Awesome music from around the world, Part 4

March 25, 2011

After just over a year, Stretchyourmind is back, with five (and then some) new awesome songs from five new countries. This batch includes Ugandan mwooyo, Brazilian new wave, and  self-effacing German rock.

31. Somalia: K’naan – Wavin’ Flag


Somalian-Canadian artist Kn’aan wrote this song to call attention to the bloodshed and upheaval that have plagued Somalia and many other African countries for decades. Coca-cola went and sponsored a new version of the song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup that kept the hook but replaced any reference to poverty and unhappiness with lines about about happy people waving flags. Both versions are still miles above other versions of the song featuring Will.I.Am or Canadian supergroups.

32.  Brazil: CSS – Move

This is a fun electronic/rock number. Dressed up like a bunch of Carrboro hipsters, CSS (short for cansei de ser sexy, or “tired of being sexy”) drive around the countryside taking some impressive but technically dubious photos using trick photography.

33. Germany: Die Prinzen – Deutschland

Die Prinzen (“The Princes”) crafted this catchy little number that manages to tweak German habits and culture (they aren’t being entirely sincere when they sing about the joys of German cars or about Germans being the friendliest people on Earth) while also working as an anthem celebrating Germany. Shades of “America, F— Yeah,” anyone?

34. Uganda: Maurice Kirya – Boda Boda

Maurice Kirya races through Kampala to get to his loved one in this sweet example of  the mwooyo (according to Kirya’s website, a blend of soul, Afro-fusion and R&B) genre. Kirya deliberately chose a woman with albinism to play his soulmate in this video to show albinos in a positive light and to reduce stigmatism associated with that condition in parts of Africa.

35. Panama: Los Rabanes – Commanding Wife

Los Rabanes, a cumbia/rock/reggae/ska band, often sing in a blend of Spanish and English, reflecting the strong influence the presence the U.S. military has had on their country. In this boisterous, bouncy, infectious tune, the singer describes the problems that come with having a life partner who “wants to destroy my life.”

35.5 Zimbabwe: Tinashe – Zambezi

I already covered Zimbabwe’s Tuku Mtukudzi in a previous entry, but in the interest of sharing great world music I had to include this entry as well. In this haunting song, Minashe recounts the story of a doomed young couple, originally told to him by his mother. You can also catch the more upbeat, visually appealing, thematically inappropriate video of the song here.


Awesome Music From Around the World, Part 3

March 22, 2010

My ongoing series of great music (and music videos) that I hope will eventually include every country in the world continues. Part three features Ghanian hip-hop, Norwegian indie rock, Venezuelan acid jazz, and seven other entries. Enjoy!

21. South Africa: Freshlyground – Pot Belly

The video accompanying this song works on its own as a short film. This song, from Freshlyground’s 2007 album, pairs lead singer Zolani Mahola’s exquisite vocals with a wonderful melody and back-up guitar.

22. Norway: Kings of Convenience – I’d Rather Dance with You

This Norwegian indie duo channel Wes Anderson and a bit of Napolean Dynamite for their biggest hit, a sweet, charming melody on acoustic guitar and piano. Or perhaps they’re channeling Flight of the Conchords (or are the Conchords channeling them?)–isn’t New Zealand on the exact opposite side of the globe from Norway?

23. Iraq: Acrassicauda – Garden of Stones

This heavy metal band formed in 2000, under the final days of Saddam Hussein’s regime (apparently they were even forced to write a song praising him). They developed and played in Iraq during the war with the United States until 2006, when they fled to Syria, and then to the U.S. Since then, they’ve been the subjects of the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, received signed guitars from their Metallica, and have recently been featured in Newsweek. Their single, “Garden of Stones,” is great head-banging music–raging guitars, heavy beats, and lyrics shouted over black-and-white footage of wrecked cities. This song is as powerful and subtle as a sledge hammer to the face.

