Private Playlist: Ndidi O selects music for a melancholy autumn

Ndidi Onukwulu. Photo courtesy of Ndidi Onukwulu

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

For nearly two decades, singer-songwriter Ndidi O (born Ndidi Onukwulu) has carved out an adventurous career that deftly moves between soul, blues, trip-hop, gospel, cabaret, and more. A two-time Juno Award nominee, Ndidi has released six solo albums, most recently 2018’s “These Days,” which she co-produced with Canadian multi-instrumentalist Mischa Chillak. She and Chillak also write and record under their trip-hop alias, BOGA.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Ndidi O shares her soundtrack for a gently melancholic autumn walk.


During these pandemic months, with fall really being here in Southern California, I find myself listening to more music — but music that's specific to feeling comfort, which brings memories of simplicity, ease, and joy. I find myself going over old songs that used to mean a lot to me and finding that they still mean something, but slightly different than what they once represented.


"Yumeji's Theme" is from an older film (Seijun Suzuki's "Yumeji"), but it was used in a movie called "In the Mood for Love" by Wong Kar-wai, which is one of my favorites. This particular song is played throughout the film, and it's so, so very beautiful. The minute I step out my door for my daily walkabout, this is the song that I play first. It puts me in a place of melancholy, and that's what autumn is to me.


I was clubbing in Toronto when "Oops (Oh My)" came out. There was this particular club, and every Tuesday they had hip-hop night. The club was super-tiny, so people could be together. When I hear this song, I'm reminded of that time, and I'm like, "Wow, will we ever be together again?" Probably not in a tiny club with no windows and no oxygen, that might not happen ever again … but it was good while it lasted.


Sade is my forever artist. No one will touch her. She lives in this bubble of magic. It's really rare for a singer to have such a unique-sounding voice. You know somebody is onto something when you hear them and immediately know who it is. "Love is Stronger than Pride" is my favorite Sade song. I grew up in small towns, so I didn't actually have access to buying albums. Do you remember Columbia House? It was a total scam, but I did it. I didn't tell my mom that I was doing it, but I needed these cassette tapes. And I got in so much trouble, but I didn't care, because that cassette was in there. As were Whitesnake … but they're not on my list.


Portishead's "Dummy" is a classic to me. I was in my later teens when it came out, so I was in that weird point of life between finishing high school and going to university. And I was like, "Wow. Every single palpable emotion I have is happening throughout this album." The samples, how they built their music, wasn't anything I'd ever heard before. They were taking samples and building on them in such a unique way. And then Beth Gibbons would come in with her voice, and it was very birdlike and fragile, but there was such power behind it.


The musicianship that came out of the Delta blues, for Black female guitar players and singers, is just on a level. They were the forefront. They pioneered a form of guitar playing, and a form of relating their voice to their playing, that set up the template for classic rock and roll. That was the very nucleus. And so when I started getting into music, and when I came upon this form of Delta country blues, that's when I decided, "This is how I need to sing," because it's the original soul music. They're taking oppression and turning it into something beautiful. Growing up, my childhood was rather rough. And one thing that resonated to me so much in this form of music was that you can take pain and transmute it into something beautiful. And that can resonate with someone else and bring them joy. It's a way of alleviating your personal suffering in the hopes of making it better for somebody else. And that's what these artists did for me. They really carried me through a lot of times. So when I decided, "I guess I'm just going to sing," it was from this place that I started to make music and explore music. And this is one of my absolute favorite songs.

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Aimee Mann looks past the snark to appreciate Steely Dan’s craft
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
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TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
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Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
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