DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to Mali in West Africa, home to a deep musical culture and ancient instruments that are the hallmark of their sound. Mali has produced more Grammy-winning artists than any other African country, and this well of talent has drawn in artists and producers from around the world to collaborate with the local musicians. Whilst the country has been rocked by Islamist insurgency, leading to a ban on music in some areas, Rita finds out how a traditional way of life and rich musical culture have endured.
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to South Africa, home to distinctive vocal harmonies that have travelled all over the world. Visiting Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, she discovers the extraordinary songs and harmonies that have given this country a voice abroad. They have often carried messages about inequality and injustice at home, resulting in beautiful music with a real sense of purpose. South Africa is a diverse nation, and each tribal group has its own musical traditions.
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to Nigeria, home of some of the most influential African music of the last 60 years. The country's extraordinary polyrhythms have powered highlife, funk and Afrobeat for decades, and can still be heard in modern pop music. Travelling to Lagos and beyond, Rita traces the importance of rhythm in Nigeria's music and discovers the many different musical styles it has created, from Yoruba juju music, to acoustic singer-songwriters and world-class pop.
To mark the publication of Keith Richards' autobiography, Life, this Culture Show special looks at the life of the man with five strings and nine lives. In a candid interview he chats to Andrew Graham-Dixon about his childhood in Dartford, his passion for music and the decade that catapulted the Rolling Stones from back-room blues boys to one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands in the world.
Part three of this entertaining, behind-the-scenes series about how the music business works, explores the phenomenon of band reunions. With unique revelations, rare archive and backstage access to an impressive line-up of old favourites strutting their stuff once more, music PR legend Alan Edwards tells the story of why so many bands are getting back together, what happens when they do - and how it's changing the music business. Alan Edwards, who has looked after everyone from Prince to The Rolling Stones, from David Bowie to The Spice Girls, is our musical guide. He's been in the business long enough to see countless acts enjoy pop stardom, split up, fall out, only to re-emerge triumphant decades later, to the joy of their fans.
Bob Marley's musical (and cultural) shadow is so large that the man clearly needed an authoritative documentary portrait--and Marley steps in with all the right stuff to fill the role. Working with official rights to the music and access to Marley's family and friends, Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) creates a thorough account that hits the major points, not stinting on some of the less admirable aspects of Marley's life (including his brood of children fathered with women other than his patient wife, Rita, whose presence indicates just how much she puts Marley's legacy above his personal infidelities). Especially interesting is the sketch of Bob Marley's youth, as a mixed-race--and thus socially ostracized--kid from the village of Nine Mile who began to put together a reggae sound with a group of like-minded musicians in Jamaica in the late '50s and early '60s. That period comes to life, and the account of Marley's ascent, while familiar from such sagas, has its share of offbeat incidents. His death, at age 36 in 1981, does not dominate the movie, but Macdonald does a good job of getting that story laid out. In the meantime, the music and the concert footage are more than enough to justify the movie's existence, and Macdonald makes time to include thoughts about politics, ganja smoking, and Rastafarianism, too. If it's not the final word on Marley, it's an excellent start.
2012 • Music
The composer examines the history of the past 100 years in music, known as the popular age. During this period, classical music - as it is now termed - seemed to be in decline, but Howard argues that while some cutting-edge works proved too challenging to be appreciated by the mainstream audience, the DNA of the genre is alive and well in musical theatre, cinema and popular music.
Howard Goodall examines the ways in which modernism and the birth of recorded sound in the late 19th century changed the way music was played, heard and distributed. He reveals how the works of Mussorgsky made a huge impression on European composers when aired at the 1889 Paris World Fair, and discusses how increasingly disparate musical influences were woven together to create groundbreaking new sounds.
The composer examines the middle to late 19th century, exploring the European craze for opera and music that dealt with death and destiny. He suggests that composers were inspired by Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique to write about witches, ghouls, trolls and hellish torment, and that the death of the heroine in Verdi's La Traviata was a comment on the hypocrisies of wider society. Howard also argues that the image of the composer as a misunderstood genius was cemented in the public imagination during this period.
