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A civilized Grammy winner
February 13, 2011 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Baba Yetu, the much-loved theme song from Civilization IV, has won a Grammy - making it the first piece written for a video game ever to get the nod.

As Civ aficionados know well, Baba Yetu - the majestic opening theme from the 2005 game Civilization IV - is an arrangement of the Lord's Prayer in Kiswahili. Composed by Christopher Tin, it was originally recorded by the Stanford Talisman, an a capella group at Stanford University that Tin himself once conducted.

Tonight - six years after Civ IV was released - Baba Yetu came up a winner at the 53rd Grammy Awards, for "Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)," for a remarkable new orchestration on Tin's 2009 album, Calling all Dawns (itself a winner). For all the entrenched popular love of video game music - from Super Mario to Angry Birds - it's the first time game music has won a Grammy.

But if you think you know Baba Yetu, think again: Tin's new orchestration, first performed for PBS' "Video Games Live" at the Hollywood Bowl, is (as posted above the fold) something to behold.

(See also: The new official video, sung by a Soweto choir. A spotty but intriguing recording - apparently from the bell section - of Tin conducting a live performance. And - previously - watch out for that prick, Montezuma.)
posted by bicyclefish (85 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome video.

( I just came back here after taking a Civ IV break, btw.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:06 PM on February 13, 2011


Civ IV breaks are the breaks from which few return.
posted by bicyclefish at 7:08 PM on February 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Awesome. My professor played Baba Yetu for us in Swahili 101 (if your school offers a swahili course, you'd be crazy not to take it, right?) and I have religiously put it on mixes ever since.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:10 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was watching the grammies in a bar and not really paying attention and this song came on and I wondered for a full 30 seconds why I had the sudden and intense desire to make sure my workers were out building roads.
posted by The Whelk at 7:11 PM on February 13, 2011 [48 favorites]


That song has always made me stop whatever I am doing, close my eyes, and listen, enchanted. It gives me chills.

Lovely.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 7:14 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


also Civ V is not grabbing me like Civ IV, yet. it's really, really pretty tho. And I didn't like Civ IV until Beyond The Sword, so I know these games are ...works in progress.


posted by The Whelk at 7:15 PM on February 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


What's the music like in Civ V? Anything to rival "Gran Partita" or "The People Are the Heroes Now?"
posted by Iridic at 7:19 PM on February 13, 2011


I wish *my* conductors wore fancy pirate tuxedo coats.

Seriously, though, about time this piece got some more mainstream recognition.
posted by Wossname at 7:20 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember liking the Zelda/Wind Waker music. This guy didn't have an orchestra so he did it himself.
posted by not_on_display at 7:20 PM on February 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Never played Civ past I think it was Civ II. I knew the addictiveness would be way too dangerous. Baba Yetu is gorgeous though.

Speaking of video game music... I've always loved Jack Wall's music for the Mass Effect games and I'm a bit worried about Clint Mansell taking over for ME3, even though I like Mansell's stuff a lot. (Incidentally, Jack Wall is one of the guys behind Video Games Live.)

In terms of pure "epicness", I'm not sure it gets better than Heart of Courage, which was used very effectively in the Mass Effect 2 Launch Trailer. Nothing deep, nothing subtle, just pure blood-pumping adrenaline music. Like most Two Steps From Hell tracks, really. Which makes sense since they specialize in songs for trailers.
posted by kmz at 7:21 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civ II for life! It's behind only SimCity 2000 for me in terms of MIDI gaming tunez.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:24 PM on February 13, 2011


Oh god, Simcity 2000. The main thing I remember about that game is that I broke a friend's computer (which was actually the family computer and his mom did work on it) trying to get the stupid thing to work with a special bootdisk. I wasn't that good at hacking config.sys and autoexec.bat back then and somehow fucked up the boot sector of the main hard drive. Oops.
posted by kmz at 7:28 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


While we're talking Grammies, I was underwhelmed by Lady Gaga's performance and pleasantly surprised by Cee Lo Green's.

RE: Video games: Katamari Damacy has the best music of all time. I'm not even going to argue.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:28 PM on February 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


How does Civ 5 differ from 4?
posted by xmutex at 7:30 PM on February 13, 2011


xmutex: Hex map, ranged attacks, and only 1 unit per tile are the most noticeable changes. The approach to war in the game is quite different, no longer dependent on the "stack of doom".

