An intriguing Profile programme on Radio 4 by Mark Coles earlier this week has pricked up a lot of ears. Detailing his chance discovery in a record shop of a Polish pianist he’d never heard of before, he discusses the way the music is resonating with him in these unnerving times and sets out to discover more about her.
The album that Mark bought – Esja by Hania Rani – was released in April 2019 on the Manchester-based label Gondwana Records (home to Mercury Prize-nominated albums by Portico Quartet and GoGo Penguin). While it attracted favourable reviews (Mark talks to one of the journalists who praised it at the time) it never charted and seemed perhaps destined for cult status, appreciated by a fervent but relatively select audience.
The serendipity of Mark’s discovery, however, seems likely to change that. This week Esja will achieve its first-ever chart placing, almost one year on from its initial release. It’s a reminder that there is a great swathe of music out there that is waiting to find its audience, to inspire, enthuse, or calm a greater number of people. The still-unfolding story of Hania Rani’s discovery has antecedents in the happy-accident realm: the entrancing female choir music in Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, an obscure release given new life 10 years later thanks to a borrowed cassette, is one that springs to mind. Another relatively unknown Polish composer, Henryck Górecki, saw his profile soar as the 1992 version of his contemplative Symphony No.3 become an unexpected crossover hit – it is now one of the best-selling contemporary Classical recordings of all time. Both were essentially word-of-mouth stories.
As music fans, most of us will be able to recollect a happy accident that led to us discovering something new. An album raved about by a friend; happening upon an unknown act at a festival; a late-night radio revelation; a track on a playlist that had you scurrying to see who it was, or something playing in a record store that stopped you in your tracks. Music fulfils all sorts of functions – it can comfort, reassure and energise but, most importantly, it can offer something to immerse yourself in. Now’s perhaps the time to share those tales of discovery and, most importantly, the music behind them.