The composer examines the age of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin. This period from 1750 to 1850 saw composers going from being paid, liveried servants of princes and archbishops to working as freelancers required to appeal to a new, middle-class audience. The era also saw tremendous social upheaval, including the American, French and Industrial revolutions, but until around the turn of the 19th century, the music that was being written bore little relevance to the tumultuous changes in society.
The composer examines the extraordinarily fertile musical period between 1650 and 1750, which saw innovations including the orchestra, the overture, modern tuning, the oratorio and the piano. Vivaldi developed a form of concerto where a charismatic solo violin was pitted against the rest of the orchestra, Bach wrote complex and heartfelt music in his mission to glorify God, and Handel brought all the techniques of the preceding 100 years to his oratorio Messiah.
The composer examines the history and development of music, beginning by looking back at the first faltering steps humanity took toward creating it. He considers archaeological evidence showing that music was as important in the late Stone Age as it is now and charts how Gregorian chant started with a handful of monks singing the same tune in unison. Over the course of several centuries, medieval musicians painstakingly put together the basics of what has become termed harmony and then added rhythm - the building blocks of the music the world enjoys today
The series concludes with Be My Baby, which reflects on the evolution of rock 'n' roll music and its impact in America, including Buddy Holly's tragic death in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22, the game-changing arrival of The Beatles in America in 1964, and everything in between. Philadelphia produced 'teen idols' like Fabian who were beamed around the country by the daily TV show Bandstand. Rock 'n' roll even fuelled the Motown sound in Detroit and soundtracked the sunshiny west coast dream from guitar instrumental groups like The Ventures to LA's emerging Beach Boys. In the early 60s, rock 'n' roll was birthing increasingly polished pop sounds across the States, but American teens seemed to have settled back into sensible young adulthood. Enter the long-haired boys from Liverpool, Newcastle and London.
In episode two, Whole Lotta Shakin', the rock 'n' roll story continues with the boom in the sound across America and its move into mainstream culture thanks to seminal TV appearances from Elvis, who made his small-screen debut with a rendition of Heartbreak Hotel before his notoriously sexualised performance of Hound Dog that caused shockwaves across conservative America. The programme explores the media's failed attempts to suppress the genre before wholesome Buddy Holly calmed the waters, converting geeky looks into chart success, before scandal again in 1958 with Elvis's conscription to the army and Jerry Lee Lewis's career suicide when he married his 13-year-old cousin.
John Eliot Gardiner goes in search of Bach the man and the musician. The famous portrait of Bach portrays a grumpy 62-year-old man in a wig and formal coat, yet his greatest works were composed 20 years earlier in an almost unrivalled blaze of creativity. We reveal a complex and passionate artist; a warm and convivial family man at the same time a rebellious spirit struggling with the hierarchies of state and church who wrote timeless music that is today known world-wide. Gardiner undertakes a 'Bach Tour' of Germany, and sifts the relatively few clues we have - some newly-found. Most of all, he uses the music to reveal the real Bach.
2013 • Music
Suzy Klein explores the use, abuse and manipulation of music in the Second World War - from swinging jazz to film soundtracks and from ballads to ballets. The war, she demonstrates, wasn't just a military fight but an ideological battle where both sides used music as a weapon to secure their vision for civilisation. Suzy reveals how the forces' sweetheart Vera Lynn was taken off air by the BBC for fear her sentimental songs undermined the British war effort. She reveals the war work of two British composers. Walton's Spitfire Prelude became the archetype for a particularly British form of patriotic music. By contrast, Tippett was sent to prison for being a conscientious objector, but his anti-war oratorio A Child of Our Time was showcased at the Royal Albert Hall. Suzy examines Olivier Messiaen's haunting Quartet for the End of Time, written in a POW camp. At Auschwitz, Suzy reveals how music was co-opted to serve the Nazis' evil purposes.
