Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ich Spreche Kein Deutsch

First, a confession: I don't really like travelling abroad. Whenever I book plane tickets or arrange accommodation in a foreign country, my mind instantly fills with thoughts of all the things that might go wrong; I can't help but picture myself missing connections, boarding the wrong flights, and getting stranded in parts unknown, all of which makes it quite difficult to drag me on a decent holiday.

However, I do enjoy listening to music from other parts of the world, and so whenever I do go abroad, I always do my best to grab an album or two from the country I'm visiting. I also ask friends and family members to buy me CDs when they go abroad, and it's always interesting to see what they come back with.

Thanks to these tactics, my CD rack has become a kind of musical European Union. I have albums from Denmark, Portugal, Germany, and possibly several others that I've forgotten about.

Here's the weird thing, though: most of these albums are sung entirely in English. From Figurines...

This band is from Denmark. You Can't Win, Charlie Brown...

This band is from Portugal.

...almost all of the international bands I've discovered on my (and other people's) travels have abandoned their mother tongues and written their songs in English. I can understand why, of course; English is probably the best language to sing in, commercially speaking, and it does mean that I can understand the lyrics.

There is one exception: Zirkus by MIA.

My mum brought this album back from Germany, where her sister (my auntie) was living at the time. Unlike all of my other treasures from foreign lands, Zirkus contains nary a word of English - as far as I can  tell, it's entirely in Deutsch:

On one hand, this is great because it makes me feel all worldly and authentic. But on another - possibly larger - hand, I find it more difficult to really love MIA.'s songs, simply because I have no real idea what they're all about.

There was a time when all I cared about was music - lyrics simply weren't as important to my teenage self. He probably would have loved Zirkus and its slightly unusual take on straightahead rock/pop music, but I'm an older, lamer Joel, one who needs meaningful words to really connect with the songs I hear.

So while part of me feels bad for bands like Figurines and YCWCB - who, after all, would probably be singing in completely different languages if it weren't for the mass Westernisation of the world and its cultures - I must admit that I'd sooner listen to Shake a Mountain or Diffraction/Refraction than an album like Zirkus, which beneath its cool sounds means rather little to me.

How about you? Do you enjoy listening to other languages, even if you don't understand them?

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