CMU Playlists

Playlist: Emily Wells

By | Published on Wednesday 5 June 2013

Emily Wells

First twitching our approval antennae with ‘Become The Color’, one of two tracks she contributed to the soundtrack of Chan-wook Park film ‘Stoker’ (the second a collaboration with soundtrack king Clint Mansell), Emily Wells releases her first album for Partisan Records, ‘Mama’, this week.

A classically trained violinist, Wells has been releasing music that moves between classical, hip hop and folk for over a decade – her most recent project (before this one) a collaboration with Dan The Automator under the name Pillowfight. Having performed her first London show last night, Wells is now heading off around Europe, supporting Kurt Vile.

Before she left, we got her to compile a playlist, which she did with such enthusiasm that we caved and allowed her to deviate from the usual ten track format. In it she takes us on a tour of African music from the 70s to the present day, with a quick stop in Pakistan.

Explaining the loose theme of the playlist, Wells said: “Qawwalis, or songs sung by Sufis ‘seeking the divine’, start out gentle, but eventually build brighter and faster, bigger and higher in energy in order to bring a hypnotic state to both the performers and the audience. While most of the songs on this playlist are not qawwalis, they somehow all have this kind of effect on me, both bringing me to the divine and putting me in a lenitive state, outside of what any other kinds of music do to me”.

“Perhaps my fascination with the music of Africa lies in the lore of my mom’s trip, back before I was born, to Zaire, then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Zambia, in 1975”, she continued. “Africa held a sort of magical legendary status in our household and while my mom didn’t play music from her time there around the house, the magic, for me continues”.

Finally, she explained: “The music I make doesn’t sound like the music of Mali, Ethiopia or the Middle East, but in it I hope there is some homogeny. I have and will continue to discover and study this music slowly and steadily throughout my life. All I can say is, I’m drawn”.

Subscribe to this playlist on Spotify, and then read on to find out more about Emily’s choices.

01 Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Allah Hoo Allah Hoo
I will start with qawwali from the man that brought this music from Pakistan to the mainstream world. I listen to this when I run, the closest thing I have to a religious practice these days, and am carried on by the voice and the pulse of this qawwali, which is on the shorter side for one of these pieces, which can last for over an hour. My favourite moments begin at about 4:45 and then by the time we are at five min my heart, no perhaps all of me, belongs to Ali Khan.

02 Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate – Queen Bee
‘Kulanjan’, a collaboration between Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate, has been one of the most consistent records of my adult life, both a relic and a tireless companion. Toumani Diabate has successfully collaborated with many modern artists over his career, but for me, at age eighteen, this combination of Diabate’s kora playing with Taj Mahal’s low, gorgeous gravel of a voice defined both American blues and African music forever.

03 Sorry Bamba – Gambari
Thrill Jockey released this double album collection of Sorry Bamba’s work in 2011 with the input of Bamba himself, who has been a part of the music of Mali for over 50 years. I find myself drawn to Malian music without fail and this represents it at its core. The electric guitars moving quickly and easily around and around, and the brass brazen, and the voice cool and sanguine.

04 Witch – Janet
Witch came out of a music scene in 1970s Zambia called Zamrock, which was heavily influenced by rock n roll and reminds me a lot of early Rolling Stones and, on their instrumental pieces, of Can. I picked up their LP based on the cover art alone and was thrilled to be introduced to this time and place in African music. ‘Janet’ was their hit, but I love a lot of their instrumentals as well.

05 Afel Bocoum – Mali Men
“Parents, do not force your daughters to marry; a home will never flourish without true love” – this is a line from an Afel Bocoum song, a Malian artist still living and touring today. His music uses more traditional instruments and acoustic over electric guitar, so has a gentler quality, and though I don’t know what he is saying, this gentleness is felt in the lyrics as well, which, upon some research, tend toward the human political with a great respect to women. It is his voice that is most distinctive, always standing apart from the other vocalists, flute, njarka, guitar, calabash and djembe circling below it.

06 Tinariwen – Imidiwan Win Sahara
I had the good fortune of seeing Tinariwen live last year and I urge you, if you ever get the chance, you must go. I can say it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. They were essentially playing American rock n roll instruments, but what they brought to these instruments was so totally their own. While they are from Mali, the founding members met in Algerian refugee camps and so are influenced heavily by both of these cultures.

Over the course of the show, it felt like we were all moving at a higher vibration, as one, some of the performers allowing their headdresses to fall from their faces revealing joy, while the rhythm guitarist stayed so still and unchanged for two hours and we were all forever moved. The entire record can be listened to on repeat, but this song is one of my favorites.

07 Amanar – Alghafiat
Like Tinariwen, Amanar are Tuareg musicians from Northern Mali, but they have chosen to stay in their home country working within the community to bring about a unified Mali through their music, instead of touring and promoting their work to the Western world. I adore this song.

08 Amadou & Mariam – Sabali
I’m still taking in the wide discography from this couple from Mali, who are quite famous the world over. This song is more modern than anything else I’ve heard of theirs, but it’s utterly addictive.

09 King Sage – Oleku (Remix)
I got obsessed with this song after finding it on It’s hard to find and is the only track I’m including here that is not on Spotify, but I suspect you will go searching for it after you hear King Sage rhyming in his native tongue.

10 Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine
I came to this artist through a record called ‘Music’ from Saharan Cellphones, which is a fascinating project compiling music found through the sharing of MP3 files on cell phones in West Africa. I love the simplicity of this song, its brash modernness, the beauty of the voice and melody coming through the thick Auto Tune.

11 Mahmoud Ahmed – Bemin Sebeb Litlash
Another set of records that continue to play on repeat for me are the Ethiopiques releases, compilations of Ethiopian popular music from the 60s and 70s. This music is quite different from the Malian music I love, much closer to jazz, more sensual. I still have a lot of Ethiopian music to explore, but I love the vocals on this and the way it winds around.

12 Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal – Future
I’ll close with this lullaby of the kora and cello from Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Ségal. I’ve seen these two play live together and it is absolutely spellbinding.