Suzy Klein reaches the 1930s, when the totalitarian dictators sought to use and abuse music for ideological ends. Suzy looks at the lives of Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, who produced some of the 20th-century's best-loved music whilst working for Hitler and Stalin. The political message of Peter and the Wolf is revealed as well as the secret code hidden in Shostakovich's quartets and Strauss's personal reasons for trying to please the Nazis. Suzy also uncovers why Hitler adored Wagner but banned Mendelssohn's Wedding March; how Stalin used music to subtly infiltrate minds; and why Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a Nazi favourite, appeals to our most primitive senses. Suzy also raises some intriguing questions: Can we pin meaning onto music? What are the moral responsibilities of artists? And did the violence and tyranny of those regimes leave an indelible stain on the music they produced?
A film about one of the greatest singers of all time. Whitney Houston was the epitome of superstar, an 'American princess' and the most awarded female artist ever. Even though Whitney had made millions of dollars, had more consecutive number ones than The Beatles and became recognised as having one of the greatest voices of all time, she still wasn't free to be herself and died at the age of 48. Made with largely never-before-seen footage and exclusive live recordings, Whitney: Can I Be Me tells Whitney Houston's incredible and poignant life story with insights from those closest to her.
2017 • Music
A journey into the BBC archives unearthing glorious performances and candid interviews from the golden age of jazz. Featuring some of the greatest names in American music, including the godfather of New Orleans jazz Louis Armstrong, the King of Swing Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. Broadcasted as part of the Old Masters, Rising Stars: Jazz On BBC Four season, this film unlocks the BBC archives to explore the words and music of some of the greatest names in jazz. The BBC soon moved on from Lord Reith's proclamation, made in the 1930s, that jazz was "a filthy product of modernity", and invited some of the legends from the golden age of American jazz to perform and talk on British television. This film is a series of revealing portraits, from Louis Armstrong, jazz's first great soloist and global ambassador, to Duke Ellington, the ever-suave bandleader and composer who brought a new sophistication and ambition to the music. Count Basie is sheer swing, Dizzy Gillespie provoked a musical revolution with bebop, and Ella Fitzgerald is just incomparable. Through long-forgotten archive and specially shot interviews, Jazz Legends In Their Own Words tells the story of an art form that has been called "America's gift to the world".
2014 • Music
There was nothing predictable about David Bowie. Everything was designed to intrigue, to challenge, to defy all expectations. But perhaps no period in David Bowie's extraordinary career raised more fascination, more surprise, and more questions than the last five years. This is an intimate portrait of one of the defining artists of the twentieth and early twenty first centuries, told by the people who knew him best - his friends and artistic collaborators. This film takes a detailed look at Bowie's last albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, and his play Lazarus. In his final five years, Bowie not only began producing music again, but returned to the core and defining themes of his career. This film explores how Bowie was a far more consistent artist than many interpretations of his career would have us believe. It traces the core themes from his final works and relates them to his incredible back catalogue. His urge to communicate feelings of spirituality, alienation and fame underpin his greatest works from the 1960s to 2016. This is what lies at the heart of his success and appeal - music that deals with what it means to be human in a way that goes far beyond the normal palette of a rock star. The film is not a comprehensive overview of his entire career, but an in-depth exploration of pivotal moments that show how the themes, the narrative and the approach is consistent - it is simply the palette that changes. The film includes every key member of the Next Day band, the Blackstar band and those who worked with him on the stage play Lazarus. In addition, old friends and colleagues are on hand to explore how the work of the last five years relates to Bowie's back catalogue. And, as in David Bowie: Five Years, there is a wealth of unseen and rare archive footage.
2017 • Music
In the 1970s, Jamaica came alive to the sounds of roots reggae. British rapper, poet and political commentator Akala tells the story of this golden period in the island's musical history, a time when a small group of musicians took songs of Rastafari, revolution and hope to the international stage.
2016 • Music
Ian Hislop and John Eliot Gardiner reveal the story behind Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Described as the 'greatest 'great' piece ever written,' its opening notes are among the most recognisable in history. But no one really knows what Beethoven was trying to express with this piece. The traditional wisdom is that he is railing against fate and his deafness. But John Eliot believes the music expresses Beethoven's belief in the French Revolution. This is turbulent music from a turbulent man living in a turbulent age. John Eliot and Ian Hislop bring to life the exciting and dangerous times that shaped Beethoven personally and creatively.
