World Service Music Documentaries
Summary: All the BBC World Service music podcasts gathered into one place. New documentaries will be added intermittently. Only available in the UK.
Indian classical music is an art form that’s been in the making for thousands of years and has exponentially grown in popularity, seeing a 70% increase in people taking exams in the UK alone. First mentioned in its simplest form in the Hindu scriptures known as the vedas, some 3,500 years ago, we tell the story of how the music has educated and liberated people across the globe, and why it’s more popular now than ever before.
In 1927 Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein created Ol’ Man River to bind their breakthrough Broadway musical Show Boat. Giving it an almighty showstopper. Audiences were carried away as ‘Joe’, the ordinary black labourer, took centre stage to sing of toil and suffering in the land of cotton along the banks of the Mississippi. From the beginning it thrilled with powerful contradictions. A song of black suffering by white artists in Jim Crow America where its mixed cast couldn’t even dine together. Its lyrics were racially charged and contested from the get go and before becoming a song of revolution and protest across three continents. Kern and Hammerstein wrote it specifically with rising superstar Paul Robeson in mind. The son of a slave, the singer of new Negro spirituals and, later, the voice of working class solidarity. But Robeson would not be the first to perform it. That would come a year later in London, beginning a complex personal relationship with the song including his own changes to the lyrics and performances on the front lines of Civil War Spain and Cold War America. Beyond Robeson, the song immediately became a jazz standard. Artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Judy Garland, Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Dave Brubeck have performed it. Mark Burman navigates the many currents of history flowing through Ol’ Man River from Broadway to the Black Panthers to its last unlikely journey along the banks of the Brahmaputra and a new mass Indian audience that knew little of its original source.
Aretha Franklin, for fifty years the Queen of Soul, with a voice of unique quality and who suffered a difficult and troubled life, has died at the age of 76. Jumoke Fashola hears from musicians, fans and producers from different parts of the world about what made Aretha Franklin’s music special. It Includes contributions from South African singer Lira, American musician Valerie June, record company mogul Clive Davis, producer Narada Michael Walden, singer Sarah Dash and music journalist David Nathan.
Peruvian-born chef and record producer Martin Morales heads back to his homeland to explore the inherent link between food and music in Andean culture. Martin starts his journey at the famous La Chomba restaurant in Cusco, where musicians queue to serenade the diners, and then heads to the tiny village of Lamay where the local delicacy is guinea pig on a stick. He then visits the Centre for Native Arts in Cusco where food and music come together with a dance about the Oca potato. Providing the soundtrack to the dance is the legendary violinist Reynaldo Pillco. Martin also meets singer Sylvia Falcon who enchants with a song that highlights the importance of the Coca leaf in Peruvian cuisine and culture. And, he talks to Peruvian music legend Manuelcha Prado aka the “Saqra” of the guitar – or the devil of the guitar. Plus, talented travelling musician Carlos – whose lack of teeth does not affect his ability to connect the with his appreciative audience. (Photo: Martin Morales. Credit: Dave Brown)
Due to the political climate in Soviet Russia of the day, Yevgeny Murzin was forced to build his synthesizer in secret with little access to electronic parts. Over next two decades (pre and post war), the ANS as it was known, was a self-financed, largely secret labour of love; Murzin had to work on it in his spare time over two decades with help from a like-minded, tight-knit circle of composers and technicians. Murzin finally completed construction of the ANS in 1958 and it was subsequently used by a number of pioneering 20th Century Russian composers such as Stanislav Kreichi, Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina and Edward Artemiev. The unearthly tones of the ANS were perfectly suited to the era of Soviet space exploration, and became the soundtrack instrument of choice for a series of classic Russian sci-fi films, the most famous being Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris released in 1972. Meet those who knew Murzin and saved his instrument from obscurity: Eduard Artemiev (celebrated soundtrack composer and Tarkovsky collaborator), Stanislav Kreichi (composer and de facto guardian of the ANS), Andrei Smirnov (Theremin Institute Moscow). Other synthesiser pioneers contribute including Suzanne Ciani (US composer) and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory (Russian synth collector) as well as current synthesiser aficionados Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Presented by keyboard player and long-standing Russophile, Jon Ouin. Image: Yevgeny Murzin
Known as the Queen of Soul, voice artists have been in awe of Aretha Franklin for 50 years. In Aretha at 75 Mark Coles talks to musicians, fans and producers from different parts of the world about what makes her so special. Including contributions from South African singer Lira, American musician Valerie June, record company mogul Clive Davis, producer Narada Michael Walden, singer Sarah Dash and music journalist David Nathan. Producer: Bob Howard Photo: Aretha Franklin, Credit: Getty Images
Ancient history was not silent, so why is our study of it? The oldest-known musical instruments – bone flutes found in southern Germany – date back a little over 40,000 years. But how long humans have been making music in one form or another is a matter of great speculation. What did ‘music’ mean in the context of our Palaeolithic and Neolithic forebears? And, how did the human voice, archaeological artefacts and ancient sites themselves affect the sounds of their world. Travelling from Stonehenge and West Kennet in the United Kingdom to Cueva de la Pileta in Spain and on to Little Black Mountain in the United States, archaeologist and musician Miriam Cooke, witnesses how the techniques of archaeoacoustics – the study of sound in archaeological contexts – can help connect us to the past. She attempts to recover the soundtrack of our ancestors and then write a song about it. Contributors include professor Rupert Till from the University of Huddersfield, sound artist Oliver Beer, psychoacoustician Chris Kyriakakis, Native American cultural historians Ernest Siva and Walter Holmes, Prehistory of Music author Iain Morley, and Steven J Waller, who researches the links between rock art and the sound of the spaces they inhabit. (Photo: Stonehenge at sunset, Wiltshire, England. Credit: Getty Images)
Gabriela Montero, the exhilarating Venezuelan pianist, is playing in Miami. She is renowned for her live improvisations, a form of classical music that is rarely heard in concert halls today. Her spontaneous compositions on stage are inspired by musical motifs, sung or hummed to her by a member of the audience, often drawn from the classical repertoire, but also from the local folk traditions of any given audience.