24. Austria: EAV – Ding Dong

This video opens with an animated weasel having a panic attack, a Rutger Hauer look-a-like wooing a transvestite, and a hot dog in a birdcage. Then it takes a turn for the bizarre. This is a very silly, deliberately fun video, with the band obviously having a great time. The song itself that could be used as a textbook example of an ohrwurm (literally, “ear worm”) that gets stuck in your head over and over after just one listen.

25. Ghana: Obour – The Game

Ghanian hip-hop artists Obour, Okyeame Kwame, and Richie take on their country’s music establishment in their most recent single. But you don’t need to understand the politics of Ghana’s music industry (something about artists having a tough time getting their music out?) to enjoy the bouncy beats of this great song.

26. Israel: Kele 6 – The Way of the King

This fun take on The Wizard of Oz by Kele 6, one of Israel’s older hip-hop bands, is marred by the director’s decision to place the camera angle so that it aims either directly at Dorothy’s breasts or up her skirt. This points to a director who is either a pervert or who is quite insecure about establishing this obviously beautiful woman as attractive? He ends up doing everyone a disservice–effect is off-putting and slightly creepy. Still, this song is very catchy, and the players and costumes are charming. Still, this is definitely one of the better Israeli Wizard-of-Oz-themed rap videos out there.
27. Venezuela: Los Amigos Invisibles – Diablo
Los Amigos Invisibles blend dance music, disco, and Latin elements to create very catchy, dance-worthy music, especially in this song. And the video director knows how to film sexy women without being invasive or taking away their dignity (director of the Tele 6 video, I’m looking at you…)

28. South Korea: Super Junior – Sorry Sorry

According to wikipedia, Super Junior is the world’s largest boy band, coming from a country that has embraced the genre (when the Koreans do something, they do it whole-heartedly and then some). “Sorry Sorry” is an infectious pop number with some great dancing that has been emulated by, among others, the Filipino “Thriller” dancing prisoners and members of East Chapel Hill high school’s Asian club. [EDIT: YouTube Vogon Squad has disabled direct embedded viewing of this video, so you’ll have to click on the text link (the words by the 28).]

29. Dbanj: Nigeria – Fall in Love

Dapo Daniel “D’Banj” Oyebanjo took home the MTV Africa Artist of the Year and Listener’s Choice Awards for this 2008 hit. In this sweet video, D’Banj woos his sweetheart by, among other activities, losing to her in Mortal Kombat.

30. Argentina: Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – Matador
Argentina’s most famous band, founded in 1985, is currently still touring in South America. Their 1993 hit “Matador” blends rock, ska and big-band music into a potent and memorable song that has been used in movie soundtracks as far as the United States (Grosse Point Blank) and Spain (Matador).

Learning Spanish on iTunes

March 14, 2010

Today, with an iPod or other mp3 player, it’s possible to listen to music and other audio content just about anywhere. In this article, I’m going to talk about how to use that ability to work on and improve your Spanish.

There are plenty of places other than Itunes to get music online. In fact, I typically prefer to buy music from Amazon rather than Itunes because the prices are often cheaper and because the mp3s come without obnoxious DRM restrictions. All of the resources I’m recommending — mp3s, podcasts, videos, and audiobooks are available elsewhere on the Internet.

That said, iTunes does the best job I’ve seen of integrating all of these resources, making them easily available and offering the greatest overall selection of Spanish-language materials.

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Music: As I discussed earlier, YouTube is currently my main portal to finding new music. I don’t feel a need to buy every song I listen to more than once, but if I’m coming back to a song after a couple of weeks, I like to pay for it. Itunes, along with Amazon’s mp3 department, are two locations to easily purchase albums and single tracks, and support the work of Latin artists.

Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Street): iTunes has about 3 1/2 free hours of Sesame Street videos in Spanish in their videos section (look for “Aprende con Sesame”).

