NPR Story
1:48 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Man From War-Torn Africa Turns Wine Glasses Into Song

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 2:54 pm

Arkansas resident Dan Newbie is behind several popular YouTube videos, in which he uses wine glasses and a frying pan to play popular songs such as “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. His version of the “Game of Thrones” theme song was posted only six days ago and has already been viewed more than 800,000 times.

Here & Now’s Robin Young reached out to Newbie to talk about his popular videos and wine glass music, and discovered there’s a lot more to his story. He’s a 28-year-old part-time computer programmer and student at the University of Central Arkansas, who fled violence in his home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo about six years ago.

Interview Highlights: Dan Newbie

On the “Happy” cover that started it all

[Youtube]

“About six weeks ago, we had a snow day, we had a couple snow days in Arkansas. And when we have snow days here, everybody stays home. We’re not going anywhere. So I found myself home, kind of bored, and, you know, going through some stuff too, and I thought, you know, maybe I should distract myself and play some music. You know, I should do something interesting and just fun. And I’ve never thought about recording it or putting it on YouTube.”

“It took me about, what, a week to make. After those two snow days, I did some editing, whatever. And I thought I’d put it on Facebook with a little nice message at the end. Twenty-four hours later, I saw something like 150-something times it got shared on Facebook, and some of my friends were like, ‘You should probably post it on YouTube as well, you know, because it’s a really cool video.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, whatever, I’ll just it and then just forget about it.’ Yeah, forgot about it, and next thing I know, three, four days later, I’m getting weird messages in my inbox, you know, from YouTube, saying that I was getting comments and likes and all that and subscribers. And I started reading some of them, and some weren’t even people in Arkansas, or not even in the States. I had messages from Sweden, Japan, Brazil, people saying they had heard it on the radio somewhere. And that’s basically how it started.”

On getting an endorsement from Pharrell himself

“I got a comment on one of my views saying, ‘Pharrell just tweeted this,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, there’s no way.’ I mean, he’s never tweeted any cover ever. And I went and checked, and he really did that!”

On the personal struggles that inspired the videos

“I don’t want to make my story sound like everything’s perfect. Everything that you hear about the wars going on and things here and there — now, even though it’s not the full story, you have to admit there is a lot of that going on. I come from a country that has had war for more than 10 years now, so the war exists. The war kind of — the war is partly the reason why I’m here, and the war is, in part, why I’m making music.”

“It’s actually getting worse every day. People are still dying, and even if it’s part of the country, it really affects the entire population back home. The economy is, if not the worst, the poorest country in the world. I found out that I wasn’t going to be getting any support from back home anymore, and because that was my only way to pay for school and for everything that I was doing here, I wasn’t going to be able to continue as a student at the school I go to. I basically didn’t know what to do, and I was like, ‘I’m just, you know, I’m gonna be happy in the moment right now and do something and share some happiness.”

[Youtube]

[Youtube]

[Youtube]

Guest

  • Dan Newbie, wine glass musician and student in Arkansas. He tweets @dannewbie.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Everybody has their own version of the Oscar-winning song from the Disney hit "Frozen." But have you heard this one? It's played on wine glasses, frying pans, and salt shakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: Have you seen the YouTube videos from Dan Newbie of Conway, Arkansas? "Let it Go," which has only been up since the beginning of April, has more than 300,000 views. And this, his version of the Super Mario Brothers theme, has more than 750,000 views.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRED THYS, BYLINE: His viral videos brought us to 28-year-old Dan Newbie. Then we found out he's a part-time computer programmer, a student at the University of Central Arkansas, who came to this country about six years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo. And Dan Newbie joins us from the studios of KUAR in Little Rock, Arkansas. Welcome.

DAN NEWBIE: Hello, Robin.

YOUNG: You're playing on these wine glasses, which have different amounts of water in them with pencils, it looks like?

NEWBIE: That's right, yes, pencils and some and I've used a spoon or two in my third video. Yeah.

YOUNG: And how did this start? Did you study music?

NEWBIE: I did not study music, but I know how to play instruments, so I consider myself some kind of, you know, Saturday night musician or whatever. I play just with my friends on Saturday night and at my church as well.

I grew up in a house where we had instruments laying around the house, so since I was a baby, and not just me but my brothers and sisters.

YOUNG: Why wine glasses?

NEWBIE: Well, that's another story. About six weeks ago we had a snow day, or actually a couple snow days in Arkansas. And when we have snow days here, everybody stays home. We're not going anywhere. So I found myself home, kind of bored, and you know, going through some stuff too, and I thought, you know, maybe I should distract myself and play some music.

You know, I should do something interesting and just fun. And I've never thought about recording it or putting it on YouTube.

YOUNG: Wait a minute. You just started this like six weeks ago?

NEWBIE: I just started this, like, six weeks ago, yeah, exactly a week before I posted that "Happy" video.

