I’m on holiday in Argentina. A steamy day in Buenos Aires and I spot a beautiful girl wearing headphones and little else shimmying down the street singing ‘I’m in love with the shape of you’.
I am struck by the incongruity of the carrot-top Brit Ed Sheeran inveigling his way into tango culture with super sexy songs of its own, sung by much more attractive men. Is this what Tony Blair once cringingly called ‘Cool Britannia’?
Sheeren’s hit begins with the sonorous beat of a marimba, wood reverberating on wood. Starting on the key note (8), it drops straight down to the fourth note of the scale and then up through 6 and 7 and back home the key again. Round and round it goes for the whole song. What sort of appropriation is going on here? Am I thinking of Britten with his Noh theatre or the Beatles and Ravi Shankar’s tablas? I think probably things have moved on. This global village I share with Shape of You girl is familiar with all sorts of exotica – entering through our headphones all the time. What is interesting is the way Sheeren and his team have used the marimba to underpin the strong physicality of the recording.
Here comes Ed over the top – his accent somehow neutral mid-Atlantic, his tone shifting from falsetto to chest with R&B-like depth. His vocal articulation is so clean that the consonants form a sharp percussive rhythm across the circling of the marimba. And skittering around it comes the drumming of his fingers on the guitar’s soundboard, or it could even be on the floor. So simple – one man and one instrument in acoustic play. Behind them, men hum or clap or take turns to join in the solo line. Once in a while two simple vowel sounds resonate in unison up the key note triad – ‘Oh-I-Oh-I-Oh-I-Oh-I’, the sound of their voices mellow with muscle and fibre.
Come on, be my baby, come on..
I’m in love with your body
The girl swings her buttocks high as she dodges a pot hole, singing along even louder and more joyfully over the noise of the traffic. It occurs to me that the headphones may have closed her off to the sounds around her, but the physical life of the song has made her more lithe, more vigorous. She is absolutely inspired by her connection with it.