Foreign Language Music: Do Anglos not understand it?

Once again, this is a rant/soapbox post brought to you by the world’s biggest hellsite, Twitter – the website where people argue in bad faith and purposefully misconstrue what you’re saying. You could say something as innocent as “I love pancakes” and someone will be like “Are you waffles-ist? What do you have against waffles?” Ridiculous stuff. Makes me think of that Key and Peele Office Homophobe sketch, except 9 times out of 10 there’s no self-awareness at the end:

Anyway, every time I’m on that website it further confirms that I was born in the wrong time. I don’t care if I get made fun of for this, but I honestly wish I was born 50 years earlier in London and got to live the best years of my life in the 60s so I could see all my favourite bands in their prime and shop at all the boutiques on Carnaby Street and Kings Road. Anyway that’s enough of my wannabe boomer rant. Nothing I can do about when I was born.

So how did this inspiration come about? Well, I responded in a smartass, hyperbolic way to a tweet by Todd in the Shadows asking “What is reggaeton?”, and I said “the worst genre of music ever”. I was sort of taking the piss but yes, I still stand by that opinion. Sorry guys, it’s just not my thing. I really try to keep an open mind. I’m generally not a fan of classical, country, or electronic music, but I can at least find something I like from each of those genres. Classical? I love the prog rock/symphonic rock takes on it from artists like The Moody Blues, The Nice, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Rick Wakeman, and Jon Lord. The marriage of classical music and synthesisers, chef’s kiss! Seriously if you haven’t listened to the Six Wives of Henry VIII, you’re missing out! Also check out Deep Purple’s 1969 performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. As for country music? Who doesn’t love Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash? Country rock is also pretty good – I love The Allman Brothers. I also love early electronic music by the pioneering groups Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra, and musicians who combined other genres with electronic music such as Mike Oldfield and Brian Eno. Respect the classics, man! Without Kraftwerk and YMO, there’d be no electronic music. But reggaeton? Sorry I can’t find one song in the genre I like. I love reggae and ska, but there’s nothing reggae about the music. It’s just noise to me and all the songs sound the same with the same beat and dull, uncreative lyrics about flexing, sex, objectifying women. Feels just like copy and paste music or music made by an algorithm. Like anyone else, I have my biases. I am more into guitar based music so it makes sense why I don’t like reggaeton, dubstep, or mumble rap. The closest thing I like to reggaeton is Sean Paul songs from my childhood, but that’s more like dancehall and it’s completely different. Reggaeton, like dubstep, gives me a headache. Sure, call me a boomer. I’ll own that. I think my birth certificate was meant to read 1944, not 1994.

Now here come the bad faith arguments and my related rants. Because reggaeton is a type of music from Latin America, here comes the race baiting, which quickly falls apart when I’m in the conversation. People assume I’m not Hispanic because I’m very pale and my accent isn’t any bit Latin American. I really don’t understand the ignorance. Where do you think Spaniards are from? Don’t you realise people who are half and half exist? Recessive genes, ever heard of that in biology class? Also the fact that second generations pretty much always have the accent of their birth country regardless of where their parents are from. My grandfather certainly didn’t have a foreign accent, despite his parents sounding like they just stepped off the boat from Eastern Europe even though they’d been in America for decades. I really can’t stand the “woke stereotyping”.

People are individuals. Just because you’re a certain ethnicity doesn’t mean you have to like a certain type of music. Hispanics who don’t like reggaeton aren’t less Hispanic because of that. Classic rock isn’t “old white people music” and this blog is a testament to that. Some of the biggest and most passionate fan communities for rock bands are Latin American based ones. The existence of the “Come to Brazil” meme. The biggest rock concerts are often held in huge Latin American football stadiums. Latin Americans are some of the most passionate rock music fans. Heck, a lot of Mexican-Americans love The Smiths and find that their music resonates a lot with them, finding a lot in common with the second generation Irish-British songwriting team of Morrissey/Marr. Hispanics themselves have made rock music, whether it’s in the US with musicians like Ritchie Valens, Chan Romero, Sam the Sham, Joan Baez, Jose Feliciano, Chris Montez, Johnny Perez (Sir Douglas Quintet), ? and the Mysterians, David Aguilar, Norma Tanega, Carlos Santana, Malo, and many others. Or in Latin America with groups like Los Dug Dugs (Mexico), El Ritual (Mexico), Almendra (Argentina), Sui Generis (Argentina), Los Saicos (Peru), Los Yorks (Peru), Los Holidays (Venezuela), Los 007 (Venezuela), Los Speakers (Colombia), Géne-sis (Colombia), Los Jaivas (Chile), and Aguaturbia (Chile). If you count Brazil as part of Latin America despite the difference in language, can’t forget Roberto Carlos, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, and Caetano Veloso. Latin America has a great tradition of rock music. Even if you’re not a fan of Latin music, you’ll love the rock music even if you don’t speak Spanish. There’s way more to Latin American cultures than reggaeton and reducing Latin America to reggaeton is insulting. Latin America is not a monolith.

