Aaron’s Radio Show

Episode 26

My Three Songs with Renée Benmeleh

 

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Notes

Episode Notes

EPISODE 26 – My Three Songs with Renée Benmeleh:  Welcome, everyone, to Episode 26. This is the sixteenth in our series of episodes called My Three Songs where my guest chooses three memorable songs and we listen to the songs and talk about why they are meaningful to my guest.

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Three Songs

  1. What’s the Matter Here? – 10,000 Maniacs (1987)
  2. Wide Awake – Tuck & Patti (1988)
  3. As – Stevie Wonder (1976)

Aaron’s Radio Show has been licensed by ASCAP and BMI to include songs from their repertories in performances on this website.

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Transcript

This transcript was originally generated using artificial intelligence ("AI") software. It has been edited by a human being, but it may still contain some misspellings, lack necessary punctuation, or include other anomalies. We are regularly working to improve our transcripts!


Jake:

Coming to you almost live from Berkeley, California. It's Aaron's Radio Show ... with your host, Aaron Gobler.

Aaron Gobler:

Thanks, Jake, and welcome, everybody to Episode 26. Welcome to My Three Songs, where I play three special songs chosen by my guest, and we talk about why they chose each song. My guest today is Rene Benmeleh. Today's interview marks a milestone for this show. The past 15 episodes have included guests I knew personally, some volunteer to be a guest and others joined after I had to do some arm twisting. But Rene is the first guest who I really didn't meet until today. Next week's guest is also brand new to me. And I really like this trend. So Rene, tell me how you're doing today.

Rene Benmeleh:

I'm doing great. How are you?

Aaron Gobler:

I'm doing well. The weather in the East Bay here in California is amazing. And we're both inside. So we have to figure out how to do this outside?

Rene Benmeleh:

Yes.

Aaron Gobler:

If you don't mind, can you tell our listeners how you found out about the show?

Rene Benmeleh:

Yeah, I'm part of a list called BREX, which is an acronym for Brain Exchange. And it's a women's group who basically exchange ideas, sometimes items for sale notifications of different things. And apparently your mom, she sent in a message to the group and said I was on a radio show. And I was just kind of curious what that was, even though I've never met your mom. And I went ahead and logged on and listened to her interview, which was so fun to listen to. And then I listened to a number of other ones.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay, well, I'm delighted that listening to her show, kind of pique your interest. And you were like, then interested in listening to the other shows, it's really exciting. Before we get started, can you tell me how music fits into your life? Like do you seek it out? Or is it usually in the foreground or background of each day?

Rene Benmeleh:

It is in the foreground, for a number of reasons. One is that I love how I can work with my own mood, with music, I can change my mood, you know, in any direction that I want to with music. So that's one way that it's in the foreground. The other way is that I I happen to be a professional musician. I'm a vocalist, and a Community Music Facilitator, and a, you know, private teacher as well. And so it's just part of my life. I mean, I have to practice, you know, if not daily, definitely weekly, and I use my voice a lot to move through the day to express myself and release. Because music for me. It's enjoyable. And it's technical, but it's also medicine for me. So it's kind of like it's like nourishment, as well. Yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

Because you're so immersed or involved with music. And it has this foreground kind of effect for you ... was it a challenge to come up with three songs that you wanted to feature in this show?

Rene Benmeleh:

Extremely.

Aaron Gobler:

Oh, you survived.

Rene Benmeleh:

I was I was like, Wow, there's so many. But the one that there was one that I picked that you didn't choose. But if you don't mind, I'll just say a teeny bit about it. Because ...

Aaron Gobler:

Please, please.

Rene Benmeleh:

When I was a little girl, this was really the beginning. I think of what what I would call like my music training. My grandma had this record. I grew up in Venezuela in 19. I was born in 71. I just turned 50. And my grandma had this record of this man from Mexico, who became known as Cri-Cri, which is like the little sound of the cricket in the singing cricket. Yeah. And so he became this character. And his music is incredibly beautiful. Of course, when I was a child, I don't think I could have known how, how elaborate his music was for for children's music in comparison to some of the stuff that I've heard now that you know that his children's music, which is a lot more simple. But as an adult, I remember listening to it and thinking, wow, there's like a whole orchestra going on and all kinds of themes that are deep and important. So there was this there was this record, you know, that I listened to over and over and over again as a kid and my grandmother eventually made me a cassette. And we played it in the car and I basically memorized it from beginning to end. And I feel like that was the beginning of my, my vocal training, my singing training or how I fell in love with music. I also my family was Jewish. So we went to, I went to Hebrew school. So we sang, you know, it's part of life at Hebrew school. And, and I'll add also that my family happens to be Greek, Moroccan and Turkish. So, you know, there was a lot of music, always dancing and music from different parts of the world. So that was my my upbringing.

