I’ve tasted music from well over FIFTY different countries and at least that many languages
I’m sorry to say but, after having tasted music in a lot of the rest of the world, it seems to me that contemporary American music more often than not seems uninspired, shallow and formulaic. Granted, other places do have their share of bad music as well, but ever since college I’ve been looking abroad for musical hits and I’ve never, EVER looked back.
As of late 2017, here are the countries whose music of contemporary times (1980’s to the present) have left me significantly impressed and have changed my life. I also judge primarily for lyrical content as well as for how often I find myself humming or thinking about these tunes when I’m away from any music player or while walking in a field or down the street.
Here we go!
One month from today this fascinating country will celebrate its 100th birthday!
It seemed to me in 2013 that I would just learn enough Finnish to “get by” during my venture to meet the local Jewish community in Helsinki and I would promptly forget it. Fate had other plans…
After having discovered a website that offered Finnish Language music 24/7 shortly after my trip, I got hooked. Finnish remains one of my favorite European languages and many of the song lyrics and tunes have been a potent look into what Finnishness (“Suomalaisuus”) entails.
That website, by the way still exists, and it comes with complete song ID’s for everything that plays during a 24-hour period. Check it out, it may prove fun even if you don’t speak or understand any Finnish at all: http://www.radiosuomipop.fi/
- Solomon Islands
I know what you’re thinking, maybe some of you have visibly said “WHAT?!!?” out loud, but Solomon Music is unbelievably refreshing and heartfelt. What’s more, a lot of the music does tend to mix together standard English, Pijin and many of the local languages of the Solomons.
Let’s give it a listen, shall we?
By the way, I asked Dezine how their name was pronounced and they said it was pronounced “de-ZYN” (my understanding is that it’s a homophone with the English word “design”). Yes, I’m FB Messenger contacts with one of the best known musical acts in a country on the other side of the globe. Long story.
- Myanmar / Burma
I still distinctly remember the withdrawal I suffered when I went back from Yangon to New York City and the music I hear from boom boxes and smartphones was noticeably different and not in a good way. Even in very poor regions of the countryside (in Bagan I noticed that this was particularly common), I heard farmers using their smartphones to play music that seemed as though it was vaguely inspired by Chinese pop ballads and classical British radio hits.
Did I tell you about the time I found 100+ Burmese-language songs for $10 on the iTunes store?
There are totally no American, Russian or Chinese cover songs anywhere in that album. Nu uh. No way. [/s]
I also hear that many aspects of the punk music scene in Myanmar have been essential in ensuring inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation, especially important given current events throughout the world but especially in Myanmar.
You can’t have a landscape like that and not have it inspire you on a very primal level. Sometimes I listen to bland music in grocery stores and at parties and then I listen to the likes of Ásgeir Trausti and Rökkurró and I am thereby reminded that there is plenty of originality left in contemporary music, more than many people may give it credit for.
I think that every American alive will probably recognize this tune from somewhere:
And my love of Icelandic rap is literally no secret to anyone who knows me at all. Did I mention I got to see Emmsjé Gauti in concert the day before the Polyglot Conference? Be forewarned: he does demand a lot of audience participation in his events! (He even had an 8-year old boy from the audience join him on stage and sing the chorus to one of his songs!)
Papua New Guinea
I played a family member some songs from Daniel Bilip the “nambawan hitmaker bilong PNG”. I have a distinct memory of nearly having the phone and the earphones yanked out of my hands when I tried to take it back (the music was THAT addicting!)
Trinidad and Tobago
Trini Carnival music is adrenalin in mp3 form. And that’s a very good thing for me. Also, in case you can’t tell, Trinidadian Creole is heavily utilized in these songs, in ways elude the understanding of the average English speaker.
At the Hebrew University in the Ulpan I have memories of doing “group singing”. They are very good memories, but the songs are plenty times more memorable.
And now for the coveted no. 1 spot…(that is no surprise in the slighest to anyone who knows me…)
Thousands of songs throughout my life, dozens of CD’s, and the most moving music in my life has almost consistently come from one place.
Greenlandic music tends to contain poetry and musical elements that capture the magnificent feeling of the great beyond in ways that other places’ music just CAN’T.
Ever since I began studying Greenlandic in 2013 (and despite my meager progress), I listened to Greenlandic music and couldn’t get enough. A lot of the styles encapsulate the essence of the many feelings of the human experience.
Some songs have been so beautiful that when I’m listening to them on the subway staying composed is a difficult task.
My personal favorites include Nanook, Rasmus Lyberth and Marc Fussing Rosbach (who just so happens to be the author of a lot of the music for my upcoming video game). I had the chance to meet both Nanook and Marc during my Greenland trip in October (and narrowly missed Rasmus!)
And even if pop ballads and game music isn’t your thing, Siissisoq (“The Rhinoceros”) has come out with literally the best heavy metal I’ve ever heard in my life, and in recent memory they got back together after what was nearly a two-decade hiatus. (I do NOT attribute this to the fact that I wrote a fan letter to the lead singer shortly before hearing this news!)
I’ve written about Greenlandic music in detail elsewhere on this blog, have a read about it here and expect your life to be changed completely.