When You Don't Understand the Language, It Doesn't Matter if the Song is Stupid
I mentioned in the previous post that stupid lyrics can ruin otherwise good songs. My preferred solution the past couple of years is to find songs in other languages. I suppose that is one benefit of being monolingual. They could be singing “yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy” in Swahili or Flemish or Lao, but I don’t know that. So why would it matter? For proof of concept, I present Mamadou and Miriam's Dougou Badia, which I assure you has quite stupid lyrics when translated that are in effect "pay no attention to haters". I can forget that though, and when that guitar riff kicks in, I just don't care.
When you start digging in to this stuff, it is pretty easy to end up down the rabbit hole just because there is so much out there. Now let me explain that I never was a fan of what they used to call world beat. (I don’t know who Ladysmith Black Mumbazo is, but I don't care to meet her.)
The thing is, though, the music scene outside the English speaking world is that it is no longer the case that each country had its own provincial style, nor is any part of the world ten years behind North America and the UK. Communication and distribution is such that there is no delay. The world has been doing some of the same things that the most innovative U.S. and British musicians have this whole time: taking establish genres and seasoning it with other styles, including their own local musical traditions. If anything we are behind the trends of the rest of the world because it take so long to get through our noise. Middle Eastern techno. French punk. We only recently found out how innovative and powerful the funk and soul scene was in Benin and Togo during the ‘70s.
Now it will quickly seem like I am fixated on African music as you continue reading, and to a degree you'd be right. What you need to keep in mind is that Africa is a big place, and incredibly diverse not only in terms of languages and ethnicities. So Ethiopian jazz is distinct from desert blues.
Even in the same region there is plenty of variety. The Nigerien Bombino may give you a psychadelic fuzz similar to Cream or The Black Angels, and one country over in Mali (which has a particularly rich musical output) Wassalou singer Oumou Sangare pumps out a Witney Houston/Aretha Franklin hybrid backed by a blend of traditional and western instruments. Also from Mali Boubacar Traore could easily be mistaken for Leadbelly or Son House, Ali Farka Toure is more along the lines of Muddy Waters, and Toure's son Vieux Farka just tears the guitar apart like he apprenticed under Jimi Hendrix. These folks can shred. This stuff should be right in most people's comfort zone, and why wouldn't it be? This is where most of our popular music has its roots.
It's an exchange, of course. Many of these musicians work in American and British rock genres into their work as well. Listen to Rokia Traore (who I've gushed about already) perform what could easily be mistaken for some of the more relaxed shoegaze (think Mazzy Star). Fatoumate Diawara has the singer/songwriter thing covered. Back in the '70s Benin's El Rego channeled James Brown with no trouble. Maybe that's a bit of a cheat as he's working some English into the lyrics, but whatever. At roughly the same time Zambia's WITCH (We Intend to Cause Havoc) was playing around with prog rock. Hell, there is even a metal scene in Africa, some strains of which you might hear in WITCH.
Like I said further up, rabbit holes. I will tackle the other continents in later posts.