Contemplations From National Sawdust

S1 E3 | FULL EPISODE

Origins

Discover National Sawdust’s third season of programming, where the organization embraced the roots of culture itself through great artists’ musical interpretations. Featuring performances by Du Yun, Tanya Tagaq, Abraham Brody, JOJO ABOT and Bishi.

AIRED: July 11, 2021 | 1:16:42
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

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Woman: Welcome to "Contemplations,"

my name is Paola Prestini,

and I'll be your guide for this episode of "Origins."

For this season, we took a deep dive into

the roots of culture itself,

through the music of our varied histories,

interpreted by artists we loved.

What did that look like?

It was Du Yun's Pan Asia Sounding Festival.

Tanya Tagaq's amazing "Ventarisa" concert

and her curations, including Laura Ortman.

Lithuanian Abraham Brody's vocal and violin explorations.

Ghanian artist Jojo Abot and her interdisciplinary

spiritual dance film set.

And British pop diva Bishi,

with her vocalizing and sitar playing

exploring what it means to be a good immigrant.

A direct response to the fear-driven

currency exchanged in the media landscape,

"Origins" was an insistent return to empathy

celebrating the multicultural and the borderless

through their music.

[ Singing in Spanish ]

Woman: "Lullaby Movement" is a theater song cycle.

So, it's a collection of many different songs

that we have woven together coming from across the world --

Middle East, Asia, Europe,

and, um, Africa,

that explore lullaby repertoire and ritual,

and it's performed in over 25 different languages,

and I suppose it's a piece that really looks at

that shared commonality,

that universal need that all of us have for a space

for safety, containment,

and sort of respite.

So it's a piece that tells that story

through a narrative of a girl, a sleepless girl,

on a pebble beach on the edge of the Universe

who tries to sort of seek out form and containment

with these ancient melodies to guide her.

[ Vocalizing ]

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♪ Yallai Jeeha elna-oum

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♪ Yallai tHet bis-dalah

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♪ Yallai tHe bis-dau-ou

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♪ Yallai jih helau-a-fi

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♪ Kel-yau meh be-ya-ou

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♪ Yalla tnem yalla tnem

♪ Led bHluh, taril hamem

♪ Rou heya hamam letsadih

♪ Would hak-a- Reema tutnem

♪ Reema Reema lehan da-a

♪ Sharik ash arwem na-a

♪ Wili habi kebibusi

♪ Kili-bagadikshu hieh-tra-a

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[ Vocalizing ]

♪ Yalla tnem yalla tnem

♪ Led bHluh, taril hamem

♪ Rou heya hamam letsadih

♪ Would hak-a- Reema tutnem

♪ Reema Reema lehan da-a

♪ Sharik ash arwem na-a

♪ Wili habi kebibusi

♪ Kili-bagadikshu hieh-tra-a

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♪ Yabiya ey nayneb, wilai nebi

♪ Wiooloo eleh emi

♪ U-loole beyi

♪ U-loole beyi

♪ CHata fooni lerajaR

♪ Min tachet chayimit Majdali

♪ Iti shitshi, witi shitshi

♪ Wil CHauch daH, dil mi-shimshi ♪

♪ Dil, maHa, bil haw

♪ Nabu na Reema ne shimshi

♪ He, He, wuhe Lina

♪ Dis ticka laka nicka a Reema

♪ Tenereh sileh tiag Reema

♪ Wunin shereh honah al yasmeena ♪

♪ Yasmeena

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♪ Iti shitshi, witi shitshi

♪ Wil CHauch daH, dil mi-shimshi ♪

♪ Dil, maHa, bil haw

♪ Nabu na Reema ne shimshi

♪ He, He, wuhe Lina

♪ Dis ticka laka nicka a Reema

♪ Tenereh sileh tiag Reema

♪ Wunin shereh honah al yasmeena ♪

♪ Ohh, yasmeena

♪ Wunin shereh honah al yasmeena ♪

♪ Wunin shereh honah al yasmeena ♪

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per-exciting for me to have

these two brilliant artists with me here today.

Brilliant composers, performers,

thinkers, and, uh, we're here to talk a little bit about

both of your styles --

I guess if we could start with this question

about your roots, your origins,

and how and if they play a part of the way that

you think about sound and organize sound?

You caught me at a good time, 'cause I just came back from

where I'm from --

I'm White Mountain Apache from, uh, East Fork, Arizona,

in the White Mountains.

It comes from supreme deserts

all the way down to crazy canyon,

rich with natural resources and beautiful people.

That is definitely groundbreaking for my ears.

Relationship to the land and its people --

that's how I play it, playing for all us guys.

