NAIROBI: Like most correspondents in this part of the world, I spend a lot of time bouncing around in the back of 4x4s on my way to story locations. Reading is pretty much impossible but I’ve spent a lot of time plugged into my iPod trying to find the perfect safari soundtrack. For me the answer is big, bold rock. The jangling guitars of the Bhundu Boys may evoke the sound of the slum, and Ali Farka Toure is pefect for viewing the star-speckled night sky, but if I’m on the road I want a sweeping, epic musical accompaniment to the landscape – a sort of electrified Vaughan Williams.
Here are my 10 current favourites (in no particular order). Does anyone else have any recommendations? I’d be particularly interested to here from anyone who has been listening to Yes or Pink Floyd. Firm action will be taken against anyone suggesting Toto.
- The Wagon, Dinosaur Jr (Green Mind) – although Bug is the greater album, the refined production and orchestral flourishes make Green Mind a better bet for the sweeping savannah of East Africa. The soundtrack to my seven-day road trip through northern Kenya last year
- Capture the Flag, Broken Social Scene (You Forgot it in People) – quiet and then noisy. Introspective then kick-your-head-in rock-out. It’s like sticking your head of the Nairobi-Mombasa train trying to find out whether you are stationary or motoring
- French Disko, Stereolab (Refried Ectoplasm) – it can be noisy bumping over rutted tracks in a 4×4. But this is one of those songs that only works when it’s turned up all the way. That’s when the sound merges with the heat haze somewhere on the horizon
- Do It All Over Again, Spiritualized (Let it Come Down) – mixes gospel effects with a Spectoresque arrangement to produce the sort of musical grandeur that Victorian missionaries could only have dreamed about
- Pattern Recognition, Sonic Youth (Sonic Nurse) – if Daydream Nation or Goo were on my iPod they would probably have had the edge. But they aren’t. Most recently listened to in Darfur
- I Hung My Head, Johnny Cash (American IV: The Man Comes Around) – almost excluded on the grounds that it was written by Sting. But fair’s fair. It’s a great song and works wherever there is dust, a big sky and buffalo
- The Weeping Song, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (The Good Son) – this is the closest thing I’ve found to my holy grail of amplified Vaughan Williams. Epic is not the word. And villages full of women weeping for their men, who are off weeping in the mountains? It could have been written for any of a dozen civil wars
- Roscoe, Midlake (The Trials of Van Occupanther) – I have no idea what this song is about. Something to do with stonemasons repairing roofs. Maybe. Anyhow, it works and has me wondering whether prog-rock might be the way to go.
- Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen (Various Positions) – Must confess this hasn’t been on my playlist for a while. But it should be. Its melancholic expression of joy is something to drink in wherever you are, let alone as in a penniless, starving country where churches seem to be the only things that grow
- Interstate 5, The Wedding Present (Take Fountain) – with a name like that it’s perhaps no surprise that this is perfect road trip music. Layer upon layer of guitar and haunting female back-up vocals. And the best thing is… it’s long, very long. Also perfect for hanging around at conferences waiting for people to arrive/leave