TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Mr Tembo” by Damon Albarn

This week, writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our individual best-album lists.

Damon Albarn’s had a lot of different musical reputations throughout the years. He was known for making rowdy, frenetic Britpop with Blur, then genre-blending mixed-media hip-hop-rock with Gorillaz, then for doing world music with whatever band/project that was. No matter what he was working on, though, he was always thought of as a serious musician. He’s never really been branded as the guy who makes uplifting, happy music. But all of my personal favorite Albarn songs have been soothing in one way or another.

“Mr. Tembo” fits squarely into this category. It’s light-hearted. When Mr. Tembo starts his trek up the hill, you’re there with him, but you’re confident you’ll both make it to the top. You can put it on a “cheer up” playlist, or listen to it while cooking dinner—it doesn’t really ask all that much from a listener.

The background story to the song is just as mood-lifting. Albarn wrote “Mr. Tembo” about a real elephant, one that had wandered into an airplane hangar in Africa and then was rescued by an elephant sanctuary in Tanzania. Albarn met the real Mr. Tembo, wrote the song for him, and also got to sing it to him once.

This year was a grim one. The news was often bleak. But, whenever you’re feeling blue about how 2014 went down, you can always remember that this is the year that Damon Albarn sang a song to an elephant.