In a world where English is assumed as a universal language, getting complacent and expecting to hear film and music in a certain tongue means many artforms might be overlooked. As people are becoming more attuned to sounds outside of the US and UK, platforms are using their reach to celebrate musicians that don't pander to English listeners. In a bid to broaden horizons whilst plugging some of our favourite COLORS performances, here is a list of songs and artists that break the mould of English-speaking music, whilst encouraging listeners to put Google Translate to good use.
Hamza - French
It’s only right that the list kicks off with a personal favourite. Hamza is a Belgian rapper that dips in and out of the French language, using the poetic intonation to create the melodic flow he’s known for. Hailing from a country that is a melting pot for prominent languages such as French, Dutch and German, Hamza’s lyrics may include slang that reaches over into another dialect or is native to Belgium. His rendition of 1994 is also how the ‘Saucegod’ closes his album of the same title - it’s the perfect introduction to what his catalogue has to offer.
YEИDRY - Spanish
Despite living in Italy, Dominican Republic-born singer makes use of her mother tongue (Spanish) in her music. YEИDRY has an airy and sultry touch to her sound with stripped-back production allowing her voice to be the focal point. From Nena, to El Diablo and Barrio, YEИDRY sonically mixes the traditional sounds reminiscent of Salsa and Merengue and brings them into the present Latin Pop genre.
Tiwa Savage - Pidgin/Yoruba
As an Afrobeats artist that has stayed at the top of her game for over a decade, Tiwa Savage is a powerhouse that needs no introduction. The Nigerian singer was first recognised for her pen and songwriting ability before moving into performing, and her lyricism reflects her journey. Tiwa starts off Attention with the line, “Oro re tin sun mi o”, meaning ‘I’m getting tired of you’. Although the track isn’t as Yoruba-heavy as other numbers from her 2020 album like Ole, it is still an accurate indication of how she effortlessly switches between Yoruba and Pidgin throughout her career.
Sho Madjozi - Swahili
It’s impossible to watch this COLORS show without dancing. Sho Madjozi operates in a space between Amapiano and Gqom, which are genres of South African Dance and House music. With her unique lane also comes a combination of languages - drawing from Swahili, Tsonga, English and Sheng (street slang from Kenya). The song exploded internationally, garnering support from listeners all over the world, including John Cena himself.
Sammany - Arabic
Sammany is a standout: both on this list and as a musician. Matalib already holds a lot of power and emotion behind it, as a song inspired by the uprising in Sudan but the acoustic version evokes a deeper heartfelt response that the original doesn’t match. The fluidity of the Arabic language complements music in a way that most languages ever could, to the point where a guitar is an added bonus rather than a necessity. At a total of 2:46, the video is one of the shorter COLORS recordings, but also one of the most complete.
Koffee - Patois
Patios can be easily overlooked as a language of its own when it comes to music, especially when so many Patois words and phrases are being assimilated into the English language as slang. An artist that stands as a firm reminder is Koffee. It’s obvious that the Jamaican-born singer is a product of her musical environment. Her cadence on Rapture flies back and forth between the home influences of Reggae and Dancehall, and the harsher and abrupt pronunciations of Western RnB and rap. Patois is the piece of the puzzle that brings both sides together.
Fatoumata Diawara - Bambara
Nterini has a completely different energy to the other songs on the list. Whereas the Western influence blends into the other tracks, Fatoutmata Diawara’s rendition has major juxtaposition and it’s beautiful to see. From singing entirely in Bambara (the official language of Mali) to then breaking into an electric guitar solo works in a way that feels beyond verbal comprehension. Even before translating the lyrics - the vibe emits feelings of love and loss, which is exactly what the song is about: heartbreak. It’s no surprise that Diawara has become more experimental with her sound in recent years, working with both Gorillaz and Disclosure.