Beyond the Lyrics: Why We Should Listen to Music Outside of Our Native Language

Beyond the Lyrics: Why We Should Listen to Music Outside of Our Native Language

Human beings are such an interesting lot. 

We’re all so different, across time and space. We’ve existed for such a short period within the history of Earth, yet the diversity that has emerged, not only across that time but also within it, is spread across continents and could fill entire museums. 

There are constants, of course. There always are. Like art. 

Art, as an entity, has existed as long as humans, sprawled across cave walls and spoken into the air. Music, much like painting and sculpting, is something that can be gathered from all corners of the earth and admired. It comes in countless forms and in every language imaginable, so why stop at one? Why would I limit myself to the sounds of one nation, when I could have them all? Why limit yourself to the ground floor in the museum, when the building has countless more above it?

I have been asked if I struggle to enjoy music when I cannot understand exactly what the lyrics are saying, and so I have considered the answer carefully. My answer is thus: the beauty of language is not stunted by my inability to understand it, and, as such, the skill in producing a melody should not be ignored even if I cannot fully wrap my head around the exact definition of lyrics. Music is art, and so I think the most important part of the project is not the medium that is used so to speak, though for the real fanatics this does add a little something more, but rather the feeling that the final piece gives you. How the flow of the song sits in your chest. How the beat bounces around your brain and your fingers knock on the table to keep with the rhythm. 

I have a playlist dedicated to jazz, for when I’m studying and cooking. Enough music has come from native English speakers to fill it ten times over, but I feel it would be missing something without, for example, the smooth tones of Nat King Cole and his cover of Aquellos ojos verdes. If music is meant as a means of escape, why wouldn’t I escape to the warmth of Spain or South America, living as if I am in a novel and wandering the streets in search of those green eyes

I also have playlists for rap and electronic music, though they’re not quite as public sadly. I listen to them in the gym, or when I need that same energy elsewhere. It’s composed almost entirely of music in languages other than English. I feel I don’t need to understand the lyrics of songs like Stray Kids’ Maniac to understand what they’re trying to tell me. The pure energy that has been put into the song transcends language barriers and, when I’m low on energy or lifting heavy weights, I often need their loose screw craziness to get me through. 

Last year, I had my own radio show on STAR. It was designed in such a way that I forced myself to be introduced to new music from all over the world. I travelled from Japan to France, from New Zealand to Turkey, and from Scotland to Korea. There was more, but if I listed everywhere I gathered music from, it would take too long. It gave me a research point of countries that went beyond the current news that was associated with them. I am a strong believer in the power of music to give us a unique insight into the individual cultures of different nations. Too often the knowledge we have of countries other than our own is limited to what the news shows us about them with each passing day, most of which is negative and/or tragic. Music, on the other hand, shows us a country at its most glorious. At its most creative and most itself

My favourite playlist is dedicated to all my favourite R&B style songs. R&B itself is such a broad genre, and sometimes, between you and me, I think Spotify stretches it even further. If Spotify is going to push the limits, why shouldn’t we? Why should we deprive ourselves of the sombre Thai of Jeff Satur, or the soulful Korean of SAAY, or the deep Arabic and French of Saint Levant just because we can’t understand exactly what they’re saying without a quick google search? Engaging in this music from all corners of the world, and the people that write it, not only widens our intake of different languages and styles of music, but also gives us a greater insight into the lives of others outside of the English speaking world.

Human beings are such an interesting lot. We are all so different, even within our contemporary time. We shouldn’t wait for the museums to be built before we admire the works of others from across the globe. We should engage with music from all over the world whilst it is so accessible to us. Instead of waiting for the magnificent artwork to be transported to the ground floor, we should take the lift upwards.