Music Expands Memories

Music expands memories forward and backward. How? By setting the tone to your intentions as you prepare for an event. A trip. A party. A transition. Whatever. I’ll give two examples.

A Birthday Party

Marti McGinnis

My birthday party was a blast. And, yes, this is what a grown up looks like sometimes, lol

As i prepared for a large gathering at my home I began assembling a playlist of what might be called “gypsy music”. The list soon expanded to include the upbeat offerings of Django Reinhardt, as well as some nutty middle of the last century jazz and experimental tunes. Ken Peplowski, Andre Popp, Jean Sablon, etc. Of course I listened to the songs in my list as I brought them together and as I did so, an auditory flavor began to be imparted to the collection. That’s the memories expanding forwards part of this equation.

Then the party happened and these tunes played all day. While we were per-party prepping that morning they played. Then the folks trickled in. They continued playing except now as more people arrive they have to get louder! Snacks, chats, tacos truck, cake table, balloons, piñatas, tequila…..the list played on. And it continued as we did clean up. Because this was an exceptional day and the music was ubiquitous with it, I can bring back that party feeling when I play these tunes! So that’s the backwards memory aspect of this phenomenon.

A Trip To France

And this works with travel every bit as good, too! Before heading off to France last month I created a playlist just for this trip. I happen to be a fan of pop music and I have been this way my whole life. Some people my age get stuck in the music of their youth. Not me. I have kept up with enjoying pop music through the decades. I like the upbeat stuff. The catchy tunes and fun lyrics.

Itunes makes it pretty easy to start assembling a playlist of new stuff. I think Spotify may do an even better job, but I can only pay for so many premium music services per month, lol. I found one current French pop song and started building from there. Soon I had a nice juicy list of about two hours of songs. So while I built the list I envisioned the upcoming trip. Though I couldn’t know exactly how it was going to play out, I knew there would be plenty of down times for me to listen to this list while I was traveling to and exploring in country.

Soon enough I had some truly favorite songs I looked forward to hearing. Probably my top new artist has to be Djadu. And the song that stood out first is “Seconde Chance“. Here, check it out:

Iconic French Pop Star

Dadju, French Pop Star of Congolese descent

Dadjju is of central African descent. I knew I’d be seeing a lot of recent immigrants in France from Africa. I felt closest to these populations while walking the streets and neighborhoods of Marseilles. In fact I walked through an amazingly lively and distinctly African flavored Sunday market while there. Dadju’s music gave me an aural hook into absorbing the vibrancy of this experience. The photos below are some I took of the non-touristy, completely international neighborhoods I explored during my stay. They depict evidence of a new population that is creating itself from many intermixing cultures.

I’m aware of the controversies about this that get discussed, but honestly, in real life I witnessed an amazing amalgam of kabob shops alongside brasseries, and grocers offering a huge variety of ethnic foods along their jam packed aisles. African print dresses were being sold next to chapelleries (hat shops).

Walking the back neighborhoods of Marseilles felt so different from the mixed race neighborhoods I have experienced in the United States. It’s one of those great reasons we travel, though, isn’t it? To gain a whole new perspective on things that are both familiar but also completely novel and new to us. Dadju’s music for me now reminds me of the freshness of this experience and with that complicated thoughts on home, neighborhood, displacement, coming together, and all the other topics that arise when you consider how a city, any city, is created. Immigrants pay a huge role in what a city feels like. Not just in undertones, but how the most recent people accent a place as they make it home. His facebook page.

Dadju and Laetitia

Dadju (wildly popular in France) teamed up with this charming young singer just starting out, on a recent release. I love this song SO MUCH! It appears they are having an argument they have had many. many times. I love not being to specifically understand the words. Laetitia’s facebook page. She really is just starting out. She doesn’t have a ton of likes yet. Help her out!

A Peek at the Bright Urban of Marseilles, France

Italian Pop

Turns out my trip to France also turned into a trip to Italy about halfway through. I hadn’t prepared for this in advance but iTunes came to the rescue! I was able to build an Italian pop music playlist in one night! I discovered some gems here and new favorites. So while I didn’t get much in the way of forwards memory making, It was great listening to the mix while I was exploring Genova, Tuscany and Roma! And now I am enjoying the backwards memories to the fullest!

Look, I know most of you reading this aren’t going to love the goofy electro-pop song below like I do, but it’s silly and bouncy and so very Italian! Hey and don’t ask me why these European artists don’t have music vids of every single one of these popular songs on YouTube. We have to content ourselves with pirated uploads. Sorry!

U.S. Pop in France and Italy

In addition to me seeking out pop music from across an ocean, turns out they do the same thing in Europe as well. That’s nothing new. Been happening for decades including the 1960’s “British invasion” to the west and U.S. blues and jazz east during the second world war. So I can’t say I was too surprised to be hearing Justin Timberlake’s newest hit, “Say Something” wafting through the cafes and markets throughout Paris, Rome, and smaller venues in between. It just so happens I love this new tune too!

Oh, two fun connective facts:

  1. They used the same videographer’s as French electronic pop stars Daft Punk use for their videos, Paris based La Blogothèque. They planned this for weeks and filmed it in ONE SHOT.
  2. Chris Stapleton, the other main singer and co-author of the song in this video, is from Staffordsville, Kentucky. It’s coal mining country. He was born about 15 miles from where we lived while there.

So it was fun to hear this song created by fellow countrymen being loved so far from home….and how the video was created using the talents of people on that side of the Atlantic. It’s kind of a crazy small world, and now we have access to so many ways to appreciate it!

Wrap Up

So, yeah, I love pop music. Then, now and whatever’s coming down the musical pike. I put playlists together and play them a lot during whatever that event or season. Then later on, months or even years, I can replay the list and memories from that particular time come rushing back. I’ve been doing this FOR YEARS, ever since you could record off the radio onto your cassette tape!

Andy Warhol’s Nose

Interesting side note: They say Andy Warhol used to get a cologne or perfume and use it for a period of time, and then box it up, put it away and never use it again. Then he would take a good whiff of whatever the scent was and memories from those days would flood back for him. So I use the ears and Any used his nose – for the same result! Here’s a full article on Andy’s love of scents.

Andy Warhol’s Nose. Image borrowed. Click for link



These two pieces were inspired by the music I assembled and listening to it while experiencing Marseilles. They are available for a very limited time as archival quality art prints.

Click on either to visit the sales page where you can zoom in and see them much larger. Thanks!