Aaron Gobler:

It just underscores for me how some families are very music centric or music centered. And others, it's just kind of this thing, someone's listening to a radio here or there. My mom had mentioned in her interview, that she used to listen to the Hasidic music festivals. And I distinctly remember that her playing those albums a lot. And that's where I learned a lot of 60s 70s inspired tunes to a lot of very classic songs. But yeah, there was a fair amount of music and in our household, and that definitely, I'm sure inspired me. And that sounds like it was very inspirational to you.

Rene Benmeleh:

Mm hmm. Yeah, I definitely got the bug.

Aaron Gobler:

So you were able to choose three songs. They are, What's the Matter Here, by 10,000 Maniacs, and that was from 1987; Wide Awake by Tuck and Patti, and that was from 1988. And then As by Stevie Wonder, from 1976. So I'm very eager for both of us to listen to these together. And I'm interested in knowing why each of them is meaningful to you. And I guess specifically, how you chose them out of the many, many songs you could have chosen. So first, let's take a listen to What's the Matter Here by 10,000, Maniacs. Rene, I'm well aware of 10,000 Maniacs, and I've heard this particular song before, but I confess I've never paid close attention to their broader catalogue. Why did you choose to include this song?

Rene Benmeleh:

Well, a number of reasons. One is, it spoke to me personally, because there was a time of my life where there was some physical abuse in my family system. So it touched me personally, I went to see 10,000 Maniacs when I was in high school at the Greek Theatre, and they were doing a tour for In My Tribe. And I was struggling to quit smoking, believe it or not. I went, and I saw her. And there was something so striking to me. I liked her voice. But even more than that, here's this little tiny woman with this huge persona, who was singing songs about real things, you know, and, and really, really difficult topics. And I'm not kidding. I literally stood there at the Greek Theatre, and I said, I'm going to be a singer. And I'm going to quit smoking right now. And I won't, we'll never forget the moment.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Rene Benmeleh:

So it impacted me so much. And then I became a hardcore 10,000 Maniacs fan. I mean, I just followed them around for four years. And so much of their music was this interesting combination. I mean, they did a really tricky thing, where they would have tonalities that were often very happy sounding. But the lyrical content would be very intense. You know, and it was it was odd. And I think that, you know, Natalie merchant has been interviewed sometimes. And she she sometimes has said, she looks back on those songs, and she thinks, oh, gosh, there was so much dissonance. But I think that there was just something about it that led people to hear a message that they might not have otherwise heard.

Aaron Gobler:

Is it like adding a spoonful of sugar to the medicine?

Rene Benmeleh:

Yeah, and I don't know if they did that consciously or not? Yes, it's a little bit. It's a little bit like that. And I don't mean to say all their songs were like that they weren't. But there were some that had that quality. And this is one of them where, you know, you're like, you could say the tonality is a little more, it's a little more emotional, but it has this major key with this really sad content.

Aaron Gobler:

Uh huh uh huh, if it didn't have the lyrics on top of it, you might think something different about the song. It's through this radio show that I've actually had to really I want to pay attention really close to the song and some of these songs I've heard many times before, but not really paid attention to lyrics and some songs are just lyrically complex. But our brains may not really go to the lyrics first. They're just hearing the music and And I also wonder if this is a good marketing technique, because you were able to have an upbeat sounding song, but still have quite an artistic presentation of lyrics.

Rene Benmeleh:

Well, they certainly had a very large following of people. So something was working for them. Okay, okay. I will say I am very lyric centric. But on the other hand, the other type of work that I do and that I love is improvisational singing, which is often in gibberish. So, there's that world too.

Aaron Gobler:

Is that like, we're like scatting kind of thing? Or is it singing in a way that your voice becomes an instrument? How would you define it?