Du Yun, tell us a little bit about your coming to the States.

I think you came to the States 20 years ago, is that right?

When I was 20; I'm born and raised in Shanghai, China.

And China really, like, opened up after the '90s,

so I'm actually

seeing all this, like, radical shift, um,

of a huge nation.

Proud to be an Asian-American,

and still trying to understand

what that identity really means.

Let's dig into that a little deeper --

the festival that you curated was called

the Pan Asia Sounding Festival.

-Mm-hmm. -And I think that word,

"sounding," kind of tells us the difference, right?

Because you weren't necessarily curating things that could fit

in a very specific box --

can you talk a little bit about how you curated the festival?

Yun: I should not be the ambassador

for every Asian culture -- that is crazy.

I can't even, like, symbolic for Shanghai culture.

But I am sensitive to all the multiplicity

of all those practices that exist.

So, to also to have sounding,

also the play around the word of "sounding"

is also the reasoning -- -Right.

As well, and so, looking at music

and not just being a composition,

but also a reasoning of existence,

and then that's also when you have the film,

the installation, and different kind of, like, practices,

that all living in that festival.

That takes me to a question -- Du Yun, you and I were speaking

this morning about, is this question, I think,

that's come up a lot in terms of Western composition,

in terms of appropriation --

I mean, who has the right

to utilize aspects of other people's cultures,

and I'm wondering how, and if, you know,

both of you think about

this specific aspect in your practice?

Maybe, Laura, I'll start with you.

Ortman: I can cover something like --

like a piece of rock history;

I can cover a crazy Mendelssohn violin concerto.

I can take these other things from other places

and make them my own in accommodation of who I am.

"Oh, here it comes, Ella Fitzgerald!"

Like, you know, I don't know when it happens,

but, you know, it just seems something important to express.

Du Yun, any thoughts?

If a Chinese girl can play Beethoven,

can a Chinese play Mozart?

Yes! Absolutely!

You know why? Because we actually studied

with rigor, we studied the history

and the practices and the techniques.

By the same token, I think, too,

I would love more people to study my culture.

And to study, but with the same length of rigor,

same of length and breadth and depth --

it's all about depth.

So, depth and dedication make the difference.

Yes, and also having this sort of, like, invitation of...

of really listening to each other,

and really studying, like, really do your research.

-Right. -Not just taking things and adapt.

Laura, you also are an incredible hairdresser.

Can you talk a little bit about, you know,

each of your practice and how you combine

your different passions and explorations

into your voice.

I have a long fascination with hair,

you know, the violin bow is made of horse tail hair.

And I come from a country where it's definitely horse country.

And I play the Apache violin, which is made of agave,

which is also famous for its tequila.

And it just, you know, all of it kind of makes sense together --

the tree sap melted into a little cake,

and it gives you smoke when you play.

I can see, um, young Apache kids strutting through New York City

being like, "Aw, why do I put subways in my music?

I learned it from Laura!"

You know, just -- just kinda --

all kinds of, um, passing traditions of --

of the heart and soul of what music is.

-Du Yun? -I practiced piano

eight hours a day when I was four,

so that's how I relate with music, is through my body.

Composing, for me, is to understand who I am as a person,

to engage with the world.

So, it's -- we've talked a little bit about the body

as a site of expression, but also your roots and smoke

and passing on to other generations --

tell us what we're about to hear.

Interesting that you chose this --

it was with my band, OK Miss,

it was actually for this documentary

that the filmmaker Zhou Hongbo did from Shanghai,

and it's based on this road

it's called the YuYuan Road,

and it's -- it's all just full of colonial buildings,

and it's very well known for that,

it has this incredibly rich of the Shanghai colonial history.

In the middle you also hear this kind of reference

to the Shanghai opera, actually,

and Shanghai is itself very much of a jazz city,

so we actually hear the, you know,

this jazz influence with the Shanghai opera references.

Mm, so compelling, I love it. And Laura?

The piece is called "My Soul Remainder."

Um, I had a huge fascination with, um,

this old tape deck that I had,

um, when I first moved to New York.

And recorded, um, the Mendelssohn violin concerto.

And I was really into branching out and listening to

all kinds of cool new New York hip-hop,

and, um, sampling, and so I took the bass part from the my--

from "My Soul Remainder" from the Mendelssohn concerto,

and looped it, it was like a vessel that introduced

this whole expose into desire and, um,

your own personal ceremony,

being vulnerable enough to open up and let my soul come out.

Well, thank you both, you really represent the very best of --

of National Sawdust and its aspirations

through your unbelievably pure exploration of sound.

