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That old topic called "the language barrier" and so...

I guess this is a question that has already been occasionnally raised, but I've been thinking about it lately and I would like your opinion on the matter.

I thought about it because, most of all, I'm a French student in foreign languages, so I can't dismiss it when I'm listening to music. Besides that, this is an interview with Manu Chao that I watched that triggered my thinking. In it, he said that in his opinion, the language barrier was "pretty much done" and that bands and artists could enjoy success despite their origin. I think that he is applying his own situation and that of his former band, the Mano Negra, to the rest of the world.

As far as I know, there is still quite a bunch of artists who enjoy critical, commercial, or both, success in their country of origin, but are completely unknown elsewhere, so as far as I like Manu, I think he has somewhat lost touch with reality there.

Past the laziness with foreign languages of critics and the public, or simply their lack of knowledge, there are a few factors that I believe enforce this barrier.

-the era: regarding instrumental music, such as jazz or electronic music, the fate of international artists has been different. Looking at the lists, acclaimed jazz artists are essentially from English-speaking countries, but electronic music artists are from more varied origins. So the difference comes form how the music was distributed then and now I believe.

-this music style's ours: yeah, I saw once a critic from America who panned a guy playing rock from South Africa, claiming that he shouldn't try to adapt an American-rooted style such as "rock" for his own country, and instead should develop local styles. I guess some people will agree with that guy, personnally I don't, but whatever.

-this music style is too lyrics-reliant: of course, what comes to mind is hip-hop music, which is hard to get in another language than yours. Folk once also had a hard time: in France, Bob Dylan broke through when a local singer called Hugues Aufray translated some of his songs in French.

-this music style doesn't sound good in your language: I know that this matter has been raised occasionnally here in France, or in Japan as well. French rock, up to the beginning of the 60's, has had singers who sang quite theatrically, such as early Alain Bashung, Jacques Higelin or 60's rock singers. But there are a few singers that proved quite elegant, such as Ronnie Bird, Bertrand Cantat of Noir Désir, Charlélie Couture or late Alain Bashung. So my personal opinion is that it doesn't matter.

Well, these are a few thoughts. Now my personal opinion: I'm quite open-minded and so I believe that everyone, everywhere, should have the right to play the music he likes, but more than that, I hope that they can some day get the critical and commercial success that English-speaking acts got internationally. I may sound like I repeat what others have said, but rock artists or bands like Alain Bashung or Noir Désir, who are legends here in France, are of course underrated for me and I'm glad that they get a bit of representation here on AM.net, but I think that it's not enough.

I've been myself trying to listen to artists in other languages than English and French, and so far only a few artists, such as Cornelius or Soda Stereo have joined my top 20 artists of all-time. I must admit that it is because I found their sound ear-friendly, and I don't get, or barely get for Soda, the lyrics. But even without understanding everything, I believe that they should get way more recognition than they have for now.

What do you think about it? Do you believe that artists should not try to adapt a foreign music style in their own language? Do you try to listen to foreign-language music other than English? Feel free to post here.

Re: That old topic called "the language barrier" and so...

Very interesting points made, and I agree with you that language should not be a barrier, especially since nowadays you can go on the internet and find out the lyrics of a song, if that's that important to you.

On the point of the "this music style's ours", while on the whole I agree with your standpoint on it, I was thinking about Krautrock, a genre which is very unique in that it represents that specific time period (1970s) and that particular country (West Germany). For some reason it would leave a sour taste on my tongue if say a modern british band tried to make a Krautrock album. I don't know why, after all it's just drums and guitars, but there's something about those drums and guitars which makes me feel that no one else should touch them (from outside the German speaking world, at least).

Re: That old topic called "the language barrier" and so...

Good points.

I, personally, don't care that much about lyrics. The music is way more important and only a handful of artists really interest me lyrically. Nevertheless, the bulk of the music I listen to (not counting world and classical music, just pop for this discussion) is made by native-English-speakers. I even rarely listen to music made in my mother tongue (Dutch). Actually, I think Holland is way too small to be as interesting when it comes to music, compared to all of the English-speaking countries. But there's a bias, and I am aware of it. In the end the fact that 'English' music is just way easier available (not just in shops, also on internet, inlcuding AM) makes it easier to delve deeper in that music. I do like my occasional non-English 'speaking' bands, but they are still some what of a rarity, unfortunately. For me, it's way harder than finding and enjoying excellent foreign films for example.