Do you listen to music the lyrics of which you can not understand? I often do, whether it be Russian or African, and I am interested in the difference it makes. I mean, when you hear the lyrics and you understand them, you listen to a song differently than you do when you don’t understand a damned thing and just listen to the music and the general feeling of a song. Any fool can tell whether it’s a melancholy song, or something upbeat, or ironical (though there it becomes difficult…).
I am in a good position to analyze this, because I live in Germany, where people listen to a lot of music with English lyrics. I understand the songs, and then I hear what the Germans think of them. They, though mostly fairly good English speakers, fail totally when listening to songs, because the lyrics are obscured by music, accents, colloquialisms and what-all. Thus the oddest, and sometimes really hilarious misunderstandings are born.
Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t better to not understand a damned thing. Then you can simply get a feel for a song, you listen to the tone of voice, and not the words. That, combined with the music, tells you everything you need to know. Maybe.
And then there is poetry, the songs you will never understand unless you understand every single word. They combine words and music in such a beautiful way… ideally so that it is a complete piece of art.
So, what’s better? Shall we, once again, compromise? No, no compromise: Listen and enjoy, no matter whether you understand or not. Do not compromise.
Sometimes I am glad I can’t understand the lyrics. When world music bands sing in English, I discover they sometimes have an irritating tendency to try and bring across political messages concerning their particular country or whatever. Now, I am not trying to belittle the political problems of the so called third world (or any other world, for that matter), where many of these bands come from, but I just can’t bear to hear the simple and extremely politically correct messages that are often propagated.
If it must be political message, then please let it be subversive, irreverent, raunchy, perhaps despairing… but don’t try to wring a tear from my eye by singing to me earnestly that female circumcision is wrong or some such. It just won’t wash. I know it’s wrong, I don’t need someone telling me that accompanied by music, thank you very much.