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[ Singing in non-English language ]

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[ Cheering and applause ]

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[ Vocalizing ]

[ Singing in native language ]

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[ Applause ]

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[ Singing in native language ]

[ Sampling, harmonizing ]

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[ Applause ]

Thank you.

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[ Singing in native language ]

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[ Cheering and applause ]

Thank you.

♪♪

It is such a pleasure for me to have with me today

the stunning visual artist Kevork Mourad,

who really brings a musicality to all he does,

his painting is both live and still.

And, Kevork, I'd love for you to set up what we're about to see

with "Lost Spring."

Mourad: The reason that I felt super excited about doing it

in National Sawdust, because it's almost like home,

'cause I live in Manhattan,

and Brooklyn is just my second place where my studio is.

My wife was in it, singing and writing,

and my daughter was in it,

so basically they saw a family project

dedicated to my ancestors,

'cause it's inspired by my great-grandmother,

who survived the Armenian genocide.

It's incredible story,

because she lost her two boys

during the genocide --

they were like five, six years old --

she lost her husband, he was this amazing baker,

and then she escapes and she arrives Aleppo,

and like many, many starving Armenians in 1915,

she goes to the bakery to bake piece of bread,

and she opens her arm, this...

and she sees her husband's working there.

She gets reunited with her husband.

-Amazing. -They had two girls in Aleppo.

This piece that we did,

it's a wonderful way to share with the world,

especially in America --

we're so happy and lucky that, this year,

America acknowledged the Armenian genocide.

One last question that I have for you,

which is your painting, and I'm curious,

when you're painting, when you're preparing to do

the live painting that you do,

what is your relationship to music in your preparation?

I create these spaces, almost like rooms,

in my head -- so if I'm going to enter in that place,

it means the lines need to be these shapes.

I imagine them usually like in the air,

almost like a silk-like or blocks, like stones.

So when I go from section to section,

I think about these materials,

and the rest, the music, takes over.

Prestini: You're creating the architecture

that you're working in,

but then you're also informed by this kind of abstract,

ephemeral quality of music.

Mourad: There's also one interesting element

in this technique, because I put the paint in this little bottle,

the bottle is soft, and the pressure and the angle

of the bottle also changes based on composition

and density of the music,

and -- -Dancing.

It's almost like dancing. -Yes.

I wanted to create a piece where my grandmother's spirit

is taken by the dancer's role,

and the dancer created this beautiful kind of gesture

where almost like you see the grandmother's footprint,

because basically our ancestors

create a safe path for us to walk,

and Amber, in her dance, kind of gave us that feeling where,

kind of paving the safety path for us to arrive,

and we're here right now because of our ancestors.

Thank you, dear friend, for, you know,

considering Sawdust a home,

and for your extraordinary vision,

and it feels even more meaningful to be seeing

this piece upon what we know has happened,

and the recognition that has finally happened.

Woman: It's about...

What was saved.

It's about what was passed on.

It's about what we even have a right to

as the descendants of those who were the first in our line

to know this particular anger,

this particular fear.

And what do I tell little moon face?

If I withhold the story

there's the reason for her very existence,

can she stand with the fullness of her weight upon this place?

Can she untangle the mess of this present

when it's her turn to do so?

[ Music playing ]

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[ Woman singing in non-English language ]

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It is a huge pleasure to have with me today

my dear friend Anthony Roth Costanzo,

who is a brilliant curator, soul, visionary, thinker,

and who has been with me here at Sawdust,

helping envision new possibilities

for the space since day one.

Can you talk a little bit about the way that you brought opera

into National Sawdust, and what it means to you to perform in,

and also to curate in this kind of environment?

You know, National Sawdust is exactly what you say,

it's this ripe environment where, really,

opera probably began, in these rooms,

where people could really hear it up close.

But we went a step beyond that --

opera is the interdisciplinary art form,

and I remember Patrick was opening the restaurant

in Sawdust at that moment,

and we brought food in, and there were dancers,

and there were lights and art, and, you know,

it was such a multi-media affair;

I remember the effect it had on me as an artist

to be making music in that space, so close to people,

and feeling the connection --

it sort of reminds you why you do this

and the effect that it can have on you

as well as on the audience,

it's a real communication there.

You know, my question to you is, what is the future of opera?

The future of opera is in all the different ways

we can start to build community as an industry ourselves,

but also as we connect with other people,

and Sawdust has kind of been the perfect microcosm,

both in its scale, but also in its programming

and the brilliant work that you have done to bring

all of these different factions together.

Prestini: Wondering if you can set the stage

for this performance that we're about to see,

it's a piece that everybody knows,

and it was done with a banjo.

