Foreign-language music, for fun and learning
March 1, 2007 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Foreign-language music, for fun and learning

I'm looking for fun popular music to help me with language lessons. For example, Rammstein, the Fantastischen Vier and Die Prinzen for German. Or MC Solaar and Yves Montand for French. Or Seu Jorge for Portuguese, etc. Bonus points for musical value.

I'm focused on Spanish right now (sure that will be an easy one) but basically any language would be helpful. I think foreign-language rap is especially fun to listen to, but am pretty open. Other languages that come to mind are Italian, Japanese... Irish? I should mention that I am specifically not looking for audio language lessons. Thanks!
posted by thumpasor to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I loved listening to Anime music in high school when I was trying to teach myself Japanese. Particularly the slow goofy high school girl love songs -- they're slow enough that you can understand the words okay, but amusing enough that they're fun to listen to. Plus, anime soundtrack CDs usually come with liner notes full of written-out lyrics, which helped me with my writing while I copied them and tried to translate.

Watching anime with subtitles is also good. You learn lots of curse words that way.

I also recommend Utada Hikaru. She sings in half English, half Japanese (and some all-Japanese). She's not too bad.
posted by olinerd at 11:17 AM on March 1, 2007

For Portuguese: Os Mutantes, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Novos Baianos, Mombojo (you can download their music for free from their website), Los Hermanos, Marcelo D2. Also, if you want to learn a bit of Cape Verdean creole just for fun, you can get some Cesaria Evora.

For Spanish: Orishas are a great rap group from Cuba. Also, you must get Buena Vista Social Club. I mean it. Buy it right now.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:19 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not sure what your location is, but in a lot of the US you can get Spanish language radio stations. These might be availible online if you are out of broadcast range.
posted by yohko at 11:21 AM on March 1, 2007

You can get the liner notes to Mombojo as well as download individual songs here.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:21 AM on March 1, 2007

If you're serious about Irish, you could check out Raidió na Life na Life, an Irish-language radio station based in Dublin. The music isn't necessarily in Irish, but the in-between music chatter is.
posted by craichead at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2007

I'm a Carlos Vives fan, and old Shakira of course.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2007

Erm, that's Raidió na Life, not Raidió na Life na Life.
posted by craichead at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2007

Windows Media Player comes with a built-in web radio. There are hundreds if not thousands of stations listed. Many are foreign language.

For Japanese specifically, I like listening to J-WAVE. It's not for beginners, but the host does switch into English from time to time.
posted by Meagan at 11:34 AM on March 1, 2007

French -

Michel Polnareff
Edith Piaf
Fatal Bazooka

German -

Virginia Jetzt
Kool Savas
Die Eine
Tokio Hotel :)

These artists are mainly fun to listen to MTV friendly alternative/rap/pop.

Check out the fado genre for Portuguese.
posted by fire&wings at 11:46 AM on March 1, 2007

Portuguese from Brazil or Portugal? There's a big difference. Here's a recent askme about Brazilian Portuguese.
Here's on for French.

Spanish: Cafe Tacuba, Mano Negra/Manu Chao.
Italian hiphop: Jovanotti
posted by hydrophonic at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2007

More German-
Herbert Grönemeyer
Die Toten Hosen
Wir sind Helden
posted by chillmost at 12:19 PM on March 1, 2007

+1 for Utada Hikaru, but be careful that you don't pick up her one english-language album by mistake (I think it's called "Utada").

Also in Japanese, try Spitz (extremely catchy, melodic pop/rock), Angela Aki (kind of a Japanese Tori Amos), and maybe Suga Shikao (more catchy pop/rock). All have CDs available on Amazon and/or
posted by somanyamys at 12:31 PM on March 1, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all so much!
posted by thumpasor at 1:06 PM on March 1, 2007

It seems to me that a lot of modern J-pop artists don't help much with learning Japanese. A lot of songs are difficult to understand as a beginner, due to singing style or weird lyrics composition.

I agree with olinerd -- you want slow or mid-paced vanilla love songs. So long as you can tolerate some 70s/80s rock stylings, there is no better slow or mid-paced vanilla love song band than Off Course. The songs are dead catchy, Kazumasa Oda has a great voice, and his Japanese is very, very easy to understand. Behold his clear diction and complete, grammatical sentences, and tremble.

