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Ba-de-ya - Essay from Newsletter 78

Don’t let lyrics get in the way of the groove

Filing a bug

It was a tough call this week for what to talk about in the essay.

On the one hand Apple announced new phones at their event last week and released new versions of their operating systems yesterday for the phone, the watch, the iPad, and tv.

On the other hand, it’s the 21st of September.

Ba de ya.

Of course I remember the 21st night of September.

It is a song so happy and compelling that even my lack of pitch can’t keep me from singing along - loudly - though usually after checking no one can hear.

I listen to this song throughout the year but I definitely turn it up loud every year on this date while summer turns to fall as part of my own celebration of the turn of the seasons.

I almost filed a bug with Apple Music because it didn’t know this about me and suggest it this morning when I looked at what it had selected in the “Listen Now” section.

Perhaps that’s why the renamed it from “For You.”


The video for September is also something I watch ever year.

It’s a pure music video from before the times when videos tried to tell stories or use gimics.

At the same time it’s like something out of Disney’s Tomorrowland.

It’s a view of the future that is clearly dated and rooted in the past.

The visual effects show each member of the band echoed behind themself.

It looks old-fashioned and then you remember the song is more than forty years old.

“Do you remember?”

Ba de ya

The 21st?

The traffic for the song goes way up on September first - after all the song is named “September”.

It does feel like a back to school song even though the lyrics have nothing to do with that.

I listen to it on September 1st and then again on the 21st and sometimes in between.

Maurice White said there was nothing significant about the date he just liked how the words felt.

The American Songwriter article about the song says the original version referred to the “21st day of September” and co-author Allee Willis said, nope, “’day’s’ gotta go. It’s gotta be night. It’s more romantic.”


I suppose like many of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s songs, September is about romance and “the love we shared in September” and yet for me it’s more of a feeling that could come from love but can come just from the promise of something new - of possibilities - romantic or otherwise.

For me it can be the smells of fall (I mean the fallen leaves - not pumpkin spice lattes).

It’s memories of a fresh notebook for a new semester.

It’s meeting a new class filled with students as we start this fall’s Calculus class.

Ba de ya


Willis made many changes and improvements to September but she couldn’t get White to change “Ba de ya.”

She tried.

In the article she says, “I didn’t like it. I knew this was a stone-cold hit and that nobody was going to know what that meant.”

But White was adamant.

He told her, “never let the lyrics get in way of the groove.”

Willis took that with her through her remaining songwriting career.

It’s what makes the song so important to me. I don’t notice that it’s a song about romance. That’s not important to me.

It’s an embodiment of the famous Toni Morrison quote. Even when I’m listening to it, I don’t notice what the words are saying, I only notice how the song makes me feel.

I know that when I teach or write or present at conferences, sometimes the force of my personality is what makes the material work.

I try to make sure that the steps I take the students, readers, or attendees through is obstacle free.

The code and the details shouldn’t get in the way of the points I’m trying to make.

No one will remember the code or the details. They will remember how they feel - even about technical topics.

More than the nerve to sing in public, I wish I had the nerve - when I don’t have a great example to illustrate a point I’m trying to make - to put up a slide that just says “Ba de ya.”

The lyrics shouldn’t get in the way of the groove.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 78. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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