There's also things like city states and many other bits I don't really notice as a conquest/domination player...
posted by Wossname at 7:34 PM on February 13, 2011


While we're talking Grammies, I was underwhelmed by Lady Gaga's performance

Talk in the bar was how it was basically a gospel song with a different arrangement. The first choir to perform it is gonna hit bank.

And yes, if people are gonna tall you Madonna 2.0, just do it and grab that Blond Ambition pony tail by the balls. It's been like 20 years, we can do thing again.


The approach to war in the game is quite different, no longer dependent on the "stack of doom".

Yeah this the big thing for me, I have to re-learn how to play the game, and cities and now way more important and slower growing, as is territory.
posted by The Whelk at 7:37 PM on February 13, 2011


Jeremy Soule's theme from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion fills my heart with joy. Stirring, heroic stuff, perfect for a sprawling RPG. (Of course, it's hard to disentangle the music from the anticipation of losing myself in Cyrodil for 200+ hours.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:38 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


*we can do this thing again.
posted by The Whelk at 7:39 PM on February 13, 2011


After having the music from ilomilo caught in my head for the last five days, I really don't want to listen to anything else.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:41 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


raise your hand if you think the Angry Birds Theme sounds like the chorus of "Ever After" from Into The Woods.
posted by The Whelk at 7:44 PM on February 13, 2011


Good for Chris Tin. He is a great kid... humble, hard-working, talented.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:45 PM on February 13, 2011


So happy for Chris Tin. I'm always completely enchanted by the Civ IV theme every time I start the game. I often spend more time letting it load than is necessary just to hear it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:49 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


To the first edition of Civilisation I attribute the bad marks in my Higher School Certificate which disappointed my parents. By the skin of half a tertiary entrance ranking point I scraped into the course I wanted to do at university. Neither the massive amounts of alcohol I drank there, nor the frequent company of intelligent women, nor sport, nor even involvement in Labor Party politics though ten years of elections have been as bad for my study and career as that one video game.

Civilisation—you're on a fucking warning.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2011


Some visuals to go with the music:

http://www.youtube.com/19Gizmo76#p/u/9/M_GQYI9brGs
posted by Short Attention Sp at 8:01 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have an ex-boyfriend who judged potential long-term mates on their Civilization addiction.

cause committed players play the Marathon Game, you dig?
posted by The Whelk at 8:07 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Colonization features Shady Grove.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2011


You know what would be an awesome style of score for a dark scary FPS? Something like Ennio Morricone's score for The Thing. Just real simple John Carpenter style.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:15 PM on February 13, 2011


The Whelk: " also Civ V is not grabbing me like Civ IV, yet. it's really, really pretty tho. And I didn't like Civ IV until Beyond The Sword, so I know these games are ...works in progress. "

I tried the demo of Civ V and found it unplayable but 1/2 of that might be that my two year old laptop is underpowered for it. I don't like the "one unit per tile rule" and it just seemed draggy and boring. I love Civ IV and Civ IV:Warlords and played the hell out of them for years. I thought that "Beyond the Sword" was terrible though; the espionage implementation is horrible and the events and quests are moronic.
posted by octothorpe at 8:26 PM on February 13, 2011


Well
I
don't
get
it.

Does Grammy mean "I wouldn't instantly dash across the room to turn it off"? Because that's all the award this could win in my living room.

What's the attraction here? OK, it's interesting that a video game soundtrack won an award usually reserved to traditionally published music. But would you want this looping in your coffin forever? I would choose most traditional versions of hell over that.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 8:45 PM on February 13, 2011


You mean a song you don't like won an award? It's almost as if art were subjective.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 8:50 PM on February 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, subjective, I guess. Is this ditty something you need to play the game to appreciate? This post is the first time I heard it.

Not that it was terrible. It just didn't prick my ear. Seemed kinda vanilla, if anything.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:55 PM on February 13, 2011


But would you want this looping in your coffin forever?

What? Is there anyone who likes hearing the same song over and over again, regardless of how good it is when you first hear it?