Nothing bothers me more than bad faith accusations of racism and race baiting. Racism is a serious problem and by throwing the word “racist” around because someone happens to not like something a non-white or mixed person has made, you’re watering down racism and making people take real racism less seriously. Shoot, you mean I could have just called the haters racist/anti-semitic/homophobic and they’d start grovelling and apologising to me? Just kidding, I hate identity politics. Let’s talk ideas. Let’s treat people as individuals. Stop using identity as a shield or a bludgeon, it’s cheap, dishonest, and tired. I’d hate reggaeton just as much if it were in English.

Besides the comments mistaking me for a gringo, there was one comment that really sparked inspiration for this blog post and I really want to go more into detail in the future about world music for classic rock fans. This person said that anglos just don’t understand reggaeton and foreign language music and just dismiss it and are closed minded. That may be true in general (not in my case, but I’m just a big 60s/70s music nerd who wants to hear it all), but I am optimistic now because of the beauty of the internet. The internet opens so many doors and you have an endless supply of music from all eras and all countries just a few clicks away. I often see OG classic rock fans who remember all our favourite bands the first time around and they are always so impressed and happy to see millennial and zoomers who are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the music of their youth, keeping it alive. I think there’s so much boomers, gen x, millennials, and zoomers can learn from each other. It’s a beautiful thing seeing people from so many different walks of life talk about the music they love, and bonding over it.

One of the great things about the internet is it can turn a song from obscure to viral, and that includes songs from all parts of the world. Thanks to the internet, content creation is democratised and we get a lot more perspectives. We can all be crate diggers and curators, sharing our new to us vintage music finds like thrifting fashionistas share their latest thrift shop finds.

Old music from all over the world has gotten a revival in popularity thanks to the internet whether it’s Anatolian rock music, Japanese city pop, Russian new wave/post punk, French yé-yé, Italian prog rock, Saharan rock, Afrobeat, or Indian classical music. People who don’t understand English listen to American and British music all the time and love it even if they don’t know the lyrics. I don’t see why we can’t do the same in return? No need to gatekeep, if you vibe with the music and you like it, that’s what counts! Music makes you feel things and feelings are something we all have no matter what patch of dirt we were born on or what passport we hold. Music and art in general is universal and unites people, that’s the most beautiful thing about it.

Eurovision is a big deal in Europe, almost like an Olympics of sorts for music lovers, and that’s one of the biggest platforms for music in languages other than English. I know it doesn’t have much if any following in America, but Americans should definitely not project their experiences on other parts of the world.

As well, while it may seem like a cult following on a larger scheme of things, everyone knows about the kpop stans. You’ve seen them all over the internet: BTS Army, stan Loona, you know. And let’s not get started on people who love Japanese anime and video games and the music that comes from it.

Even back in the day, some foreign language songs became hits in the Anglosphere:

  • “Volare” – Domenico Modugno (1958)
  • “La Bamba” – Ritchie Valens (1958)
  • “Sukiyaki” – Kyu Sakamoto (1961/1963)
  • “Dominique” – The Singing Nun (1963)
  • “Mas Que Nada” – Sérgio Mendes (1966)
  • “Guantanamera” – The Sandpipers (1966)
  • “Je t’aime moi non plus” – Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin (1969)
  • “Oye Como Va” – Santana (1970)
  • “Govinda” – Radha Krishna Temple (1970)
  • “Soul Makossa” – Manu Dibango (1972)
  • “Gaudete” – Steeleye Span (1973)
  • “Autobahn” – Kraftwerk (1975)
  • “Ça plane pour moi” – Plastic Bertrand (1977)
  • “Der Kommissar” – Falco (1981)
  • “99 Luftballons” – Nena (1982)
  • “Da Da Da” – Trio (1982)
  • “Major Tom” – Peter Schilling (1983)
  • “Tour de France” – Kraftwerk (1983)
  • “Rock Me Amadeus” – Falco (1985)

And in this day and age, I’m happy to see artists like Molchat Doma, Mdou Moctar, and Altin Gun becoming popular. It really shows that you don’t have to know a language to appreciate music made in that language.

Simply put, some people just don’t understand a genre of music. It’s okay to not like things. It doesn’t make someone prejudiced. Different strokes for different folks. I know that not everyone likes classic rock, but hey, that’s just their opinion, man. And I’m confident I can find a 60s/70s oldies/classic rock song for everyone. Also, don’t write off music in other languages just because you don’t understand it. Just give something a try!

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