Sharps and Flats: iWantToExploreTheWorld.mp3

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ILLUSTRATION BY GAVIN AQUIN HERNANDEZ // THE FLAT HAT

Recommendations for foreign language playlists to broaden your musical horizons

Growing up in a Mexican American family, my ears have always found their way to music in Spanish, as obvious as that sounds. Whether I was at an “intimate” family gathering in some seedy party venue in Los Angeles celebrating my previously-unknown third cousin’s quinceañera, or it was just cleaning day at chez moi, the amount of times that I have had to pretend that I hate dancing to “Suavemente” are innumerable. Retrospectively, I cannot imagine having grown up in an Anglo-American household. What would I have danced to? Carrie Underwood and Cotton Eye Joe? The horror.

It seems like, in the United States, we imagine ourselves nowadays to be net exporters of culture. The rest of the world consumes our television programs, our music, our cinema and yet we hesitate to allow ourselves to reciprocate this exchange. However, fellow English speakers, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I have had a lifelong disdain for American football, but since Madonna’s halftime show in 2012 graced our television screens with vogueing, I have made sure to catch every single halftime show since. So, when I heard that Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were going to be the acts for the Super Bowl this year, I was slightly concerned. How would wider, “whiter” America react to a half-time act done in Spanish? Yes, there was many a controversy around that act, but for the most part, the reception was better than I had expected.

For me, this cemented the idea that one doesn’t even have to leave the American continent to find rich and diverse music cultures worth acknowledgement.

For much of 2020, the closing of our country’s borders — both literally and mentally — has caused me to scour the internet for all of the media that I could consume from other countries. This pandemic, amongst other things, has made me realize that I absolutely adore Brazilian reality TV and South African and French pop music. Who would’ve thought?

In my quest to learn French these past few years, francophone music has been instrumental in helping me to gain lots of informal vocabulary and sentence structures — so that I could, you know, speak French ‘comme un français’ or ‘un québécois’ and not like a textbook. For me, passively listening to French has introduced me to wider varieties of francophone culture that exist in subalternate realities and not just those that exist in the mainstream. Much like music written by Latines/as/os or African Americans in the United States can introduce people to the struggles and the realities of diasporic and marginalized communities here, music from artists of immigrant backgrounds in France, Belgium (Wallonia) or Québec can help us to understand and empathize with the experiences of those communities as well.

Much like music written by Latines/as/os or African Americans in the United States can introduce people to the struggles and the realities of diasporic and marginalized communities here, music from artists of immigrant backgrounds in France, Belgium (Wallonia) or Québec can help us to understand and empathize with the experiences of those communities as well.

So, while you’re planning for your trips abroad while waiting for all these ‘bavajadas’ — that is, this blasted pandemic and all accompanying nonsensical foolishness — to end, perhaps you might want to start early on your proverbial tour of the world. You don’t even have to leave your humid moldy hovel of a dorm room to do it either.

For those of you who have Spotify or Apple Music, there are great resources and precompiled playlists for you to sort through. On Apple Music’s radio feature, I recommend the following stations: Latin Pop, Música Tropical, French Rap, Sertanejo, French Pop, Brazilian Pop, Pop Italiano and Bollywood. Additionally, Apple Music lets you browse the Top 100 charts by country on the Explore Page. There, Apple also has compiled playlists such as Africa Now, Israeli Pop, Essentials: French Synth-pop, ¡Dale Play!, Essentials: South African Pop and Essentials: International Jet Set. Of course, musical taste and interests vary, but these are good places to start in order to begin building your collection.

In polarizing times such as these, we should all look outward and use music as a tool to understand one another. If you had to create a playlist and recommend it to a foreigner wishing to learn more about America, what songs would you pick?

I would have a hard time choosing.

Gavin Aquin Hernandez is a Sharps and Flats Columnist and he wants you to listen to a wider variety of music than just the U.S. American kind.