We were trying to think of, you know, some --

a way to take something traditional and re-imagine it,

and so, I, you know, Handel wrote operas for continuo often,

and arias for continuo,

and a continuo just means it could be harpsichord with cello,

or just cello, or just harpsichord,

or some other plucked instrument,

and that's where this incredible banjo reconfiguration came from,

and it was thrilling to hear it in that light

and to feel like we were taking the past and embroidering it.

So, I'm excited for people to hear it,

and thank you, my friend, for sticking by my side

and for everything you've done for others and also for Sawdust.

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[ Vocalizing ]

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♪Lascia ch'io pianga ♪

♪Mia cruda sorte ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪La libertà ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪La libertà ♪

♪Lascia ch'io pianga ♪

♪Mia cruda sorte ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪La libertà ♪

[ Solo banjo ]

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♪Il duolo infranga ♪

♪Queste ritorte ♪

♪De' miei martiri ♪

♪Sol per pietà ♪

♪De' miei martiri ♪

♪Sol per pietà ♪

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♪Lascia ch'io pianga ♪

♪Mia cruda sorte ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪La libertà ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪La libertà ♪

♪Lascia ch'io pianga ♪

♪Mia cruda sorte ♪

♪E che sospiri ♪

♪La libertà ♪

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[ Cheering and applause ]

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[ Speaking Spanish ]

Thank you for being with me.

You have been in National Sawdust

since before we even opened,

and I just want to ask you a couple of questions.

You're on our artistic advisory board,

and you've been a curator here,

and you've brought so many great, great musicians

from around the world and also your own music,

and I just want to ask you,

what does it mean to be the type of ambassador that you are

and what do you see as your role?

Herrera: I mean, to me,

what the vision of National Sawdust

vibrates and resonates so much with what I stand,

in terms of music-making and art in general.

Being able to have a space to actually materialize

this idea of music beyond borders,

and especially because,

when I moved from Mexico to New York,

one of the things that I was pursuing

was to find that bridge between jazz and the music --

all the music that I love.

Prestini: The piece that we're about to hear

I think really also embodies your spirit,

and the words are, "gracias a la vida,"

"thanks to life" --

"life that's given me so much."

Can you tell us about what we're about to hear?

I love this piece -- as you said, it's called,

"Gracias A La Vida," by one of the greatest

singer/songwriters from Latin America,

Violeta Parra -- she was from Chile.

Violeta had all, you know, the heritage of Latin America,

the folk spirit of Latin America,

being a woman, you know,

in certain period of time in Chile,

so she represents a very specific era in Latin America,

but this particular song --

and that's, I think, why I love Violeta Parra,

it's about life, it's about --

she goes beyond a love story.

It talks about gratitude;

gratitude for what is essential:

the sky, a handshake, the eyes of a loved one.

You know, like that, but it's essential.

We learned recently about how to really be embraced

and acknowledge that in our everyday life give us purpose.

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♪Gracias a la vida ♪

♪Que me ha dado tanto ♪

Yeah!

♪Me dio dos luceros ♪

♪Que, cuando los abro ♪

♪Perfecto distingo ♪

♪Lo negro del blanco ♪

♪Y en el alto cielo ♪

♪Su fondo estrellado ♪

♪Y en las multitudes ♪

♪El hombre que yo amo ♪

[ Instrumental ]

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♪Gracias a la vida ♪

♪Que me ha dado tanto ♪

♪Me ha dado el oído ♪

♪Que en todo su ancho ♪

♪Graba noche y días ♪

♪Grillos y canarios ♪

♪Martillos, turbinas, ladridos ♪

♪Chubascos ♪

♪Y la voz tan tierna de mi bien ♪

♪Amado ♪

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♪Gracias a la vida ♪

♪Que me ha dado tanto ♪

♪Me ha dado el sonido ♪

♪Y el abecedario ♪

♪Con él, las palabras ♪

♪Que pienso y declaro ♪

♪Madre, amigo, hermano y luz alumbrando ♪

♪La ruta del alma ♪

♪Del que estoy amando ♪

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♪Gracias a la vida ♪

♪Que me ha dado tanto ♪

♪Me ha dado la marcha ♪

♪De mis pies cansados ♪

♪Con ellos anduve ♪

♪Ciudades y charcos ♪

♪Playas y desiertos ♪

♪Montañas y llanos ♪

♪Y la casa tuya, tu calle y tu patio ♪

Yeah!