It sounds like you hate music or something.
posted by delmoi at 9:07 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My friends used this in their wedding. Civ IV is the grooms favorite game. I would try to think of a way to work the music from X-COM into mine but my fiancée would strangle me.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:11 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who needs a revolution in the middle east when you can dance to a video game. Suck it Pac-Man.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 9:23 PM on February 13, 2011


My current ringtone is the game setup music from Sim City for the SNES. I'm waiting for someone to recognize it so I can propose we be pals.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:41 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civ IV has one of the best soundtrack of any videogame ever, imo. Absolutely flawless for what it is.
posted by empath at 9:48 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seemed kinda vanilla, if anything.

It's very generic 'world music', imo. Wouldn't have been out of place in the Lion King soundtrack. In fact, I thought for years that it was from the Lion King soundtrack.

But it does get the juices flowing when you sit down to play Civ IV, though.
posted by empath at 9:51 PM on February 13, 2011


I always would let the entirety of the Chrono Cross intro ("Scars of Time") play out, myself. Loved that vaguely bluegrassy beat.
posted by greenland at 9:53 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


While this is not my favorite track from a game ever (I listen to way too much video game music), I think it's a great choice for a first win. Though I was definitely wildly surprised to even know it was nominated, given it was from Civ IV.

But here's to greater recognition by a wider audience that game music can definitely stand on its own.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:53 PM on February 13, 2011


Maybe it'll be better if I slow it down 16,000 times.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:56 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Constants in life: death, taxes, and "your favorite band sucks, I like much edgier music but I guess that's okay if you like this vanilla stuff or whatever" comments on metafilter.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:23 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you hate music or something.

No, I surely like music, but this sounds like commercial bullshit to me.It sounds like commercial crap. It sounds like someone trying to sell something by sounding like something, and then someone set up an award for sounding like something, and this shitty little ditty won the award.

I like music. I don't like this.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 10:27 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Got it, thanks.
posted by BeerFilter at 10:32 PM on February 13, 2011


Very cool! Chris recently shared that due to the popularity of the song the family of the man who wrote the poem which serves as the lyric got in touch with him. Apparently the lyric has been passed around for many years among a wide swath of people and noone knew where it came from. Although the poet is long since passed Chris was very happy about this and I guess read the original version from before it became a folk song. Really sweet story.
posted by filchyboy at 10:51 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


RE: Video games: Katamari Damacy has the best music of all time. I'm not even going to argue.

I see your Katamari Damacy and raise you the Neverhood.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:55 PM on February 13, 2011


I bought Civ V the day it came out but still haven't played it for more than two hours total. It might well be because there's no Baba Yetu.
posted by danb at 11:02 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not very credible, but it's a stirring, well crafted piece of orchestral world music pop. I don't know that the Grammys have a much higher bar than that, do they?
posted by Sebmojo at 11:02 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Glad I'm not the only one that finds this sort of music utterly boring. I'm guessing it's got something to do with my brain being saturated with this shit to the point where it's cliche.

To me, the chord progressions sound simple, boring, and overly glorified with orchestral production.

Then again, perhaps if I knew the game and its significance, and was motivated to look up a translation of the lyrics, the context would move me to the point where I start clapping my hands...
posted by spacediver at 11:10 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I bought Civ V the day it came out but still haven't played it for more than two hours total. It might well be because there's no Baba Yetu.

Exactly. Civ IV wasn't perfect, but when your game has some of the best damn video game scores in history, you owe it to your fans to at least make an effort in your next version. What does Civ V have? A lame-sauce intro video and completely unremarkable in-game music. Starting Civ V with anything other than a brand new version of Baba Yetu or something else that tried to live up to its awesomeness is a dang travesty.
posted by zachlipton at 11:16 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that Grand Theft Auto hasn't won some kind of award in this department. Other than Katamari, and maybe Rez and Lumines Live, I can't think of many other games which have an atmosphere built as much around sound as GTA.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:29 PM on February 13, 2011


Well, most music from GTA is licensed, though some of their original tracks are pretty good stuff.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:05 AM on February 14, 2011


It's very generic 'world music', imo. Wouldn't have been out of place in the Lion King soundtrack. In fact, I thought for years that it was from the Lion King soundtrack.

Sounds about right. I think it's pretty neat that a video game theme has won a Grammy, and I was happy to see the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra involved, but the song itself left me cold. It's certainly pleasant, but I wouldn't give it a second thought.

Then again, I'm pretty oblivious when it comes to music, and this wouldn't be the first time I've missed something that everyone else is seeing.

