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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Man From War-Torn Africa Turns Wine Glasses Into Song

Dan Newbie plays popular songs with wine glasses and a frying pan as his instruments. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Dan Newbie plays popular songs with wine glasses and frying pans as his instruments. (Screenshot from YouTube)

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

“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.”

Video: Dan Newbie performs Idina Menzel's 'Let It Go' from 'Frozen'

Video: Dan Newbie performs the 'Super Mario Bros.' theme

Video: Dan Newbie performs the 'Game of Thrones' theme


  • Dan Newbie, wine glass musician and student in Arkansas. He tweets @dannewbie.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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