I’m a geek in many ways, but in particular, I am a music geek. I was raised on it: My dad was a full-time professional musician (drums, bass, guitar, and vocals) until I was in my teens, and my mother plays flute and sings recreationally. As most kids were sung to sleep with lullabies, I was sung Rocky Raccoon. And at the age of eight, the choice wasn’t between playing an instrument or doing something else: the choice was which instrument to play. I remember arguing over it with my dad; he told me not to waste their money on drum lessons because he would teach me anyway, and his opinion on trombone was that it would brand me a nerd forever. Eventually, I settled on alto sax, moving up to tenor by sixth grade (I later spent a year on baritone in high school, and to this day own a lovely 1940 Martin soprano).
Although I haven’t played sax in an organized manner since 2002, I still sing, and I am still totally obsessed with music. I choose it over TV. I listen to it all day at work. I even buy it from iTunes (I know, I know, I’m so DRM-y even though I try not to be – it’s just the album covers look so nice on my iPod Touch ;). Some people go buy themselves new clothes or treat themselves to a meal or a drink when they’re down…I buy music. A lot of obscure music, too.
And so today, I thought I’d bestow upon you ten of my favorite lesser-known artists. I’m not sure there’s that much I can do to get you their songs for free online (though I’m linking you to last.fm, where most of them have at least one track for full free play), but if you e-mail me or comment, I’m happy to send it along privately.
1. Hollie Smith – This New Zealander came out with her first album at the age of 16; she has quite possibly the most ethereal voice I’ve ever heard and has enchanted me ever since. Her style ranges from traditional Celtic music to jazz.
2. Me and Heath – Okay, so I went to high school with one of the guys from the band (Samerai the 7th), which was the reason I bought the album…but I’ve kept listening because it is quite possibly one of the most eclectic-sounding groups I’ve ever heard. They’re due to release their first full-length soon.
3. Code Anchor – In this case the lead singer is a college friend (Dan Keller), but I think you will agree that his voice is universally kickass. Code Anchor also promotes a particularly eclectic sound.
4. Gilberto Gil – Possibly the most famous on this list, I’m including Gil for my American readers who may not have heard of him. His music spans a wide range of genres (he even covers Bill Marley on one album, Kaya N’Gan Daya). Also, he spent a period as Brazil’s minister of culture.
5. Maria Mena – Another famous singer (of the pop variety) who is little-known in the States. Maria Mena is a Nicaraguan-Norwegian pop artist who deserves to make it big here.
6. Soulfege – Bringing Afropolitanism to the table. I became Twitter-friends with band member Derrick Ashong, who recommended the album (among other albums by other groups!) to me. I’ve been listening to it ever since.
7. Raccoon – I have no idea how well-known they are, but their song “Love You More” gets me every single time.
8. Anberlin – Semi-typical “alt-rock” but super-catchy and with a fantastic, fantastic vocalist.
9. Olu Dara…has been around for no less than forever, yet somehow manages to get overlooked by all sorts. He’s an immensely talented jazz singer, trumpeter, and recaller of African musical tradition. Fun fact? He’s also rapper Nas’s father.
10. Afu-Ra – Since I listen to hip hop more than any other genre, it was pretty difficult to throw together this list without including at least one rapper (granted, Me & Heath’s Samerai also falls into that category). I discovered Afu-Ra sometime in 2004, and am still surprised he hasn’t found his way to the mainstream (though I’m pretty sure that’s because his lyrics are pretty damn dirty). In addition to being an excellent rapper, he’s also a martial arts master and expert chess player. Awesome.