Coming from the United States, a primarily English-speaking country, it is odd to people I meet when I first tell them that I enjoy Japanese music. I am always required to answer the inevitable question, “do you understand what they’re saying?”
To be concise, not really. But I’m a wordy person, so of course I have to add detail. Understand that I took AP English in high school; adding detail is in my blood now.
I don’t know very much Japanese. I can speak basic conversational phrases, and have assimilated a large and random vocabulary from watching subbed anime and reading translated song lyrics. I’m nowhere fluent, and I will be the first to admit that. But why do I love songs in a language I barely understand?
I have learned to appreciate the voice as just another instrument. If a voice is beautiful, powerful, or capable of evoking some kind of response in me, then the language the voice sings in is a trivial matter. The problem with the people who are baffled that I listen to music I don’t understand is that they rely on lyrics as a crutch. They think, “if I can’t understand or relate to this song, then its terrible and I reject it altogether.” Come on. There are plenty of English artists who make no sense and are still popular. (Pink Floyd, anyone?) The point is that you don’t have to rely on lyrical content to make a good song. What if a song has a good beat, a catchy melody, beautiful vocals? Is it any less of a song because you don’t understand it?
Take for example Meg, an Italian artist I happened upon while googling the Japanese artist MEG. When I heard her song Simbiosi, my first thought was “this song is absolutely captivating,” not “oh, this is Italian and I can’t speak that language to save my life.” By the way, I highly recommend for all my readers to click the link and listen to the song. Its pure magic.
If you went through my iTunes library, you would be surprised. I have songs in too many languages to count. Zulu, German, Portuguese, and Arabic are just a few. I don’t listen to these songs to pretentiously appear scholarly or worldly, I like them because each one of them made me feel something. The language isn’t important. Really, its not.
Reader Question: Do people ever ask you if you understand foreign music, or why you like foreign music? How do you answer these questions? How do you feel about the voice as an instrument and not a messenger?