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The Musical Universe


"When I give these books away," serpentwithfeet wonders, "will my ink betray me?" His opening isn't a worry. These songs will be given away — serpentwithfeet's only concern is that his books will be greeted with the same genuine intentions that inspired them to travel in the first place: "Boy, whoever reads about how much I adore you... I hope my words bring them something new."

In August 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, a 10-year-old Jewish orphan named Valya Roytlender sang a song called "My Mother's Grave" to a Soviet ethnomusicologist in Bratslav, Ukraine. "Oh mama, who will wake me up?" the boy sang, in Yiddish, to the tune of a traditional Jewish folk song. "Oh mama, who will tuck me in at night?"

Even before The Beatles recorded their own version of "Twist and Shout," British fascination with American soul music has run deep. Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen's desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

Concert promoter Billy McFarland, who promised to stage a "life-changing" Caribbean music festival in the Bahamas last year and instead presided over a fiasco, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and faces up to a decade behind bars.

A contrite McFarland admitted in a Manhattan federal court that he had defrauded 80 investors and falsified documents to secure more funds to put on the 2017 Fyre Festival.

On Tuesday, the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammy Awards, named Tina Tchen as the chair of its new task force for inclusion and diversity. Her appointment follows a controversy over the place of women in the music business that erupted following this year's Grammy ceremony.

This is a complex and fascinating conversation with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine about the latest version of the band's legendary 1991 album, Loveless. It's also about the group's future.

I moved from my hometown of Toronto, Canada to Philadelphia to work at WXPN's World Cafe in October 2016. Remember October 2016? The election cycle had reached fever pitch,so there was a lot of political coverage to keep up with and make sense of. At the time, the NPR Politics Podcast was releasing daily dispatches that became part of my essential audio diet.

We have some questions about Neko Case's first solo album in 5 years, Hell-On. Is the hyphen some kind of slang for our current hell on Earth? Per that wild album artwork, are haberdasheries going to update their stock with hats made out of lit cigarettes? Can human hair really emit such a dark and ominous plume?

Harrison Lipton is a Brooklyn singer and producer with a limited digital paper trail. There was the 2014 collaborative Bandcamp loosie with Dayspired that ambled through the mood music Rhye once perfected on Woman. Then there was Lipton's appearance on songs from electronic music producers Mister Lies and Giraffage.

Getting noticed as a musician can be an uphill challenge. There are numerous factors at play: practice, natural ability, accessibility, market saturation, etc. I've spent my artistic career working to open doors for emerging artists while recognizing established musicians who haven't had the chance to be celebrated.

The Tiny Desk Contest is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be seen and heard, and I'm so excited to be a part of such an amazing platform. As I'm watching your videos, here are three areas that I'll be focusing on:

Two former attorneys for Marion "Suge" Knight, a co-founder of the seminal West Coast rap label Death Row Records, have been indicted for attempting to bribe potential witnesses for an upcoming murder case against Knight.

Russ Solomon, the founder of the enormously influential and widely beloved Tower Records chain, has died at age 92.

His son, Michael Solomon, told the Sacramento Bee on Monday that his father died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday evening while watching the Oscar awards ceremony and enjoying a glass of whiskey.

Raw I’ma give it to ya, with no trivia

Raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia

My hip-hop will rock and shock the nation

Like the Emancipation Proclamation

Weak MC’s approach with slang that’s dead

You might as well run into the wall and bang your head

I’m pushin’ force, my force you’re doubtin’

I’m makin’ devils cower to the Caucasus Mountains

—U-God, “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”

How's this for a #MondayMotivation: On Sunday night, songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez took home the trophy for best original song for "Remember Me," from the film Coco.

In the movies, songs often signify absence, or distance, a gap difficult to fill through plotting or dialogue. Entering the space between desire and communion, bondage and freedom, or grief and comfort, songs reinforce the reassuring magic of cinema.

The first thing people notice about Marlon Williams is his voice. It's powerful and deep. There are the obvious comparisons to people like Roy Orbison, but it's clear Williams has more to offer than just a sound. His self-titled debut album made people realize, 'Hey, this guy can clearly write some songs.'

Baked into the sweltering acid-funk of Peggy Gou's "Six O Six" is a voice softly chanting,​ "Il-i-sam-sa, il-i-sam-sa." It's Gou counting to the beat in her native Korean​​ and seductively drawing you in. That song, released in 2016 on a 12-inch for the Phonica White label, was her first experiment with recording her own vocals​. It effectively laid the groundwork for her new EP, Once, ​out this month on Ninja Tune.

Hawthonn's mystic drones seem to come from an ancient astral plane. Formed in 2014, the experimental duo from Leeds explores the metaphysical — dreams and ghosts — through music that seems to both wander through and embody the foggy English countryside.

Look, it's gonna be a tough week. Maybe you stayed up late watching the Oscars and you're already underslept; maybe there's a lot going on at work right now; and certainly, if nothing else, whatever transpires in the news will accumulate so quickly, you won't believe that only four days have passed by the time we get to Friday.

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Grandmothers never truly die. Especially not when they bear as much influence on your life as Big K.R.I.T.'s grandmother has on his. The Mississippi spitter has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.

So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

"As we go into the well of the black pool of genius," Common intones during the opening bars of August Greene. It's a fitting incantation for a time in which black culture increasingly defines America's pop consciousness, even as black people are defiled by the sociopolitical will of a restless nation.

Trap over Saturday Night Live as Migos appear as last night's musical guest.

Arguably the most successful musical theater composer ever, Andrew Lloyd Webber looks back on his early days in the business in the new memoir, Unmasked.

Seun Kuti was just 14 when he became the lead singer of Egypt 80 — the Nigerian band that had carried the infectious groove of Afrobeat worldwide under the direction of Seun's father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The musician says keeping the band together after Fela's death in 1997 was a way of sustaining his message — which often included railing against government corruption and social injustice.

Lucy Dacus' playful 2016 debut, No Burden, positioned the Richmond, Va. artist as one of indie rock's most promising faces. For her second go around, Dacus wanted to go deeper.