Nice post, by the way.
posted by brundlefly at 12:06 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's very generic 'world music'

I know fuck all about music and don't feel strongly about the song; I think it's pretty and very lush but I probably wouldn't ever stop to listen to it.

That said, I think of generic World Music as stuff you'd hear on a Putomayo CD and even I can tell that "Baba Yetu" is miles away from that.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:13 AM on February 14, 2011


This song is unbelievably haunting to me, and like Pavlov's dog makes me mash my keyboard in sweaty terror response to find a resource-rich tile to build my city on before barbarian wolves shit red death on me.

Then Montezuma wins before I'm even past the gate. But it's beautiful and orchestral.

nakosa yetu, hey!
posted by monster truck weekend at 2:11 AM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think if my husband and I have an "our song," it would have to be this. We spent most of our honeymoon playing Civ IV against each other.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:13 AM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Next step: Have the folks at Pixar write and produce cinematics for a video game. Award it an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. See if Roger Ebert still thinks games can't be art.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:01 AM on February 14, 2011


In fact, I thought for years that it was from the Lion King soundtrack.

I'm glad I'm not the only one. I'm pretty sure I learned the truth about this track right here on The Blue. (Before this post)
posted by DigDoug at 5:05 AM on February 14, 2011


What really made Baba Yetu noteworthy was how unexpected it was. Civ has always been a very well-balanced game, but was never an especially pretty one. The game was so amazingly deep that it didn't have to be; the low-res sprites representing aircraft carriers in Civ 2 didn't draw many accolades, but everyone was so busy sinking hundreds of hours of their lives into the game that it didn't matter that it wasn't visually stunning. So when I finally got my grubby hands on a copy of Civ 4 for Christmas of '05, I loaded it up with the expectation that I'd go right back to massing armies of isomorphic tanks to unleash on the unsuspecting Zulu, and the loading screen flashed, and then... there's the Earth, with city lights twinkling softly as seen from ten thousand miles up, and this music is slowly building in the background, and then there's a lens flare as the sun crests the top of the planet, and the lyrics kick in, and it's just gorgeous in a way that video games (and turn-based strategy games in particular--after all, it's just Risk on a bigger map, right?) have never even aspired to be.

The whole soundtrack to that game is perfect (example 2: as you start to amass your air force in the modern era, and are preparing your surprise assault on the unprotected flank of the Portugese, the quiet music you're hearing suddenly resolves to The People Are The Heroes, and you for a moment, you catch yourself wondering if the war of conquest you are about to embark upon is worth the cost it will incur in human suffering, and then you remember that it's a video game and you start building ICBMs because it's 3AM and you have to work tomorrow), and this was its high point. If we're going to get the artists who work in new media recognized as artists and not just dilettantes living protracted adolescences by working on games, this is the perfect place to start. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Why, yes, this was the song that was going to play as the processional at my wedding, until the $&*!^ musician bailed on us at the last minute
posted by Mayor West at 5:20 AM on February 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


I would have to put myself into the camp of hearing "generic world" music. Epic, sweeping, choral- I keep expecting a summer camp to do that finger snapping rain thing.
posted by Phalene at 5:33 AM on February 14, 2011


This thread is making me want to uninstall Civ V, despite it being so very very very pretty, and go back to Civ IV until they smooth out more bugs ( and I get a machine that can play V on high detail cause..damn, that is a pretty game)
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 AM on February 14, 2011


I've never played Civ. And I'll never play "Baba Yetu" again. It's Enya's revenge after taking a Swahili course.
posted by abakua at 6:44 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with Civ V isn't bugs (although there are some of those), the problem is that the game is fundamentally broken at a very low level to the point where I'm not sure it is fixable.
posted by Justinian at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never played Civ. And I'll never play "Baba Yetu" again. It's Enya's revenge after taking a Swahili course.

Agreed on the Enya thing. I've always complained that video game music is sub-par; since listening to this, what strikes me most is how much art was accomplished with simple tools that composers had access to in the early years of video games. But this seems like it is trying too hard. But, musical tastes differ between people, for sure.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:50 AM on February 14, 2011


If I'm aware enough in my coffin to know what song is being played, I have bigger issues than those of aesthetics.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:01 AM on February 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Astro Zombie: "If I'm aware enough in my coffin to know what song is being played, I have bigger issues than those of aesthetics."