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♪Gracias a la vida ♪

♪Que me ha dado tanto ♪

♪Me dio el corazón ♪

♪Que agita su marco ♪

♪Cuando miro el fruto ♪

♪Del cerebro humano ♪

♪Cuando miro el bueno ♪

♪Tan lejos del malo ♪

♪Cuando miro el fondo ♪

♪De tus ojos claros ♪

♪Claros ♪

♪Gracias a la vida ♪

♪Que me ha dado tanto ♪

♪Me ha dado la risa ♪

♪Y me ha dado el llanto ♪

♪Con e yo distingo ♪

♪Dicha de quebranto ♪

♪Los dos materiales ♪

♪Que forman mi canto ♪

♪Y el canto de ustedes ♪

♪Que mi propio canto ♪

Ah.

Yeah.

♪Y el canto de todos ♪

♪Que es el mismo canto ♪

♪No, no, no, no, no ♪

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[ Vocalizing ]

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[ Cheering and applause ]

[ Pop beat with bassline ]

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Young people of color...

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Our stories can and should be told...

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Our stories can and should be told...

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♪ Crying vessel

♪ Of time, of age

♪ Crying vessel

♪ Of time, of age

♪ Every time to reach a sign

♪ Choked in a liminal space

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♪ Language is an ocean

♪ Submerge me

♪ Language is an ocean

♪ Submerge me

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[ Cheering and applause ]

Thank you.

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[ Singers vocalizing ]

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♪ Come on over, lover

♪ Tell me a story

[ Vocalists singing over each other ]

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♪ Come on over, my lover

♪ Tell me a story

[ Vocalists singing over each other ]

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♪ Come on over, my lover

♪ Tell me yo-our, tell me yo-our ♪

♪ Deep into my ears

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♪ Come on over, my lover

♪ Tell me you-our, tell me your ♪

♪ Deep into my ear

♪ Closer if you please

♪ Come on over

♪ Come on over, my lover

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♪ Lover, tell me your

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♪ Come on over, lover

♪ Tell me-e your story-y

♪ Deep into my ears

♪ Closer if you please

♪ Come on over, my lover

♪ Tell me your story

♪ Deep into my ears

♪ Closer

♪ Come on over, lover

♪ Tell me your story

♪ Tell me your, yeah-yeah

♪ Deeper, yeah, deeper, yeah, into ♪

♪ Closer if you, closer, darling, if you dare ♪

♪ Come on over, come on over ♪

♪ Deeper into, deeper into

♪ Deeper into my ears, come on over ♪

♪ Come on over, tell me all of your sto-- ♪

♪ Come on over

♪ Come on over, my lover

♪ Tell me yo-our, tell me yo-our ♪

♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah, deeper into my ears, come on o-- ♪

♪ Closer if you please ♪

♪ Come on over, come on over ♪

♪ Come on over, come on over ♪

♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah ♪

♪ Deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper ♪

♪ Come on over

♪ Tell me your story

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Power to the God within.

Power to the God within.

Power to the God within!

[ Whooping ]

Oh!

Yes.

♪ We send you off with peace and love ♪

♪ To go out and conquer all of your fears ♪

♪ To be all that you've ever dreamed ♪

♪ To be more than you've ever seen ♪

♪ Is it worth it, let me work it ♪

♪ To be all that you've ever physical ♪

♪ To expand and dare to levitate ♪

♪ Be one with the stars and moon above ♪

♪ You are magic, own it

♪ Yeah

♪ Put my thing down

♪ And reverse it

♪ Put my thing down -- Shout-out to Missy Elliott!

♪ Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it ♪

♪ Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it ♪

♪ And reverse it, reverse ♪

♪ Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it ♪

♪ And reverse

♪ Reverse, and reverse ♪

♪ And reverse, and reverse ♪

Yes! ♪ And reverse

♪ I'd like to get to know ya, so I could show ya ♪

♪ Put the -- on ya, like I told ya ♪

♪ Gimme all your numbers so I can phone ya ♪

♪ Your girl acting stank then call me over ♪

♪ Not on the bed, lay me on the sofa ♪

♪ Call before you come, I need to shave my chocha ♪

♪ I need to shave my chocha

♪ I need to shave my chocha ♪

[ Indistinct ]

Come closer!

♪ Where are, where are you now ♪

There's no longer a stage, just move.

And groove!

♪ Is it worth, worth it

♪ Is it worth it, let me work it ♪

♪ Is it worth, is it worth it ♪

♪ Oh, let me, let me see you work it ♪

♪ Oh, let me see, let me see you work it ♪

♪ Let me see you work it, come on, you know ♪

♪ Come on, let me, darling, well, you know ♪

♪ Come let me work it

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Music fades ]

♪♪

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