Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Alternative Music Videos: Mediaeval Baebes, The Piano Guys, Mbandi, Seminole Wind, CocoRosie

When was the last time you heard: Mbandi – "Walk the Moon"; or Owain Phyfe and the New World Renaissance Band – "Fuggi fuggi fuggi"

If you're like most people, you're sick and tired of the mainstream junk they play on the radio. You know, the dreaded intro that pounds underneath a gleeful d-j's extended blathering, and then launches into the song you might have tolerated once, but it's been played a hundred times a minute, has wormed its way into even the "alternative" stations, pops up as a "suggestion" on Youtube just to give your friends the false impression that you like that kind of common swill as they peer over your shoulder while you navigate the homepage.

Clearly, some songs are written to appeal to the masses. In a world of seven billion people, this ends up translating into songs that appeal to no one: mundane compromises of sound, hovering around a single middle tone, with lyrics proven to neither offend certain listeners nor bore others. It's like trying to whip up a single batch of popcorn for a party of a million guests: trash the caramel-walnuts, steer clear of the black peppercorn, average out the cooking temperature, and you end up with a mound of gray Styrofoam packing peanuts that, while not really pleasing anyone, leaves eternal grime on the environment.

Noise pollution annoys humans just as much as wild animals when "All We Hear is Radio Gaga." With that in mind, here's a list of ten artists you may not have heard of, whose music is readily available on Youtube, iTunes and elsewhere, for those who know to search for it. Some readers may already be pro music sleuths, familiar with these bands as well as others I fail to include here. Add your suggestions in the comments!

1. Mediaeval Baebes – "Star of the Sea"

The harmonious tide of a coven of Old English maidens washes forth to baptize the salty land of antique flute and harpsichord rhythms, with only the slightest moment of modern pause – a synth sweep splitting the middle bridge. For a more blood-rushing twist, try "All For Love Of One," a rhythm that will have you slashing through the forest on horseback amidst a company of sword-wielding adventurers and haunting echoes from the surrounding emerald foliage.

2. The Piano Guys – "The Cello Song"

For classical and modern instrumental music lovers, Bach's Prelude to the Suite for Unaccompanied Cello gets a sprightly retrofit without any butchering of the incontestable original melody. For a gimmicky laugh to share on all your social media, check out The Piano Guys' "Cello Wars Lightsaber Duel," a parody of the best battles and John Williams moments of the Star Wars saga, wherein grown men fling cello bows around like lightsabers and use the Force to reduce one another to pizzicato scuttling. These guys do in fact play pianos as well, which you can enjoy in a wide variety of covers, from Christmas carols to pop sensations.

3. Mbandi – "WALK THE MOON Shut up and dance instrumental cover"

If you still have a soft spot for some of the better popular songs on the radio, you might like this instrumental version of "Shut Up and Dance", with jazzy horn jubilations and muted tropical keyboard sound in between a catchy classical piano melody. For something a little smoother and slower, don't miss Mbandi's upcycle of Rihanna's "Stay" with cello, piano and deep, whispering-wind Africanized vocals. All Music Beyond Borders works are orchestrated by Ngu Mbandi, a Cameroon-born self-taught musician who brings together people and traditions from every end of the earth to tie them together with internationally-relevant music.

4. Jesse y Joy – "No Soy Una de Esas" featuring Alejandro Sanz

A danceable modern tune for a dynamic duet between a husky-voiced, clownish flirt and a lovely, independent woman singer, the Latin-style melody and rocking acoustic guitar round out this sexy affirmation of self respect and identity. My all-time favorite from the brother-sister team, however is "corre," a tragic contemporary ballad you'll want to sing and cry along to.

5. "Seminole Wind" – John Anderson, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road

There are many versions of this folk song. The lyrics express lamentation and helpless hope for the Everglades of Florida, where development has forced Native cultures and endangered animals away from the land they have depended on for thousands of years. The version I'm choosing to list here features a pair age-wizened bluegrass vocalists whose mastery can inspire love of nature and energy for country music in listeners of all ages. (Not to mention the heart-flying fiddle intro.) Play around with different versions and grab your own acoustic to make a new one!

6. KT Tunstall – "Strange Sight"

Yes, this song is from the Disney Tinkerbell movie "Legend of the Neverbeast." I'm not asking you to wear a skirt of fallen leaves or build yourself a gingerbread house or anything, so just sit down and give this odd song a chance. As a stand-alone piece, it's moving and mysterious. The lyrics apply to anyone who has ever been or cared about someone who was socially isolated. One of KT Tunstall's better-known works is "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." With jilting bangles and harmonious "whoo-hoos," it's also a good bet.

7. CocoRosie – "Lost Girls"

Disclaimer: If you are being treated for a cardiovascular irregularity or there is a sharp object lying fallow nearby, don't listen to this song. American "freak-folk" sister duo CocoRosie is fond of carving labyrinthine tunnels into slime-smeared situations, and Sierra's gentle, teary croon combined with the empty roar of what sounds at times like an iron lung will startle you unlike anything that has ever been allowed on public radio. For more of that disturbing Darth-Vader death-heave, try CocoRosie's horrendous "Terrible Angels."

8. Gipsy Kings – "Bem Bem Maria"

"Bem bem bem Maria te quiero bem bem bem!" Meant to accompany a swishing salsa dance upon roller skates under frenetic disco lights, this romantic ditty is perfect to proclaim your spicy feelings for a special someone or just to shimmy along with in your room while awaiting the arrival of your takeout burritos. Also try their rendition of the Eagles' "Hotel California" – an unforgettable theme takes flight on the gold-spiked wings of a quetzalcoatl with new verses en español to accompany the obligatory chorus sung in an irresistible Baja lilt.

9. Stacey Kent – "Hushabye Mountain"

Apparently a go-to natural soporific for babies and boyfriends alike, this soothing, deceptively simple lullaby would make a good opening for a dream or a slightly toned-down Tim Burton movie. If you're into French songs, you might also like Kent's "Mon Jardin d'hiver" (My Winter Garden.) Also dreamy, but with a constant bossa nova drumbeat and a plea for childish love right now.

10. Owain Phyfe and the New World Renaissance Band – "Fuggi fuggi fuggi"

The melody is one I promise you heard as a child – you need only listen to a few measures to remember. Not only will this version of an antique Italian poem warm the sentimental soul with oven-fresh cannoli, its lyrics disdain the dreary sludge of winter and celebrate the onslaught of spring with such fervor you can't help but let a red smile blossom behind your glassy eyes. For Francophiles and history buffs alike, Owain Phyfe and the New World Renaissance Band have also recorded a version of "Ja Nus Hons Pris," the Old French chant Richard the Lionheart penned in various prisons of Germany while he waited for his faithless friends to pay the ransom that would buy back his freedom.


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