Everyone loves a revival. Witness the huge popularity of Searching For Sugar Man, the documentary film that tells the story of two South African music fans looking for their musical hero. The renaissance of Rodriguez is partly due to the psychology of communal discovery: it feels good when a special talent is given its due. Nigerian Afrobeat funk musician William Onyeabor is the latest forgotten treasure on everyone’s lips. Damon Albarn, Hot Chip, Bloc Party and others paid tribute to the artist in a concert this week. After releasing six albums, the mysterious Onyeabor retreated in the mid 80s to a new-born Christian faith and to run a flour mill, apparently. Decades later NY label Luaka Bop spent five years tracking him down, which led to a compilation album and documentary.
It makes you wonder: how many brilliant lost, neglected and forgotten artists can there be? How many Rodriguezes? How many Onyeabors? And as we enter a musical world increasingly controlled by algorithms on streaming services, will our passive listening consign the forgotten to the dusty corners of the internet forever? Cue Forgotify, a website that only plays songs that no-one has listened to on Spotify. Its mission statement? ‘4 millions songs on Spotify have never been played. Not even once. Let’s change that.’
The only control you have on the site is the ability to press ‘next’. It doesn’t try and define your taste according to your postcode or voting habits. It contains music of all genres as well as spoken word. In the last hour I’ve listened to some really random stuff including The Plasmatics, Handel, Memphis Slim, music from Poland, India and Pakistan and some flute duets inspired by the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest. It’s a fine effort to buoy obscure artists in the digital world and balance the mouse and the men.
Whether it’s because of fashion and trends, subject matter and taboo, mainstream criticism or unfortunate circumstance, the world is full of lost geniuses. And there are different levels: Some artists have relatively successful careers without the heights of fame and prestige they deserve. I’d posit Laura Nyro as one such artist. Born in 1947 in the Bronx, Nyro’s career started in late 60s Brill-Building Manhattan. Releasing her first album ‘More Than a New Discovery’ at 20, she released albums until 1993 before passing away at 49 in 1997 from cancer. She was idolised by many artists, including Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Cyndi Lauper, Todd Nundgren, Elton John, but never received a comparable level of fame. Though ‘New York Tendaberry’ is a critically-acclaimed album, the highest charting songs were covers by other artists. No more! Nyro should be cherished. When I first heard ‘Tom Cat Goodbye’, my mind was blown. What was this beautiful, painful music? And why didn’t I know about it before? While older readers may be acquainted with her work, she’s no longer a household name, nor is her work played on the radio. She deserves wider recognition.
We want your suggestions. Colleagues and friends went for dEUS, Mogwai, The Go-Betweens, Wire, Fatima Mansions, Ladytron, XX Teens, Charlottefield, Chris Cohen and I was also reminded that Bach was known simply as a jobbing organist during his lifetime and only became The Greatest Composer That Ever Lived the following century. So which artist would you like to see given more recognition and attention – and why? Let us know in the comments below or using #lostgenius.