YOUNG: The video's amazing, because you do this in different passes. These are multi-track.

That's right. I record every single part and every single music line and percussion separately. And then I mix them on my laptop basically.

Well, let's listen to your version of Pharrell's "Happy."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: You know, I didn't think that song could get any happier. It is, but...

NEWBIE: I still like the original better, though.

YOUNG: So you posted that, that version of "Happy." What happened?

NEWBIE: It took me about, what, a week to make. After those two snow days, I did some editing, whatever. And I thought I'll put it on Facebook with a little nice message at the end. Twenty-four hours later, I think I saw something like 150-something times it got shared on Facebook, and some of my friends were like, you should probably post it on YouTube as well, you know, because it's a really cool video.

And I thought, oh, whatever, I'll post it and then see what happens and just forget about it. And yeah, forgot about it, and next thing I know, three, four days later I'm getting weird messages in my inbox, you know, from YouTube, saying that I was getting comments and likes and all that and subscribers.

And I started reading some of them, and some of them weren't even people in Arkansas, or not even in the States. I had messages from Sweden, Japan, Brazil, people saying that they had heard it on the radio somewhere. And that's basically how it started.

YOUNG: Wow. And then a tweet from Pharrell.

NEWBIE: Yes. That was something else. Again, I got a comment on one of my views saying, Pharrell just tweeted this. And I thought, eh, nah, there's no way. I mean, he's never tweeted any cover ever. And I went and checked, and he really did that.

YOUNG: By the way, while we have you, as you said, you've only been in the U.S. for six or seven years, came here to go to college, you're a computer analyst, and you're from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A lot of Americans are very aware of recent headlines out of the continent about the search for young girls in Nigeria, which is a couple countries away from your country of origin, Democratic Republic of Congo. And a lot of them have an image of a place where there's just rampant violence and girls being abducted. You obviously are a different story.

NEWBIE: Yes, I'm a different story. But I don't want to make my story sound like everything's perfect. Everything that you hear about things going on and the wars here and there - now, even though it's not the full story, you have to admit that there is a lot of that going on.

I come from a country that has had war for more than 10 years now, so the war exists. The war kind of - the war is partly the reason why I'm here, and the war is, in part, why I'm making music.

YOUNG: Did you have to leave your country because of war?

NEWBIE: The war is on the east side of the Congo. That's where I was born and my dad had been working there for 11 years, I think, as a doctor, as well as my mom as a nurse. So, yes, we were affected because we had to live - because we had to leave everything that we knew there, our friends, and some by the way that didn't make it, to move to different part of the country where we started over.

YOUNG: And then had to leave again.

NEWBIE: Because of everything that's going on back home, and I had ambitions. I really wanted to be a computer scientist. But I had these ambitions and I thought - my parents really wanted me to go and study abroad.

YOUNG: So we're understanding how war and the violence in the DRC might have led you to leave there and come to the U.S. to study. But then what does that have to do with the music?

NEWBIE: So I found out, with my parents back home, because of everything that was going on - it's actually getting worse every day. People are still dying, and even if it's part of the country, it really affects the entire population back home.

The economy is, if not the worst, the poorest country in the world. I found out that I wasn't going to be getting any support from back home anymore, and because that was my only way to pay for school and for everything that I was doing here, I wasn't going to be able to continue as a student at the school I go to.

I basically didn't know what to do, and I was like, I'm just, you know, I'm going to be happy in the moment right now and do something and share some happiness.

YOUNG: Well...

NEWBIE: That is the story, by the way, that I haven't told anybody yet, 'cause no one - I've been on TV shows and radio shows, but I really didn't think that it was necessary to go that far.

YOUNG: Well, that's quite a back story. You never know what's going on behind, you know, a successful YouTube channel. Sometimes if you scratch a little more, there's a lot going on.

NEWBIE: Oh yeah.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, let's go out with a thing that is making you happy right now and taking your mind off these other things. Your latest YouTube video, by popular demand, you were asked to record a version of the theme from "Game of Thrones." And so you did, and expanded your collection of instruments, right?

NEWBIE: Yes, I've used my hands, of course. I've used a gallon of milk as a kick drum. I've used salt shakers that were just hanging at my apartment. Then to get this big epoch sound on this last video, I got a big jug of water and a bread roller and that did just well.

YOUNG: That's Dan Newbie from Conway, Arkansas by way of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as we just heard. We'll link you to his YouTube site at hereandnow.org. Dan, best of luck to you.

NEWBIE: Oh, thank you, Robin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: And Jeremy, this video, his version of the theme of "Game of Thrones," has only been up for six days. It already has 800,000 views on YouTube.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Wow.

YOUNG: And by the way, he has a host family here. He is fleeing violence. But maybe officials at the University of Central Arkansas are also watching. Maybe he can get back there next semester. Just saying.

HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.