Some of the biggest “intergalactic hits” are coming to Earth on a brand-new album, as Billboard has exclusively learned Walt Disney Records will release the 18-track Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Oga's Cantina: R3X's Playlist #1 on Sept. 6.
The set -- which will be available through all streaming services and digital retailers -- features 18 of the original songs heard in the Oga’s Cantina experience inside the new land inspired by the Star Wars universe -- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Inside Oga’s Cantina, the droid DJ R3X spins favorites from around the universe, and nearly all were written and recorded specifically for the attraction. Among those tunes are tracks by fictional acts Gaya (performing “Oola Shuka”), Chaka Mater Laka featuring MW-59 (“Batuu Boogie”) and Junee Veech featuring Gubz (“Bai Tee Tee”). Many of the tunes have echoes of Middle Eastern rhythms, K-pop hits, jazz and EDM -- but all sort of turned upside down. There's even a cut that adapts John Williams' familiar "Cantina Band" theme from Star Wars: A New Hope. (Listen below). (Original tunes are also broadcast throughout the Galaxy's Edge land via a radio show.)
Meanwhile, back inside Oga’s Cantina, while visitors are jamming to R3X’s selections, they can enjoy exotic alcoholic beverages, including a Jedi Mind Trick or Dagobah Slug Slinger, while nibbling on some Batuu Bits. (The entire Galaxy’s Edge land is set at the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu.)
The full-length Playlist #1 album was teased by a preview EP of the same name that bowed on Friday (Aug. 23) through streamers and digital retail. It boasts six tracks from the forthcoming album. Further, Playlist #1 is likely the first of a series of albums featuring music from Galaxy’s Edge, as the 18 tracks on Playlist #1 represent a heavy-rotation highlights collection of tunes currently heard in the Cantina. Even more songs that aren't on the album can be heard in the Cantina, while additional as-yet-unheard tracks could find their way into R3X's collection as time goes by.
In advance of the album launch Billboard spoke to two experts on all things Disney music and Galaxy’s Edge: Matt Walker, executive in charge of music, Walt Disney Imagineering; and Yaron Spiwak, senior music producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Global Music Studio. Read our chat, condensed and edited for clarity, below.
When your team was composing and recording the music that the DJ would spin in the Cantina, what was the goal or mission statement?
Matt Walker: We wanted this Cantina to fit within [the] story [of the land], and I gave [Spiwak] that challenge [to] figure out "What are the intergalactic hits that our droid DJ would … collect and play for this motley group of questionable clientele in this far end of the galaxy?" Create this playlist. Go.
Yaron Spiwak: I’ll answer in two parts. I think one of the cool things about Imagineering is that we don't only imagine architecture or stonework. We also reimagine music. How to stay true to the movies and still be inspired by them, but also represent the place that is coming to be. And a trick that we used is mixing a lot of different styles of music and kind of create a new one. Like, we would take a little bit of Middle Eastern and mix it with Chinese and put African vocals on it, and then put it in a Pro Tools session and filter it and reverse it, and then basically if you can't recognize the instrument, or the style, that's how we kind of made it out-of-worldly.
The second part is: how to make it a hit. We approached a lot of artists that we've always wanted to work with. A lot of the time, how we hire people is we use reference music, and we just found a lot of cool reference music, that we all liked, and approached a lot of these artists that we used as an inspiration.
On making the music familiar to the earthly ear, but also out of this world:
Spiwak: A lot of my work as the producer for the album… was how to make this music that we're so used to -- how to make it sound otherworldly. Sometimes it was changing the drums, sometimes it was doing something to the vocals to make it sound different enough. Every song has a little bit of a story…
Walker: Yaron would give us something that our audience could maybe hang on to for a moment, like, "Oh, yeah, this has a great beat," but then the next thing you know, you have an Ewok doing a chant on top of that. So, you're never Earth-bound for too long.
The languages that we hear in the songs -- is it gibberish? Or did you make up languages specific for these songs? Are these based on existing languages in the Star Wars universe?
Walker: We started with the known alien languages established by Lucasfilm, and that was the springboard. And then we wanted to encourage the writers to have fun and to create their own alien languages. But then of course we would have to make sure that those alien languages that were created by our writers didn't inadvertently mean something questionable in Brazilian Portuguese [or other languages]…
Spiwak: We had great partners in Lucasfilm, and we partnered with Margaret Kerrison [managing story editor at Walt Disney Imagineering], Matt Martin [creative executive, Lucasfilm Story Group], and we had two great guys from LucasFilm, Matt Wood [supervising sound editor, sound designer, Lucasfilm] and David Collins, that helped us write the lyrics for some of these songs. Especially the songs in Huttese. And also we had a Jawa song called "Utinni," so that's in the Jawa language.
Are any of the vocalists or musicians that we hear on the music familiar, but uncredited, pop stars? Or are they session musicians that you were passionate about?
Walker: We never wanted to risk taking you out of [the] story once you're in the Cantina. So even the artists that are well-known, for example [Grammy winner] Judith Hill -- who we've worked with in the past and we wanted to work with on this project -- even she would kind of disguise her voice or process it in the mix. So someone wouldn't say, "Wait a minute, that's Judith Hill! That's great!" And then all of a sudden… you're back on Earth.
Is this the first in a series of Playlist albums?
Walker: Yes. There could be more coming your way! [Laughs]
Are those coming soon? Or is that to be determined?
Walker: Honestly, we are still trying to determine… We knew that we wanted to get this music out to our guests, to the audience … We want to release it just the right way…
So there's still a lot of music left to release from the Cantina?
Yaron: There’s definitely more.
A lot of the music we hear in the parks' attractions isn't available commercially or through streaming services. Could Playlist #1 maybe be the start of something where Disney looks at how they could release more music heard in attractions and lands for commercial or streaming release in the future?
Walker: We are in the middle of looking at how we can release our music from our attractions, from -- what we call atmospheric music, the background music, things that immerse you into these worlds. We are definitely going to be doing that with Galaxy's Edge…