Free Podcasts: iTunes has dozens of free podcasts in Spanish, on topics ranging from home repair, to current events, to Latin music, to comedy. There are a few “Learn Spanish” podcasts geared toward beginning learners, but I’ve found that Spanish language podcasts for native speakers have been enjoyable and useful as well. Some of my favorites:

  • Latin Roll, Rock en tu idioma: This 2 1/2 hour weekly podcast features new music from throughout Latin America, as well as news and interviews with various bands (podcasts, videos and other material are also at
  • La Matinal: This is a daily half-hour NPR news program broadcast from Europe. Great, high-quality news with an international focus.

Spanish audiobooks: This is one area where iTunes still outshines Amazon in terms of price and selection. Spanish audiobooks are another great way to learn or relearn Spanish. iTunes’ selection ranges from The South Beach Diet to Don Quixote. I’ve particularly benefitted from Cuentos de Los Hermanos Grimm (Stories from the Brothers Grimm) and Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), both of which I knew beforehand, which was an immense help to my comprehension. If iTunes doesn’t have what you want, is another resource.

Audio Learning Programs: There are audio-based programs to learn Spanish, both as audiobooks for purchase and as free downloads (Spanish 101 from DePaul University, in iTunes’ University section. I don’t have any direct experience with these resources, but if other people have experience with them, I’d be glad to hear about it.

Listen, Listen, Listen

A couple of posts back, I wrote about the importance of committing time and energy to any effort to improve your Spanish. The good news is that it’s easy to incorporate audio material into your daily routine: You can put Latin music in the CD player of your car or tune into a Spanish-language radio station on your way to work, and with a mp3 player, you can listen to music as you clean house, go for walks or exercise.

Of all these activities, walking is my favorite for listening. There’s moving scenery and just enough physical activity to keep me engaged, but not enough to distract my mind. And walking functions as a great source of exercise to boot! A few years ago I had a job a couple of miles from home, and every day after taking the bus to work, I’d break out my Ipod loaded with Juanes and El Koala, walk down main street and take a long path through the woods to home. Good times.

Awesome Music from Around The World, Part 2

February 1, 2010

Here’s my second entry in my “Awesome music from around the world” series, featuring great music from India, Zimbabwe, Finland, Iran, and six other countries. Enjoy!

11. France: Carla Bruni — Quelqu’un m’a dit

I asked  a friend about music from France, and she said “everyone loves Carla Bruni.” After hearing this song, it’s easy to see why. Carla Bruni, now Bruni-Sarkosy, is the wife of France’s president Nicolas Sarkosy.

12. Nicaragua: Revuelta Sonora — Tululu (Revuelta remix)

This is another video that works nicely as a short story, this time following a cute but mischevious scamp who steals a camera from a tourist couple and uses it to take photos of his friends, family and neighborhood. Come for the chance to see a glimpse of Nicaragua’s Afro-Carribbean city life; stay for the great music.

13. Japan: X Japan — Okkusenman

The punk-metal band Japan X takes a song from the 1988 nintendo game Mega Man 2 and turns it into a rocking yet wistful rumination on the loss of childhood innocence. The melody holds up well after more than 20 years, and the simple yet effective animation helps to tell the story.

14. Zimbabwe: Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi — What Shall We Do?

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, Zimbabwe’s most popular musical artist, has been singing and touring for more than 30 years. His song “What shall we do?” manages to be both poignant and hopeful (which is impressive if you know anything about Zimbabwe’s political and economic situation).

15. Finland: Lordi — Hard Rock Hallelujah

Straddling the line between “awesome” and “awesomely retarded,” the Finnish band Lordi is like the drawings come to life out of the notebook of a creepy 15-year-old’s notebook. The band dresses up in full demonic costume for videos, concerts, and interviews and has it’s own elaborate origin story and mythology.