Rene Benmeleh:

Scatting is one form of that kind of singing. And believe it or not, I mean, among jazz singers, there's almost like very specific kind of syllables that people tend to focus on when they scat that you'll hear; that you recognize in you listened to a lot of scat singers. I will say for example, Ella Fitzgerald, who really brought that to the forefront. She did a lot of risk taking, you know, wasn't just like shabad baby boo boo, bah, bah, gah, gay. Whoa, right? Like, she would just go off and make these super crazy sounds and it's part of what would just completely light me up like my whole body would be resonating. It was just okay; oh my god, did she ... where is she going, you know, just super funny and incredibly fun stuff. Then there's the world of vocal improvisation. The sounds can sound a little bit more like different languages, right? It could sound like something from Africa, or something French, or Aboriginal music so it could be more like Banga. dukkha, Dara tuna masala bow para buddha mama, para buddha mama. Baba. Like, I don't even know where any of that's coming from. You know what I mean? But someone could say, oh, that sounds a little bit like this. Or from that country. So there's a little blend a little mix. I love that stuff. And yet, I love lyrics, too. I love message.

Aaron Gobler:

As a side question. Do you appreciate like Bob Dylan, who you can't even understand what he's saying? Is that like his kind of like, abstract type of vocalizing his lyrics?

Rene Benmeleh:

Well, I have to say, he might not be the best example for me, because I'm not that into Bob Dylan. I know, that's like, gosh, oh, my gosh, she's not that into Bob Dylan. How could that be, you know. But there one thing I will be honest about it, I have to like someone's voice to listen to it. And I don't love his voice. So I just tend not to. Now that said, I have heard some of his lyrics. And they're, they're amazing. They're wonderful. Once I was able to see what they were.

Aaron Gobler:

But yeah, what a wonderful lyricist. And I think he won a Pulitzer Prize for his lyrics or something. So it's pretty remarkable. Is there anything else you want to say about the song?

Rene Benmeleh:

I just love, the love in it, you know, the love in the song, the way that she's bringing light to this issue that so many people probably live with in their own neighborhood, but are too afraid to speak up. And I feel like the love in her heart brought her to write that song and put it out in the world. And I can't imagine how many people heard it and went wow, I know that story really well.

Aaron Gobler:

It does underscore again that there probably were just as many people who never really paid attention to the lyrics and never really absorbed it in that way. And others who who paid more attention to ... Rene, the next song in your list is Wide Awake by Tuck and Patti. Let's give that a listen. And we'll talk about it on the other side. Rene, I was not familiar with this jazz duo until I heard this song and then I did some research on them. I learned that Patti was classically trained. And then in light of what we've been talking about today, you and I, I noticed how much her voice is like an instrument in the song. And I'm thinking maybe that is has something to do with your attraction to the song. But what inspired you to include this song on your list?

Rene Benmeleh:

Well, I have loved Tuck and Patti for a long time and had been listening to them ever since I was in early college. And I mean, they've been around the Bay Area. They are local to the Bay Area. They've been here for you know, 35, or 40 years performing. Tuck is a just unbelievably stunning jazz guitarist. And Patti is an incredible, incredible jazz and improvisational vocalist. She's unique in that she has this deep, deep her voice. And I like that she's not afraid to go down to the depths, both you know tonally. And also lyrically, if if needed. This particular song has had me for many, many years. And the reason is because I mean, it's beautiful. But lyrically, the message, again, is one of something that touched something in my life. Like when I was young, I was actually an early drug and alcohol abuser. And I got sober, you know, at one point, and later came the quitting smoking and all that. But I had to learn to feel and to not be afraid to feel and to face things in life. So that is what this song is, is really about is about being wide awake, with our full body, mind, spirit and all of our emotions. And I love how she says, if you cannot look, then you cannot change. Open up your eyes. Don't be afraid. I'm right beside you. You know, I will never leave you lonely. And I'm not remembering exactly how it goes. But the the main thing is that she's like, you're not alone in this. I'm here with you. We're here together feeling what's happening in the world. Let's feel it. And then let's change it together. You know, that's what I feel like she's really saying here, so. Yeah, you know, uh huh. Yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. It's a beautiful song.

Rene Benmeleh:

It's an incredible, beautiful song. Yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

Thank you for sharing that song with me.