Well, coffins are more of a vampire than zombie thing, so I see where you're coming from.
posted by pwnguin at 7:10 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civ V: The one where Leonard Nimoy doesn't read my civ's technological accomplishments.
posted by Talez at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


So am I the only one who turned off the music in Civ IV after the second or third game?
posted by octothorpe at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


How does Civ 5 differ from 4?

Civ 4 is the greatest game of all time; Civ 5 was a heat crushing disappointment. It would make an ok flash game.

Infantry just magically turn into boats? I don't think so.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:28 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


heat = heart.

Mornings.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:28 AM on February 14, 2011



As much as I am pleased to see video games be recognized as actual artful endeavors, I can't help but be reminded that Jethro Tull won best new heavy metal and...

Milli Vanilli....

That said, I'm glad Baba Yetu won. Good for them!

I'm enjoying Civ V. It's not Civ IV, but neither of them are MoO II, so it is what it is.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:30 AM on February 14, 2011


If there's no Leonard Nimoy in Civ V, I'm not buying it. Hath not the potter power over the clay, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
posted by cereselle at 8:32 AM on February 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


Nimoy, hell. I want Civ V to have voiceover by Prokhor Zhakarov and Deirdre Skye. I may never get SMAC 2, but I can at least have their voices console me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


No, octothorpe, I turned the music in Civ IV off too. I still can't decide how I feel about Civ V. It is so extremely different from Civ IV in a way I still can't easily articulate. I've always been a cultural/diplomacy victory player, so I love the city-state mechanic, but something feels very off in the Wonder mechanic and I don't quite get the new politics/social policies strategy yet.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:27 AM on February 14, 2011


Now that I think of it the best of all worlds would have Nimoy singing Baba Yetu.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:54 AM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Related. Sort of.
posted by brundlefly at 10:31 AM on February 14, 2011


This winning best video game music is approximately like Nine Inch Nails winning best heavy metal track for "Wish".

It's a nice enough song, but it really is a generic "world music" track. I'm not saying people shouldn't like it. There's plenty of crap that I find moving that other people will call "generic industrial song" or "generic techno song". It's certainly a safe choice for the grammys as it puts a better face on video game music than most game music would. So, from a PR standpoint (re: video games NOT being evil), I'd call that a win.

But, it's not even *current*. Civ IV came out years ago. There were plenty of video games that came out last year that had good sound tracks.
posted by jaded at 10:45 AM on February 14, 2011


Really engaging song and video of the performance, speaking as someone who hasn't played this game.

I'm pretty fond of another video game number -- Leilana's Elven Lullaby from Dragon Age.
posted by bearwife at 10:54 AM on February 14, 2011


If nothing else, this thread has led me to listen to the Morrowind theme for the first time in years. Glad music from games is finally getting some recognition.
posted by Acey at 10:59 AM on February 14, 2011


SCENE: A party at my house. My wife's laptop is playing music on shuffle.
Friend 1: Whoa, this is a really funky song. Who's it by?
Friend 2, looking at laptop: It says it's called ... Opening Menu.
posted by miyabo at 11:08 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just bought Civ4 for $7.00 on Amazon for my daughter.
posted by joseppi7 at 11:33 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As the guys at Rock, Paper, Shotgun pointed out, Civ 4 was worth it for this clip alone:

Nimoy quotes Sputnik
posted by honestcoyote at 12:49 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


A great piece of music. But am I the only one who thinks it's a bit inappropriate to open Civilization IV, a game which portrays all civilizations and all religions as equals, with The Lord's Prayer?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:12 PM on February 14, 2011


smoothvirus - I would try to think of a way to work the music from X-COM into mine but my fiancée would strangle me.

I dunno. The X-Com Geoscape music could work while waiting for the bride, the X-Com TFTD opening music could work when the bride doesn't seem like she's going to show up, and the original X-Com dogfight music would work when she comes running down the aisle....

Yeah. If I found a girl who was into that, I'd marry her. On sight.
posted by porpoise at 9:01 PM on February 14, 2011


This winning best video game music is approximately like Nine Inch Nails winning best heavy metal track for "Wish".

The award wasn't for video game music.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on February 15, 2011


Just bought Civ4 for $7.00 on Amazon for my daughter.

I hope you got to know her a bit first.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 3:21 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


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