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Music In Every Language
For as long as I've been a music addict (so, most of my life) I've been digging through music from all around the world. Language has never been a barrier for me to enjoy all sorts of music. I am fluent in English, semi-fluent in Japanese, and okie-dokie at Spanish, but odds are I will never learn Arabic, or Hindi, or Finnish, or Swahili. But I've never let it get in my way of enjoying music from the far corners of the earth.
Thus, over the years I've come across many artists and bands that sing in a multitude of languages. I enjoy sharing and exposing people to world music, both pop and traditional, so I've compiled this small list of various languages I enjoy listening to in song. You'll probably note that most of these samples are from solo female singers in traditional pop music - that's what I enjoy and seek out the most when trying out new music. However, I encourage readers to give them all a chance even if it's not usually the kind of music they like. The point of this hub is to expose people to languages that they may not have otherwise listened to before. There's almost always that one foreign language that will captivate you in ways you never expected.
(NOTE: One language will never make it onto these lists, because it doesn't need much promotion.)
JAPANESE - Do As Infinity
I've probably been listening to Japanese music longer than any other foreign language, so picking just one to post here as representative of all J-pop was a bit daunting at best. But I think I made the right choice with one of the very first Japanese bands I got into many years ago. I find Japanese to be the most enjoyable language to listen to, not just because I understand most of it now (actually, I started studying Japanese because I enjoyed listening to it so much) but because the language sets itself up so well for music. Also, Japanese is super easy to sing along with, even if you have no idea what you're actually saying. The world fan community for J-pop is also so huge that you can find a translation into English to just about any song out there, sometimes by the original artists themselves.
Do As Infinity formed in the late 90s as a three-piece (now two-piece) rock-pop group, fronted by vocalist Tomiko Van. They are perhaps most well known to Westerners as the performers of the Inuyasha ending theme "Fukai Mori".
SPANISH - Paulina Rubio
As an American I've been exposed to Spanish my whole life, and thus I have quite a fondness for its familiarity. Also, Spanish is one of the funnest languages to listen to. There's a meme around here that basically goes "everything sounds more fun in Spanish", and a lot of it probably has to do with the accent that comes out even through music. Spanish music is also probably the easiest for English speakers to get into due to it being such a constant presence in our lives.
Paulina Rubio is a Mexican pop superstar and one of the most successful Latin artists in America. English speakers can best recognize her as the singer of the 2002 crossover hit "Don't Say Goodbye".
KOREAN - Lee Jung Hyun
It took me longer to get into Korean than it did probably any other language, and I can't really explain why (something about how it flowed in music put me off for a long while, I guess.) But once I discovered Lee Jung Hyun everything changed. Now I listen to Korean music almost as much as I do English music, both of which come just behind Japanese. I really love listening to Korean electronica like the example above. I maintain that K-pop has the best dance music in the world.
Lee Jung Hyun was a pioneer of a fledgling Korean pop industry back in the late 90s. She has a very distinct "angry" voice and has been in control of her career since pretty much the beginning. She's one of the most covered K-pop singers across Asia, having her songs made into Mandarin, Japanese, and Cantonese. Lee herself has also released various versions of her songs throughout Japan and China.
RUSSIAN - Serebro
Russian pop is a great fusion of East Asian versatility and Western formulas. Coupled with a language that sounds like it was created just to be sung, and you've got one of my favorite languages to listen to. Fluid, euphonic language combined with dark pop music? Sign me up please. I could seriously play it all night (and I think I have before).
Serebro is a three-person group from Moscow. They achieved moderate fame in 2007 with the Eurovision song "Song #1". Although marketed as a "sexy" girl group, their music leans more towards dark, electronic ballads.
TURKISH - Hande Yener
I'm not even sure how I got into Turkish pop, as it was one of the first foreign languages I started listening to regularly waaay "back in the day". But I'm pretty sure what kept me coming back for more was the flawless fusion of Western beats with traditional Middle Eastern elements. These days Turkish pop is turning more towards Western while ditching the traditional roots, but it's still there. I rate Turkish up with Spanish in terms of music that's great to dance and party to. However, the two sound very, very different. Turkish relies heavily on vowel harmony which lends to a very melodious experience.
Hande Yener is a woman of an ever-changing sound and look. She's often called the "Madonna of Turkey" for her constant metamorphoses. She is best known, however, for her bouncy dance-pop songs that drop in clubs all across Turkey and the rest of Europe and Asia.
FINNISH - Jenni Vartiainen
Finnish has a reputation for being a difficult language to learn, and most people I've talked to who have tried talk about rage-quitting after the fifth try. That's probably one of the major appeals of Finnish. "Here, listen to this cool language you will never be so cool to learn!" Finnish pop is more inclined to traditional rock elements than it is the electro dance music that is more common around Europe. In regards to the other languages listed here, it reminds me of a mix between Russian and Turkish, and it does share similarities to both. although not related.
Jenni Vartiainen was once a member of the successful band Grimmel before striking out solo and finding even more success. Her haunting music commands both electronic and acoustic elements. She is known for her single "Ihmisten edessä" which is about a reluctance to show love "In Front of People" - the video featured a lesbian couple.
ARABIC - Nancy Ajram
Arab music has a reputation for being very traditional, and most of its stars reflect this in their most popular songs. Although the exceptions of course exist, it's hard to imagine a song sung in Arabic that didn't also invoke the traditional culture behind the language. The thing that attracts me the most to music in Arabic is the distinct singing style that is still performed throughout the Middle East and beyond today.
Nancy Ajram is a Lebanese pop singer who is considered one of the biggest Middle Eastern icons and personalities in the world.
MANDARIN - Sa Ding Ding
Mandopop has a reputation for plagiarism, but there are still many original artists creating great music in the industry. Of all the industries best known for "fusion", it's actually probably Mando(and its sibling, Canto)pop. Many creative artists slam together modern elements with traditional singing styles and instruments. Plus Mandarin is just interesting to listen to since each word is distinctive and easy to follow along with.
Sa Ding Ding is half Han Chinese, half Mongolian and sings not only in Mandarin, but also in Tibetan, Sanskrit, and her own made up language.She's also competent in multiple traditional Mongolian and Chinese instruments.
HINDI - Alisha Chinai
Indipop has a rather unique set-up: most of the biggest names in music are actually famous for providing the playbacks to Bollywood movies, where the actors and actresses lip sync in the movie the song's featured in. Hindi is another fun language to listen to, mostly in part to the already fun style of most Bollywood songs. But the song I've chosen to feature is a bit slower to focus on the language and singing style.
Alisha Chinai is a famous playback singer who has had a very successful pop singing career since the 90s. She has held the moniker "Madonna of India" for over a decade.
DANISH - Medina
Danish is an often overlooked language in a world that associates Scandinavia with Norway, Sweden, and linguistically unrelated Finland. (I'd say that today Iceland gets more cred than Denmark does.) But Danish has its own flow that lends itself beautifully to the rock famed across Scandinavia and the electropop cultivated by the rest of Europe.
Medina is a popular singer-songwriter with multiple awards from her home country and Europe beneath her belt. Outside of Denmark she is also popular in neighboring Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the UK.
Hopefully you enjoyed the music here and got to listen to a language that you may not have ever heard before! I'll make a Part 2 soon enough, but it took me a while to compile this particular list as it is. I encourage readers to leave a comment with recommendations for other languages to cover or even other artists like the above to check out. What are your favorite foreign languages to listen to?