Universal is Music

By Noluthando Tsoko

You know how we all say that if textbooks were songs, we’d do so well in school? I will never forget the day, in grade 11, when our English teacher sprung a spot spelling test on us (yes, a spelling test in grade 11) and we had to wear our brave faces over our irked ones. Anyway, one of the words was facetious and remarkably I was the only one who got that right in a classroom of 27 pupils. This is not a gloat session, what I am trying to say is that the only reason I knew that was because I’d listened to Jay Z’s Lucifer enough to have studied the lyrics like a bible. So naturally I had to find out what Jay Z meant when he said, “I ain’t tryna be facetious, but….”

We all know that English is no child’s play so what more when it comes to other languages that are foreign to us. Personally, I find there’s a breath-taking serenity in singing along to a song with words you have zero comprehension of because well, it’s in a foreign language. The purest definition I have of losing yourself. When an Asa guitar strings on then you hear her voice breeze in, “Oju mo ti mo/ Oju mo ti mo mi/ Ni ile yi o, o/ Oju mo ti mo, mo ri re o.” ignorance can’t possibly be heavy enough to let yourself miss such a beautiful moment just because you’re not from Nigeria and don’t speak Yoruba. If music was defined solely by the lyrics and the semantics of language, what would Timberland be?  So when the chorus sinks in, “Eye adaba, eye adaba/ Eye adaba ti n fo lo ke lo ke/ Wa ba le mi o, o/ Oju mo ti mo, mo ri re o.” naturally, how she’s crafted this melody matters more than what she’s saying. And that people -is how you fall in love.

Of course I googled the translation, the bliss in my ignorance does not run very deep. In this song, “Eye Adaba” means dove in Yoruba and Asa is seen to be praying reflectively, echoing a desire for peace in a chaotic world diminished by violence, or as an extended metaphor for all the good things life has to offer. That is already more than I need to know to play it on repeat. Knowing exactly what the singer is expressing brings a relevance that exceeds what you get from the familiarity of a note and a chord. It gives you a kind of education that being a scholar in a class room or lecture hall cannot afford you. I promise that it’s practical in its entirety. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music, singing in a foreign language can significantly improve learning how to speak it. I know this because my Arabic friend, who studied a BA in Languages during our undergrad, has a Spanish playlist that helped her soldier through the course.

Fruitful to our intelligence or not, not knowing a particular tongue should never stop us from exploring what’s seemingly outside of us because there’s no language more universal than music. How else will we remind ourselves that we are all one?

Here’s a list of songs that my fellow South African, AlphaShe team mates adore; sung in languages that are outside of their origin:

Les Nubians – Makeda (French)

JHAS – Pain au Chocolat (Swedish)

Davido – Skelewu (Nigerian)

Wizkid – Ojuelegba (Nigerian)

Oliver Mtukudzi – Neria (Shona)

Shakira – La Tortura (Spanish)

Habana Con Kola – Vente Negra (Spanish)

Mavins – Dorabucci (Nigerian)

Yuna – Penakut (Malay)

Les Nubians – Sweetest Taboo (French)

Burna Boy – Soke (Nigerian)

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