Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Singing in tongues

Look! I exist! I blog. Therefore I am?

It has come to my attention that more and more Romanian pop bands/singers/"projects"/entities of the sort entitled "DJ X feat. Flange" are singing their ditties in English. This is a great pity for a number of reasons:
  1. They almost invariably sound absolutely terrible. This is nearly, but not quite, universally true for all bands. Sing in your native language, and it sounds good. In English (unless of course that is your first language) and it nearly always sounds like vomit-inducing pap. To give the worst example, I really truly advise you NOT to click on this link and hear the absolute awfulness of "Lovely Smile" from late last year. If you ignored me and are now cleaning up this morning's breakfast, well, you should listen. The only non-native speaker of English and get away with it is Shakira, and she gets away with it because, well, she could get away with more or less anything I think.
  2. Romanian is a language that really works well in song. It's a great shame to sing in simplified sickly English when something about the rhythms and rhymes of Romanian make it such a good language for songs.

Yet despite these compelling reasons (yes I know that's only 2, but 2 is a number), more and more bands are opting for the Euro-beat stylings of songs about lahv and sexy gaehls. It's quite depressing and has meant that recently I have switched radio stations in the car to one that plays a slightly older mix.

Now, it's quite possible (if indeed anyone happens across this blog after so long away) that someone is going to point out that for a Romanian band to make it big (or at least sell a few records in Belarus or Latvia) they have to record in English, but I would counter that by pointing out that the biggest and most successful Romanian record of recent times (and quite possibly ever in history) was Dragostei din Tei (which you may know as "that Numa Numa Yay song") , which was sung - yes - in Romanian. So ha. That's stumped you, no doubt.

In an interesting aside (well interesting to me, at least), while Romanian is a language which sounds really good in song, yet Romanians seem hell bent on singing in English, Hungarian, which really isn't a good language for singing, seems to go the opposite way around. Very rarely do Hungarian bands sing in English (in fact I only know of two examples, the utterly risible Speak, and the really very amusing and good "Hello Tourist" by Emil Rulez - and the latter is in English for a good reason). Indeed not only do Hungarian bands not sing in English, but they actually go the extra mile and translate English (and other) songs into Hungarian and repackage them. Which is taking the dubbing obsession a stage too far.

As an aside to that aside, while Hungarian doesn't really work in song to my mind (or to my ear), it works absolutely superbly in poetry. Something about the staccato rhythms of it really make poetry sound fantastically rhythmic and intense. You don't even need to know a word of Hungarian to appreciate it in my opinion - listen to this Petofi Sandor poem, for example, or this by Arany Janos


Craig Turp said...

Correct, and something I have long wondered about myself.

The video you advise us not to click on is brilliant, however. It is every cliche under the sun: fast, expensive car (hired for the shoot, of course); offensive sunglasses and comedy English 'Lieyets goh'. Fantastic entertainment.

cosmin said...

Just click on www.inna.ro and http://edwardmaya.com/press and you will see that, even with this „absolutely terrible English”, Romanian pop music is facing with a huge success all over Europe and even in USA (forget about Belarus and Latvia), and that Numai Numai Yay song is far, far away in terms of international success.

Andy H said...

Cosmin: If you're going to quote something, you really should quote them accurately. Where in the text did I write "absolutely terrible English" as you have quoted me as saying - even going as far as to put it in speech marks? Your point may be valid (I have no idea, since there are no actual stats to back it up, just bands' websites), but misquoting me makes me disinclined to investigate further.

Andy H said...

Actually Craig, that was the first time I'd seen that video, I'd previously just heard the song. And you're right it is a absolute classic

Gheorghe said...

"The only non-native speaker of English and get away with it is Shakira..."
Then what about Celine Dion, Abba, Roxette, A-HA, Lara Fabian, Sarah Connor and many others?

Andy H said...

I don't know who the latter two are, and the rest only support my point.

(In my opinion obviously - I know Abba are unaccountably popular, but they leave me entirely cold)

Zsolt Sesztak said...

English Hungarian translation

Anonymous said...

I like your posts generally, but I, as a fellow csixeredaian, have to disagree with this one.

You will probably never understand this, as coming from the english language yourself, but if someone grows up listening to music in english, the sound of it gets imprinted, part of the genre, the way it's "supposed to" sound, and the local versions just sound strange.

Like as I can't imagine listen to french punk for too long, the language is just too pretty for such a thing.

So using an other language is like using violins instead of guitars: it can be done, and you can get a certain artistic effect, but to tell that everybody shoviolins are nice too, and it is our Partiotic Obligation to use them... or that just because they doesn't originate in our region, we aren't allowed to use guitars - ok, so is anything legal then other than folk songs (but preferably not those which can be found everywhere in the balkans)? It's not about the objective qualities of violins, but the way they just are not part of that image most of us are looking for.

Of course there is the colonization aspect too, and it would be a good sign if there were more people who would fell allright enough being a romanian so they wouldn't find uncool to experience with the language. but making a patriotic obligation out of it is just wrong, and, if we are speaking about this logic, it actually is just exoticizing - hey, you're not allowed to use OUR culture, you primitive second-world-ling!

And the fact that it sounds hilarious, most of the cases, for native speakers is... for me, irrelevant. I don't think the bands themselves are hoping to get internationally recognized because of it; it's for making us, fellow romanians, feel good. Maybe I'd like even more if they became explicitly non-nativespeaker-imitating English, like the pidgin japanese people use, which is a japanese cultural phenomenon and not an attemt to imitate real english-speakers. We are not pretending to be english, just using this golbal instrument to have fun.

ps: and look, they are talking about local stuff, too! Maybe the content of what they sat is not that correct, but still. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KlCzPpfX_c

Anonymous said...

correction: part of the fourth paragraph got deleted/remixed? i don't even know.


I came up with an other analogy: what if you said to a flamenco fan that he should only listen to flamenco in croatian for the rest of his life, for political reasons? the melody of the spanish language is part of the beauty, even if croatian is nice for other uses, too.

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