Written Then, Heard Now: Reimagining Old Texts Through Global Songs KPFK's Betto Arcos spins four time-traveling songs that repurpose old texts — including an Iraqi poem and a folk song from Communist Albania — by setting them to modern music from around the world.

Written Then, Heard Now: Reimagining Old Texts Through Global Songs

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And we're joined by my good friend, world music DJ Betto Arcos. Betto, welcome back.

BETTO ARCOS: A pleasure to be with you, Arun.

RATH: Betto, you know I'm a lifelong jazz fan, and I'm also a fan of reinventing popular music in different styles. So when I heard what you had cooked up for us today, I got pretty excited. Tell us about the concept you have here.

ARCOS: Well, I wanted to bring four artists that are what I think - reimagining old songs, every one of them in their own different way and in their own different style. Let's take a listen to the first one. This is a collaboration between someone that we've talked about before, Ibrahim Maalouf.

RATH: Oh, trumpet man.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in French).

RATH: This sounds very different from the last Ibrahim Maalouf album you played for us here.

ARCOS: This is a collaboration between Ibrahim and the rapper-hip-hop artist Oxmo Puccino, a singer who was born in Mali, but at the age of two or three, his parents came to Paris. And that's where he's been living, so he's got a very French kind of quality to his style. And here, what they do is they reimagine the work of Lewis Carroll, the most famous...

RATH: "Alice In Wonderland" Lewis Carroll?

ARCOS: Exactly. That's what we are talking about. They are reimagining the entire work of "Alice In Wonderland," and they call it "Au Pays D'Alice."


OXMO PUCCINO: (Singing in French).

ARCOS: It kind of showcases not just chapter-by-chapter "Alice In Wonderland," but in a new setting in today's France, all set within the political and social context going on not just in France, but in Europe.

RATH: Wow (laughter).

ARCOS: Anti-Semitism, intolerance toward immigrants, racism, homophobia - all of these things that are happening in Europe today. This is what it's all about.


PUCCINO: (Singing in French).

RATH: And that is Ibrahim, along with - who's the rapper there?

ARCOS: Oxmo Puccino.

RATH: Oxmo Puccino. Excellent. Their take - new take on "Alice In Wonderland." So what do you got next for us, Betto?

ARCOS: The next piece is one of my all-time favorite singers from anywhere, Souad Massi, who was originally from Algeria. She's based in France for the last decade or so. Here, what she does is she takes a poem by an Iraqi poet, Ahmad Matar, who writes about what's happening in the Middle East.


SOUAD MASSI: (Singing in foreign language).

ARCOS: This is a song called "Ayna," or "The Visit." And the lyrics are all about a leader that visits a region of his country and says don't worry. Tell me your grievances. I want to hear your situation. And someone speaks up and says, yeah, sure, where's our healthcare? Where's all the things you promised - the employment? And after the leader leaves, the person that spoke was jailed. A year later, he returns to the same region, saying the same thing as he did before. And so his friend steps up and says, sir, so where's all that stuff that you promised? And also, where's my friend Hassan (ph)?


MASSI: (Singing in foreign language).

RATH: That's Souad Massi with a version of the Iraqi poem "Ayna." We have world music DJ Betto Arcos here. Betto, what else you got?

ARCOS: Next we're going to hear from a singer originally from Albania, Elina Duni. She has a new record out called "Dallendyshe." And what she's doing with this song and many others that she's recorded in the last couple of albums is she is reinventing folk songs that were originally part of the propaganda that was used by the communist regime in Albania, where she grew up as a child.


ELINA DUNI: (Singing in foreign language).

RATH: The Balkans have given us such strong women vocalists, right? So you said these are all propaganda songs. What was she singing about?

ARCOS: This particular song is sort of a song of someone who leaves, someone who goes into exile or is an immigrant and leaves home. And the lyrics say something like this. My eyes wet with tears for you. Don't you ache for me the least? I beg you, moon. Please help me find the man I love so dearly.


DUNI: (Singing in foreign language).

RATH: That's music from the Elina Duni Quartet - a folk song from Albania, very much reimagined. We have time for one more. What you have for us?

ARCOS: The last piece I want to share with you is "Taranta." This is a folk song from Southern Italy, right around the area where the heel of the boot of Italy is. These are songs that, way back centuries ago, were used as sort of songs to heal people that were ill. And what we have here is a pianist who collaborates with traditional musicians from this region, from Puglia in a Southern Italy. His name is Ludovico Einaudi, and this is his "Taranta Project."


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

RATH: Dude, that sounds like bhangra. That sounds like Indian - like, you know, Punjabi dance music.

ARCOS: It's very much. This is all about dancing to this music because with dancing, you heal. And this is what the music was meant to do - to heal as you're dancing as you're spinning around to get rid of that stuff that's been just messing with you.

RATH: So those are traditional drums from Southern Italy 'cause they really sound kind of Punjabi.


ARCOS: Yes. Yes, they are, although the violinist - it's not really a violin. It's an instrument from the Gambia. It's played by this fantastic musician Juldeh Camara. But it's really a blending of different musical sort of instruments and styles to make it sound kind of this global, rich tapestry.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

RATH: Nice. That is "Taranta" from Ludovico.

ARCOS: Einaudi.

RATH: Ludovico Einaudi. That's Betto Arcos. He hosts the world music program Global Village here in Los Angeles at KPFK. Betto, always a blast. Thank you so much.

ARCOS: My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

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