The wind can be noisy at times. A strong wind will whip the sea into a seething, hissing foam; it will lash the sails of the yachts in the harbour and slap the rigging lines against the mast. Gales will send trashcans clattering down the street and make the trees moan and creak. Hurricanes will throw cars across the road and flatten whole towns in a cacophony of destruction.
Yes, the wind can be noisy, but can it hear, too? Talking Heads thought so in 1980 when they recorded their album, Remain in Light. One of the tracks on that album was called Listening Wind. It tells of Mojique, a native of some unspecified country, who sees the land where he was born and brought up being over-run by American people, their technology and their culture. I have always assumed that Mojique was a Native North American man whose traditional way of life has been pushed aside by an influx of pale-faced Europeans, but he could be from any number of countries in which the U.S. had interests.
In the song, a bitterly resentful Mojique “sends a package to the American man” and “plants devices in the free-trade zone”. He is guided by his friend, the wind – the listening wind, who will drive them away and who is always standing by.
Mojique waits for news in a quiet place
He feels the presence of the wind around him
He feels the power of the past behind him
He has the knowledge of the wind to guide him…on.
This wind is not just the air around us moving according to the mechanical laws of the universe. This wind is the very spirit of the old land; it embodies wisdom and justice, and it listens to those who know and love it. The wind will prevail.
The Talking Heads version of Listening Wind carries the unmistakable stamp of Brian Eno’s production. Layered over a pulsing backing track are strange electronic sounds – the sounds of the spirit world plucked from the aether and sent echoing round the studio. With little more than David Byrne’s characteristic voice added, those sounds create a mystical sense of quiet inevitability.
In 2010 Peter Gabriel did his own very different version of Listening Wind. This is a conventional string quartet arrangement. There are no electronics; there are no drums; the beat rests solely with the double bass. And yet, there is still that mystical quality in the music that suggests a one-sided battle between the eternal spirit world and the transient material world of mere mortals.
And, as if to prove that you can’t keep a good song down for long, in 2018 Angélique Kidjo recorded another excellent version. In fact, she recorded her interpretations of the whole of Talking Head‘s Remain in Light album.
I could have sworn Ms. Kidjo had already featured in these pages but it seems I was mistaken. I did post a link to a YouTube video of her singing Voodoo Child on Facebook back in 2012, but that was more than two years before the Crotchety Man blog was started. So I’ll say a few words about her here.
Angélique Kidjo grew up in Benin where being a singer had about the same social status as being a prostitute. To escape the stigma of her chosen profession she moved first to Paris and later to New York. She has won three Grammys and has innumerable other awards to her name. Her musical influences span Afropop, jazz, gospel and Latin; she is one of the finest exponents of world music known to Crotchety Man.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what she has done with Listening Wind.
The original song was partly inspired by African rhythms so Kidjo and producer Jeff Bhasker stripped away everything else and built it up again from scratch. They regard their version as taking the song full circle, back to its African roots. And Crotchety Man wouldn’t argue with that.
“My whole career has been dictated by the songs I love”
So, there we have three very different versions of Listening Wind. They all make quite a noise and it’s a most pleasurable noise to the Crotchety ears.