Rene Benmeleh:

I hope you'll go listen to more Tuck and Patti?

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah.

Rene Benmeleh:

Incredible.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Yeah, I'd like to do that. The last song in your list. And this is the second time we've had a Stevie Wonder song on the show. And I, I just would love to have more Stevie Wonder. So listeners, go find your favorite Stevie Wonder song.

Rene Benmeleh:

Ha ha!

Aaron Gobler:

The last song on your list is As by Stevie Wonder from 1976. Let's give it a listen. And we'll talk about it on the other side. Rene, Stevie Wonder was a powerhouse in the 1970s. And I personally believe that's when he created his most impressive work. And this song is from the album Songs in the Key of Life. And I'd heard the song before but not in the last 25 years maybe ... and listening to it now, I'm seeing this infectious gospel kind of appeal in it. And it just has some really, really raw emotion, especially at certain times in the song. And as I'm listening closely to the lyrics, now it is clear, it's a really intense assertion that his love is literally timeless, like and then as I'm looking at, it's almost like, like, it's a psalm, it's like, each line is just kind of reinforcing the same idea. But through all different types of things like when the dolphins are flying and the parrots are in the sea. It's really fascinating. So I really want to thank you for for bringing this kind of back up bubbling up to the top, because I wouldn't have normally just thought about this song. And it's just really fascinating to kind of do like a little bit of quick research on it while it's while I'm listening to it. So why did you include this song on your list?

Rene Benmeleh:

Well, Stevie Wonder, was someone who I would say, you know, inadvertently taught me how to sing. Okay, because you know, when you're a singer, and you're learning you copy everybody, you know, that's how you learn, until you figure out your own sound, you know. So I listened to him so much in the night, I guess, in the, I guess for me, because in the 1970s, when this music was coming out, I was just a little itty-bitty person. And I wasn't even living in this country. So was probably not till the 80s and 90s that I really started listening to him. And just fell in love in love again, and again and again and again, with so many of his albums and the way he sang, and the messages and the funkiness and how it just made me want to move you know, it was just like, Oh my God! I remember that. I was went through a phase where I was reading Be Here Now, Ram Daas, there was the section at the end where it was saying something like, think of the highest being that you can imagine during this meditation. And I remember just sitting there thinking, it's Stevie Wonder. I mean, I can't think of a higher being than him. I look at the lyrical content. And so what you're saying yes, this is this is a supreme love song, you know, to whoever he is singing it to. And there was a point in time when I had to make it a song to myself in my own journey of of loving Rene. I started realizing I was like, You know what, I'm gonna sing this too. Me.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Rene Benmeleh:

And so it became an anthem for my life. So that is very special in that way. But there's just so much incredible poetry, and so much love. And then that very, very last line until the day that you are me, and I am you. Oh, yeah, what else? What else? Is there? I mean, oh, higher? What what? How high? Can you get? You know, it's just like, yes, if we could achieve that, Lord have mercy. What much more peace in the world you know?

Aaron Gobler:

So is there is there anything else that you'd like to share about your selections that you may have thought about while you were listening to them or anything else you want to add?

Rene Benmeleh:

I don't think so. Okay, I feel complete with what I've shared.

Aaron Gobler:

I really enjoyed your selections, and that also your story about how each of these has kind of challenged you or inspired you or pushed you in certain directions and how they're very meaningful. Each song is very meaningful to you, as part of your life journey. Like this song inspired me to do this. And this song changed my life in this way. So I think that's really kind of remarkable. And I appreciate you sharing the songs with me on the show.

Rene Benmeleh:

Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. And I just I'm so happy that I turned you on to maybe one, at least one song that you hadn't heard.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yeah.

Rene Benmeleh:

Or maybe inspired you to go listen to some other music. So I love that.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, I did have a lot of fun today.

Rene Benmeleh:

Yeah. Good. So did I. What you don't know is that while the songs were playing in the background, and I was muted, I was just sitting here singing.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yeah, I was tapping away. I got little things on my desk that I tap and I'm tapping them. Thanks again, Renee. And I want to say to my listeners, if you want to be part of the show, start by going to our website, Aaron's Radio dot show and clicking on the My Three Songs button on the homepage. You can also sign up for our mailing list so you'll know immediately when a new episode is available. Until next time, keep your ears and mind open and let more music into your world.

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