2016 • Music
Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique perform the world's most iconic piece of classical music, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Bringing out all the revolutionary fervour that Gardiner believes underpins the work and performing on period instruments of Beethoven's day, this performance brings us an authentic re-imagination of the sounds Beethoven's original audiences would have heard. Shot on location in St John's Smith Square, the performance looks and sounds stunning. Ahead of the performance, Gardiner and the principals of the orchestra discuss the issues in trying to breathe new life into such a famous piece and how their period instruments transform the symphony's sound.
2016 • Music
Composer and musician Neil Brand's series exploring the alchemy that creates great songs reaches the modern era, when a revolution in how they were made took place. From the synthesisers of symphonic rock to the mixes of disco and the samplings of hip hop, music was transformed by the arrival of digital technology and the computer, which gave some songwriters more power but others much less. Along the way Neil talks synths with Rick Wakeman from Yes, samples with Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee, uncovers the surprising lo-fi origins of Bruce Springsteen's stadium-busting Born in the USA, and finds out how Cher changed the sound of her voice on the smash hit Believe.
Musician Neil Brand explores the magical elements that come together to create great songs by recreating some of the most memorable and innovative recording sessions in music history - from Elvis's slapback echo in Memphis and the Beatles' tape loops at Abbey Road to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and the Beach Boys' pop symphonies. He shows that all this was made possible by the discovery of magnetic tape by an American soldier in the ruins of WWII Germany, the invention that, more than any other, drove the emergence of the music studio as a compositional tool and the rise of the producer as a new creative force shaping the sound of song.
In-depth documentary investigation into the story of a popular music genre that is often said to be made to be heard but not listened to. The film looks at easy listening's architects and practitioners, its dangers and delights, and the mark it has left on modern life. From its emergence in the 50s to its heyday in the 60s, through its survival in the 70s and 80s and its revival in the 90s and beyond, the film traces the hidden history of a music that has reflected society every bit as much as pop and rock - just in a more relaxed way. Invented at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, easy listening has shadowed pop music and the emerging teenage market since the mid-50s. It is a genre that equally soundtracks our modern age, but perhaps for a rather more 'mature' generation and therefore with its own distinct purpose and aesthetic. Contributors include Richard Carpenter, Herb Alpert, Richard Clayderman, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jimmy Webb, Mike Flowers, James Last and others.
2011 • Music
A film about the sound of Australian rock and the emergence of one of the world's greatest rock bands - AC/DC, or Acca Dacca as they are known in Australia, and the legendary music company, Albert Music (Alberts) that helped launched them on to the global rock scene. Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Alberts created a house of hits in Australia that literally changed the sound of Australian popular music. It started with the Easybeats and their international hit Friday On My Mind back in the 60s. In the 1970s when Australia was in the midst of a deep recession, a rough and ready pub rock sound emerged, characterised by bands like Rose Tattoo who were promoted by family-run company, Alberts. The raw power and fat guitar sound that characterised Aussie rock was pioneered by the Alberts and took Australia and the world by storm.
2016 • Music
Kurt Cobain, legendary lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Nirvana, “the flagship band of Generation X,” remains an object of reverence and fascination for music fans around the world. His story is told for the first time in KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
2015 • Music
Filmed over the course of four years, award-winning director Phil Grabsky follows one of the world's greatest pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes, as he attempts, in a series of sold-out worldwide performances, to interpret one of the greatest sets of works for piano ever written - Beethoven's five piano concertos.
2015 • Music
Like an actor's script, a sheet of music instructs a musician on what to play (the pitch) and when to play it (the rhythm). Sheet music may look complicated, but once you've gotten the hang of a few simple elements like notes, bars and clefs, you're ready to rock.
In standard notation, rhythm is indicated on a musical bar line. But there are other ways to visualize rhythm that can be more intuitive. John Varney describes the ‘wheel method’ of tracing rhythm and uses it to take us on a musical journey around the world.
How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song? How many times have you listened to that chorus? Repetition in music isn’t just a feature of Western pop songs, either; it’s a global phenomenon. Why? Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.
When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What's going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians' brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
We don't know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale - or at least the audience's familiarity with it.
2011 • Music