Monday, August 4, 2008

"I don't even know what the hell that means"

In the quest for compelling new music, sooner or later you're going to find yourself bored. It inevitably happens. I don't know how many times I've stood in front of my CD shelves, or perused my music hard drive, looking at thousands and thousands of songs and thought to myself, "I don't want to listen to any of this."

It's hard to figure, but eventually it led me to finding music from other cultures, and more specifically, music in other languages. It's a strange idea, listening to music in a foreign tongue. I'm one of those people with absolutely zero affinity for language. I've studied four, not counting English, and can read, write and speak exactly zero. Yet I love some of the music I've discovered.

I used to not bother - my thinking was, music in another language would be the equivalent of watching a foreign film... without the subtitles. But there is a beautiful mystery to it. The obvious, immediate appeal is the music, the instrumental arrangement, which is frequently very different from what I'm used to. Yet I also find myself riveted to the vocals - in some cases, even singing along - taking the "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" concept to the nth degree.

Anyway, to make a short story long, here is my list of songs that I love... that I have absolutely no idea what they're saying.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - A native of Pakistan and a master of Qawwali music, Nusrat had one of the most captivating voices I've ever heard. Here's "Intoxicated."

Bebel Gilberto - Brazilian singer of incredible grace and sensuality, Bebel is not to be missed. As an added bonus, she does have some songs in English - but I love this one, "Momento."

Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band - Zydeco is one of those genres that makes you immediately grin and start stomping your feet. It's perfect party music. Here's "Rosa Majeur."

CéU - OK, so clearly I have a thing for female Brazilian singers. But seriously, she's incredible. This is "Malemolencia."

Federico Aubele - So, there's a guy who decided to start mixing dub, ambient, hip hop beats with some tango (among others) thrown in for good measure. Hailing from Argentina, Federico Aubele is the definition of "genre-bending." Here's "Postales."

Panjabi MC - Indian hip hop? Fuck yes. With some Knight Rider thrown in for good measure, here's "Mundian To Bach Ke (Knight Rider Remix)."

In honor of my homeland, we'll close out with some South African artists:

Most people are already familiar with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. If you're not, you should be (and not just their "Graceland" stuff). They probably have the greatest sense of timing and harmony you're likely to see.

Here they are again with South African diva and vocalist extraordinaire Miriam Makeba, as well as a little of the trumpet great Hugh Masekela (please ignore Paul Simon). This is "N'Kosi Sikelel' Africa," the South African national anthem (which used to be a song of resistance and the anthem of the ANC back in the Apartheid years), a song that always has and always will make me cry a little. The lyrics are in Xhosa.

Finally, to completely change gears, here is Zola, a hip hop, "Kwaito" performer. This is the new blood music of townships and urban South Africa. The lyrics are mostly in Zulu. This is "Mdlwembe." Feel free to shake your ass.

As you can see, I tend to skew towards India, Pakistan, South Africa and South America. So any and all recommendations are, as always, very welcome.


Boo said...

Holy Moly! TK, this is a fabulous list. I love love love Bebel and CeU (my years of Portugese really paid off there, despite what all my teachers said! Eff U!) and I'm also a fan of Panjabi MC.

Also, have you heard of Zap Mama? Amazing African group with awesome beats and beautiful singing. Also, this list can't truly be complete without Buena Vista Social Club, or Compay Segundo.

Yeah for you!

Anonymous said...

Gosh so much awesome music in not-English

Do you know Ghanain Angelique Kidjo. She is amazing.
Then there is Israili Ofra Haza, who is also amazing.

Gypsy Kings have always been around.
Brazil would need some mention of Carlos Jobim and Sergio Mendes.

Over in Italy we could go with raunchy rocker chick Gianna Nannini.

Over in Germany you could get:
Die Ärtze
Comedian Harmonists
Tic Tac Toe
Nina Hagen
Klaus Nomi
Jule Neigel
Ute Lemper
and all those awesome German New Wavers.

France could get you:
Geusch Patti
Plastique Bertrand
Patricia Haas

Spain has the uberpopular
Heroes del Silencios

Spanish Language stuff--
Celia Cruz...who is a goddess.

Hm...I could probably go on for too I won't. My international music tastes tend to skew towards the transatlantic (it's what I'm working on for my Musicology PhD dissertation)...but there are some awesome Korean and Japanese bands too.

The Kilted Yaksman said...

Howzabout some non-English stuff that goes in a much different direction.

Manufactura, Colombin dark Electro.
Lujhboia, Argentinian Electro
Esplendor Geometrico, Spanish industrial.
The Young Gods, Swiss Industrial

In a somewhat distantly related vein, the mother of visual kei, Japan's Buck Tick. Atsushi Sakurai is a hell of a vocalist.

Jaime said...

If your looking for Japanese music Yoko Kanno is always a good bet. Also, Finnish choral music is completely awesome. If your interested in world music there's a really good NPR show called 'Sound and Spirit' that is really good to listen to. They play anything from anywhere

Lilac said...

If you like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, you'd probably like his nephew - Raahat Fateh Ali Khan. He's sung a few songs for some Hindi movies which are all the rage right now.

cass said...

May I most kindly suggest manu chao: he is so the man. His music just makes me purely happy.
Also... Lila downs is pretty amazing.

I also totally dig on bollywood music. Lagaan is.a personal fav.