an Ethiopian musician called Hailu Mergia, a doyen of the Addis Ababa jazz scene of the 1970s. If you want to hear the notes that have been feeling my head for days upon days, click here.
Listening to Mergia’s smoky notes, I vowed to carve out time to seek out new tunes, to embark on that musical magic carpet ride of discovery that new music brings.