aOf all the gin joints in all the galaxy, Luke Skywalker walked to Mos Isley Cantina. A miserable hive of villains where a pint of blue milk might be spilled by an unfriendly stranger, the pub is etched in the memory of nearly every sci-fi fan alive thanks to its appearance in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope.
But what Mos Eisley lacked in his charm more than made up for in live entertainment, being the regular Vigrine Dan party and modal decade, perhaps best known simply as the Cantina Band – the lobster-like musicians who shine among the stars. Dixieland Jazz, perhaps unwisely called the “Jeez”, is currently enjoying a return to the zeitgeist as an influence on the Bjorkhis new album, Vosora.
“Björk explained the conceptual elements and world-building behind the album to us when she invited us to make beats for it,” explains Atli Finnsson of the trio electronic side project. Björk approached the group, members of the Reykjavik folk art group Post-Dreifing, at one of their shows. They bonded with a common love of avant-garde electronics, and her intentions mapped out ovumthe path in which they will cooperate.
“I explained where the song put her mind – some obscure Finnish jazz bar out there in the future,” says side project member Ureligur Steinar-Arnalds. “It must sound like a cantina,” she said. “So we tried to have a cheerful and futuristic rhythm.”
Jazzy and futurism were the guiding principles for composer John Williams when he wrote the two original clips that Modal Nodes performed in the film. His Academy Award-winning score for Star Wars inspired the music of the “19th Century Romantic Symphony”: writer/director George Lucas “didn’t want electronic or tactile music,” Williams wrote on Selestifotes for the film’s soundtrack. “He felt that the music had to be on a somewhat familiar emotional level.” But for the only music in the original movie, Lucas wanted Williams to conjure up something strange.
“I had no idea what sound it had to be,” Williams told Film Score Monthly in 1997. Lucas suggested that Williams imagine aliens had somehow discovered a sheet music written by swing legend Benny Goodman in the 1930s, And they try to play it without any understanding of it. What does earth music sound like? Williams returned to his piano and prepared “the smartest little series of old swing band puzzles”, arranging the pieces for “Trinidad’s steel drums and disharmonious cazos”. The only electronic devices were the ARP synthesizer, which offered a fixed-base bass line; Filters and reverb have been used to make the tracks look clearer.
Williams called the cantina an “anomalous,” but it captured the imagination of moviegoers, not least because the scene of Moss Eisley — with Dan and his knots played by the film’s makeup artists, struggling to breathe in their rubber masks — was so memorable.
Domenico Monardo, aka Mico, a musician and sci-fi who saw the movie on opening night, taped a disco version of the Star Wars theme, making sure to include a one-minute tour of the Cantina music. His music compilation, Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band, topped US charts in 1977, moving over two million copies—double the actual acoustic album sold. It is still the best-selling song in US history.
Squad Cantina has remained a beloved element in the ever-growing universe of Star Wars. Pop-up books and comics have drawn into the typical decade’s back stories—Vegrine Dan has a gambling problem and, not coincidentally, she’s friends with Lando Calrissian.
Meanwhile, Cantina itself has been cited as an influence by artists as diverse as Coldplay—whose re-watching of the cantina scene Chris Martin said has prompted the band to question “what musicians across the universe look like” and inspired their 2021 music album From Spheres— And the animal collectivewho said the track was one of their inspirations for the 2012 Centipede Hz.
It has been the subject of dozens of cover versions, presented in ragtime, bluegrass, heavy metal, and cappella. Northern Irish rock ash Covered for the B side to 1995 Girl From Mars. “Our producer walked out of the session – it was like the last straw,” singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler recalls. “We loved Star Wars—our guitarist, Mark, had a near-complete set of action figures—and we had just gotten a bunch of soundtracks. I discovered the song by listening to the CD with my guitar in my hand, note by note—and it’s It contains a lot of tones!”
The 1920s side project says they knew Band Cantina from “playing the Lego Star Wars video game a million times” when they were kids. “For our generation, it’s a very impressive piece of music,” Vinson adds. But it wasn’t Cantina’s voice that made the biggest impression on her contribution to Vosora — in fact, Vinson says it’s upsetting to watch the film now and see that “the cantina plays these weird, weird instruments, but sounds so natural” — like the creative exercise that prompted him. Bjork direction.
“That conversation with her was really inspiring, as I imagined music in another world. Like, what would music sound like without any connection to jazz?” Arnalds says. “It’s been a reference point for our work ever since – writing music elsewhere, imagine a world where music sounds like the music we make. Star Wars is a great starting point for that.”