Funk, Faust And Stone: Three Stunning Albums From 2013

Dec 11, 2013
Originally published on December 11, 2013 5:26 pm

Throughout this week, we at NPR Music are taking a look at the year in music with our friend Audie Cornish, host of All Things Considered. I joined her to bring a closer ear to two very impressive classical albums and an international rarity that's been brought back to life. (I also provided Audie with a primer on pronouncing my last name. I hope you all pay close attention.)

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


This week, we're looking back at the year in music through the lens of NPR Music's 50 favorite albums of 2013. It's the annual list assembled by our in-house experts, including one of the hosts of our classical music blog called Deceptive Cadence. She also covers international music for NPR Music. And I've stumbled over your name a couple times before so please do us the honor and introduce yourself.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: My name is Anastasia Tsioulcas. I've heard it all. I've heard chalupas. I've heard chimichangas, you know, take your pick. Anything like up to and including hey you, I'm pretty good with, so.

CORNISH: OK, great. Well, hey you, get us started with your first song.

TSIOULCAS: All right. So I'm going to ask you, who is William Onyeabor?


CORNISH: A little funky.

TSIOULCAS: Oh, a lot funky. He was this Nigerian musician who, in the 1970s and early 1980s, made this string of amazing, fantastic, really out there, totally synthed-out tunes. We hear all that funky synthesizer.


TSIOULCAS: You know, he dropped out of sight. He became an evangelical Christian in the mid-1980s and he said, I am not talking about music ever again. And he's kept to his word. He's so hazy as a figure, like nobody really knows what he was doing even before he made these albums.

Some say he was trained as a lawyer in the UK. Some people said he went to the Soviet Union and studied filmmaking. And frankly, I think that, like, all those stories just add to his allure and who cares? I mean, you know, it's nice to honor musicians, but the music is just so much fun on its own terms.


CORNISH: So Anastasia, you also cover classical music. So I'm going to look to you to figure out how we segue smoothly from vintage Nigerian funk to concertos.

TSIOULCAS: Well, I am so glad that you offered me that opportunity, Audie. One of the releases I loved most this year in any genre was an album by a German violinist named Isabelle Faust and she recorded two violin concertos written by Bela Bartok. And so, OK, so what's the connection to funk? Well, I would contend that Bartok really knew more about dance music from different cultures than, like, 99.99 percent of the globe.

So there's my connection. Onyeabor to chair dancing to Bartok.


TSIOULCAS: You hear all these amazing dance rhythms in there and they're totally refracted through these incredible colors and textures that Bartok uses. And it's just an amazing piece of music.


CORNISH: Your final pick in new classical music, you actually heard this, I guess in an unconventional place, right? Not your typical symphony hall.

TSIOULCAS: It's a piece by the American composer John Luther Adams called "Inuksuit" and it's meant to be played and heard outdoors so you have the music he's written, but you also hear the sounds of nature and life. But actually Adams wrote "Inuksuit" to be played for anywhere between nine to 99 percussionists and 99 percussionists can make quite a lot of sound.

CORNISH: That's one mean drum circle.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah, right.


TSIOULCAS: The first time I heard this piece live was a couple of years ago in Manhattan in Morningside Park and you might think it sounds, like, better in concept than in execution or if it's just too woo-woo for words, but it was one of the most incredible live music experiences I've had in years. You know, this music sort of comes out of that mist of ether and just sort of explodes. And it's really incredible to hear.


CORNISH: Anastasia, thank you so much for bringing us this music.

TSIOULCAS: Such a pleasure, Audie, thanks so much.

CORNISH: NPR music writer Anastasia Tsioulcas, you can see NPR Music's 50 favorite albums of 2013, the entire list, at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.