What makes the sweet rhythmical music of a Caribbean island so appealing to young people in the eastern European country of Poland? How did a reggae singer with dreadlocks come to win the TV show Poland's Got Talent? And why is Poland one of the biggest markets for reggae music in the world? Bob Marley's biographer Chris Salewicz reports from the annual Ostroda Reggae Festival where ten thousand Poles gather for three days at a former communist army camp to hear artists and bands like Bednarek, Jah9, Damian Syjonfam and Nattali Rize celebrate the music of Jamaica. Pioneers of Polish Reggae including Robert Brylewski from Poland's first reggae band Izrael and Tomasz Lipinski from the influential punk/reggae outfit Brygada Kryzys explain how the music took root during the 1980s as a vehicle for protest against martial law. London-based Jamaican Norman Grant describes his visits to Poland at that time to collaborate and make records with the traditional Polish mountain musicians Trebunie. Backstage in Ostroda artists from Poland, Jamaica and around the world talk about keeping Bob Marley's spirit alive and discuss how reggae is now seen both as a voice for protest against Poland's current right wing government and as a means of propagating a fundamentalist Catholic message which is at odds with Marley's rasta ideology. At the climax of the festival, reporter Chris Salewicz is invited on stage to act as one of the judges for the annual World Reggae Contest won by Dutch band The Dubeez.
John McCarthy explores how Van Morrison’s music has influenced people’s lives and Brian Keenan takes John on a tour of Van’s home city of Belfast.
Legendary country singer-songwriter Steve Earle unveils the secrets of composing a great song. Every year he runs a four-day intensive training session in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Journalist and aspiring songwriter Hugh Levinson joined around 100 other would-be balladeers to see what they can learn from Steve and his fellow teacher, Shawn Colvin. Everyone comes for a different reason. Ange Leech travelled all the way from Kalgoorlie in Australia, saying "I want to learn how to really tell a story simply but effectively - pass on a message or ideas through words". Karen Dahlstrom from Brooklyn came looking for "hints, tricks, magic… Steve sets the bar really high and I want to approximate something close to what he does". Steve tells Hugh that he "can't make anyone a song writer who wasn't a song writer before they got here - but they will be better song writers when they leave". And he rebuts the theory that you have to live a life like his – which includes a serious heroin addiction, a spell in prison and eight marriages – to become a great songwriter. Find out if Hugh managed to write a song good enough to perform at one of the camp’s nightly open mic shows. And listen in for stories of dreaming, methadone, guns, jail, death and betrayal. All the good stuff. Image: Steve Earle, Credit: BBC
Marco Werman investigates Bob Dylan’s work, weighing the evidence on whether he’s a worthy Nobel Literature Prize winner.
Gemma Cairney reports on attempts to keep musical traditions alive on both Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico. In Guadeloupe – much of the music is driven by a belief in “you have to know where you come from to know where you’re going” and many young people are rediscovering their Creole music and language as a result. Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, they have created their own 'soca' – Reggaeton – which has gained international success, although many of the musicians have left for places like Miami to exploit their commercial success. Left behind is a movement to rediscover the more traditional roots of Puerto Rican music – particularly 'plena'. Gemma interviews the father of Zouk and founder of Kassav, Pierre-Edouard Décimus, Gwoka band Kan’nida, and Guadeloupian singer Tanya St Val. She finishes her journey in Puerto Rico in the land of Reggaeton and visits the studio of Reggaeton godfather DJ Nelson and chats to "Ileana "iLe" Cabra, vocalist of Puerto Rico’s Calle 13, and Puerto Rican Rumba and Bata band ÌFÉ. (Photo: Guadeloupian band Kan’nida in their rehearsal studio)
Music from all over the Caribbean is gaining international recognition as it increasingly draws on influences from all around the world. In this first programme, Gemma Cairney looks at the new sounds of Soca in Trinidad and Barbados, which is a blend of both African and Trinidadian rhythms. It includes interviews with Bajan Soca queen Alison Hinds; Soca producers De Red Boyz; Salt, Bubbles & Nikita at Barbados station Slam 101FM; Bajan Spoken Word artist, DJ and cultural ambassador DJ Simmons; calypsonian Adonijah; Bristol-Trinidadian duo Jus Now and DJ Jillionaire from Major Lazer. The programme reveals how Soca has become integral to the Bajan economy – particularly the Crop Over Festival which Gemma visits. (Photo: Gemma with locals in Bridgetown Barbados at Crop Over Festival)
A symphony for Syria is the story of how 50 Syrian musicians beat the odds to find their way to Holland to perform together. The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians first played with British songwriter Damon Albarn in 2008. Since then, a civil war has divided their country and forced many to rethink many aspects of their lives. Some have decided to live in Europe whilst others have stayed in Syria and continued to try and perform even as their compatriots have died and lost their homes around them. In a symphony for Syria, Amy Zayed explores their lives through music in Syria and their newly adopted countries. And it puts their music in a rich tradition of Syrian performances dating back three thousand years. We share their emotions as Damon Albarn attempts to reunite his old friends in Amsterdam. Can all the members make it to Holland? Is there time to get the music together? And we follow their first concert and what they hope will be an enthusiastic and emotional reception from a European audience as they attempt to persuade them that Syria is not just about war but amazing musical culture as well.