Click on the blue album cover they're advertising on this page, and see what you think. One advantage: nobody is going to believe it when gaijin-san busts out "Sayonara" at the karaoke bar...
posted by vorfeed at 1:10 PM on March 1, 2007

Response by poster: OK, cool. I am about to pick up some Manu Chao (Clandestino) and Orishas (A Lo Cubano), and I am going to put pretty much everything else on my Amazon wishlist... if anyone has more suggestions I would be very appreciative, but these are all great so far.
posted by thumpasor at 1:18 PM on March 1, 2007

Thumpasor - Wikipedia has lists of musicians by country. It might be time consuming but here is Germany for a start. The list isn't as daunting as you might think and you may find a few gems while cross referencing with Youtube or whatever.
posted by fire&wings at 1:24 PM on March 1, 2007

When I was in Spanish 4 in high school, my teacher liked to play: Shakira in the espanol and a song called Cantares (which, on iTunes, has many artists, but the best is a guy named Yuri). Other songs I have in Spanish on my iPod: the Spanish version of Hey Mickey (no idea where I got it, email's in the profile if you want it) and Ave Maria.
Perhaps you have a Spanish radio station? then you can learn with commercials, too.
posted by crayolarabbit at 1:45 PM on March 1, 2007

Public radio for Southern New Mexico, KRWG, has a Spanish-language music program called Fiesta 7pm-9pm MST weekday evenings. You can stream it, and the best part for learning Spanish is the host, Emily Guerra, says everything really clearly in Spanish and in English.
posted by Killick at 2:13 PM on March 1, 2007

For Spanish-- I'd recommend Juanes.

There's also a great site where a Juanes video (with English and Spanish subtitles and an integrated dictionary) hosted in the FREE DEMO section of:
posted by iam2bz2p at 3:27 PM on March 1, 2007

Pizzicato Five, for Japanese. Well enunciated.
posted by cmiller at 3:39 PM on March 1, 2007

Pink Martini: for all languages :)
posted by dhruva at 4:18 PM on March 1, 2007

I kind of have a sneaking crush on Maxime le Forestier, whom I discovered when my French teacher brought in one of his CDs (Master Série) for the class to try to transcribe. We started with "San Francisco" -- folky, and nice, and slow enough to understand. You can hear a 0:30 clip of a live version to see if you like it. I still do, a lot, along with the rest of the CD.

There's a lot of completely hilarious French rap, but most of it is pretty unintelligible if you've only studied French rather than learning by immersion. I took something like eight years of French, and was judged "fluent" by testing standards, but at the end of that, listening to a rap song, I could make out maybe one word in ten. If your studies cover contemporary slang, you might do a little better, but the elision is still insane by students' standards.

If you like the rhythmic elements of rap, you might like Thorgal. Don't get me wrong -- it's definitely not rap or rap-esque -- but the words are rhythmic and, I think, easy to make out. Words tend to be spoken on pitch rather than sung, which is good, because apparently you can bend all kinds of pronunciation rules when you're singing in French. This looks like it may be hard to buy outside of France. My e-mail address is in my profile if you have any questions.

Comedy option: Celine Dion has some recordings in Canadian French. You can also check out Edith Piaf -- an utter classic, but her vibrato seems to resonate at nearly the same frequency as something inside human skulls, so your head may explode.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:56 PM on March 1, 2007

Manau -- really fun, catchy Francophone Celtic-tinged hip-hop.

Lecker Sachen -- German rap with a heavy Irish folk influence

Lhasa -- Canadian singer mostly working in Spanish, but with a few songs in French and English as well -- gorgeous, melancholy songs

Molotov -- Spanish rock/hip-hop hybrid, aggressive and catchy

Alabina (and solo albums by Ishtar) -- world-music-meets-dance-pop, sung in Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, French, and English (lead singer Ishtar's solo albums are a bit heavier on the dance grooves but just as multilingual)

And if you've got any interest in Turkish -- Tarkan, incredibly catchy, danceable pop, just stay away from his most recent album which is all in English. See Ali Yildirim's excellent fansite for translations
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 8:44 PM on March 1, 2007

Early Gorky's Zygotic Mynci (most albums unavailable AFAIK, but there's an early singles collection that isn't too bad) got me into Welsh.

You know, just in case you master Irish and want to pick up another pretentious language of the British Isles.
posted by crinklebat at 9:43 PM on March 1, 2007

When I first studied Chinese, I listened to a lot of music by Faye Wong (王菲), Karen Mok (莫文蔚), Stefanie Sun (孙燕姿), and Cui Jian (崔建). Cui's probably not the best person to try learning from, since his thick accent makes some of his stuff pretty much unintelligible, but the other three have fairly clear Chinese and a lot of catchy songs. I didn't know about Xu Wei (许巍) when I was starting out with Chinese, but he sings clearly enough that it could probably make for good listening material. 沙子 ("Sands?" Don't know if they have an English name) has got fun talking-blues-style songs; their song 膏药 ("Ointment") is particularly worth listening to.

As for Chinese rap: don't. Just don't. But if you have to, there's a group called CMCB ("China MC Brotherhood") that perpetrates Mandarin rap, and recent albums by Cui Jian, mentioned above, reflect the fact that he's listened to way too much Public Enemy and consequently thinks he's Chuck D.
posted by bokane at 2:37 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

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