The Joy of Discovering Foreign Music
What are you listening to? It is a question I get all of the time, and my answer usually gets me a look of confusion. Rammstein. Basshunter. The Hu. No, not that Who, this Hu. Some J-Pop band. Yes, J-pop, not K-pop. The world is filled with more music than people realize.
I got immersed in the wider music world when I lived in Japan from 2006–2008. Music was everywhere. The traditional music was somber and haunting. The pop was upbeat and catchy. Their ad jingles were similar yet different. While my friends figured out how to find and burn the Top 40 hits from the States I was trying to figure out what the songs on the radio were called.
The United States and Canada are the world’s largest exporters of popular culture. The music and television and movies are pushed out to the rest of the world at extremely high rates. This prevents a lot of culture from being imported into the US. Spanish and Latin music just started becoming more common on the top charts, and Parasite was the first foreign-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Americans are used to consuming and exporting their own culture.
This has left many people in a place where they don’t even realize that in Germany, they have their own superstars and number one hits. That other countries have their own version of the Billboard Top 40 and they’re all different. Every once in awhile a foreign group will hit it big in the US to much fanfare and energy but other than a few famous exceptions they rarely stick around.
I fell in love with Japanese music: both modern pop and the traditional variants. I didn’t speak the language or pick up on the cultural history of all of it, but the music still spoke to me.
Music is universal. A good beat is a good beat. A person from the US and Cambodia could jam out. I believe a person from 2020AD and 2020BC could dance together to the same tune. There is something intrinsically human about it that traverses all the usual barriers that keep people apart.
I immediately wondered what else was out there. It turns out there is a lot. Every language, country, and culture has its own musical tradition and style. Each of them is unique but still carries the kinds of universal rhythms and tones that really get into the ears.
I learned that German is an excellent language for rock and roll. I learned that Mongolian is a unique language not at all similar to its neighbors’. I learned that there is a modern First Nation musical movement that combines electronic with traditional. And I know that there is still more to learn. An infinite amount to keep an enthusiast busy for a lifetime.
It is a journey of discovery that keeps ongoing. For anyone who loves music, there is a vast world out there that most people don’t delve into. The top hits of each country can easily be found online. The internet has made it that most of the world’s music is available on Youtube or other accessible platforms. It has never been easier to start listening to the tunes of the world.
I have discovered so much about other languages and cultures just from listening to their music. A pair of headphones and some imaginative legwork can take me to times and places I’ve never been to before. I don’t speak the languages, but I speak music, and that is more than enough.