16. Moldova: Nelly Ciobanu — Hora Din Moldova

Featuring traditional costumes, circle dancing, and wide, expansive shots of….fields of sheep, Hora Din Moldova (“Dance of Moldova”), Moldova’s entry for the 2009 Eurovision contest. It’s a little quaint, but everyone–the singer, dancers, and camera crew seem both earnest and proud of their country, and the song is a good one in its own right. I’d choose this underdog over a more slick, polished video that could have come out of anywhere in a heartbeat.

17. Democratic Republic of the Congo: Baloji: Congo

Hip-hop artist Bajoli breaks up his video about his home country into three parts. He starts rapping alone over a spare beat of African drums. He then picks up the pace and breaks out the guitars and backup singers. In the third section he slows down again, bringing out traditional African dancers and a gospel chorus. Great stuff.

18. Chile: Los Prisioneros — El Muro

Corte el muro (“take down the wall”) sing Los Prisioneros, a Chilean rock band who crafted this song protesting the proposed wall between Mexico and the United States. Statistics accompanying the video help to illustrate the harsh conditions immigrants often have to face as well as the benefits workers from Mexico bring to the U.S.

19. Iran: Abjeez –Eddeaa

Melodie and Safoura Safavi lead the Abjeez, a Persian pop band. I have no idea about their video is about (anyone speak Farsi?) but the song is very catchy and the video was good enough to win at New York City’s Tribeca film festival.

20. Northern Ireland: Panama Kings — Golden Recruit

The Traveling Wilburys of Northern Ireland, this group is made up of a number of musicians from other Northern Irish bands, two of whom left the group called The Queer Giraffes. If they join eight more bands with silly names this year, they’ll get their 11th one free.

Awesome Music from Around The World, Part 1

August 25, 2009

I hope to one day make a playlist featuring great music (and great music videos) from every country in the world.  Here are my first ten entries.

1. Canada: The Arcade Fire — Rebellion (Lies)

This band single-handedly reaffirmed my faith in and appreciation of music that’s actually being played on the radio these days. If Bruce Springsteen was from Montreal, was 25 years younger, and added a few additional instruments to the E Street Band, he could have easily formed this group.

2. Colombia: Juanes — La Camisa Negra

Colombian artist Juanes is a Latin American superstar, whose music can be heard from Uruguay to Mexico to the U.S. My favorite song, “La Camisa Negra,” (the black shirt), showcases the song and functions as a great short film in its own right.

3. England: The Beatles — It’s All Too Much

Who doesn’t love the Beatles? George kicks ass (and melts the Blue Meanies’ hearts) in this song from The Yellow Submarine.

4. India: Abhijeet and Anuradha Sriram — Chunari Chunari

Abhijeet and Anuradha Sriram strut their way from India to San Francisco in this song from the Monsoon Wedding soundtrack. My wife has observed that the male shoulder wave, followed by the female hip shake, interspersed with lots of “come hither” looks, appear to be a universal part of dance. They’re certainly in the vocabulary here.

5. Mexico: Julieta Venegas — Me Voy

Me voy, que lastima, pero adios (“I’m leaving, it’s a shame but goodbye”), sings Mexican pop superstar Julieta Venegas in one of her most popular singles. Fun facts: Julieta Venegas is an identical twin, and she thinks her eyebrows are her most beautiful body part.

6. New Zealand: Flight of the Conchords — Hiphopopotomas vs Rhymenoceros

New Zealand’s fourth-most popular folk parody duo sing one of their classics in an attempt to intimidate some thugs.

7. Puerto Rico*: Calle 13 — Nadie como tu

Calle 13 is one of the world’s most popular reggaeton (actually a blend of hip-hop, dance music, and several Latin genres, with very little reggae) bands.  “Nadie como tu (no one like you) is a great song to learn (or relearn Spanish by), especially with this charming fan-made video that illustrates the lyrics, sometimes literally, sometimes comically.

8. Spain: El Koala — Opa, yo viace un corra

Self-named artist El Koala (just what it sounds like) set out to create an album of “rustic rock music”, which combines rock and punk music with lyrics about farm life in Spain. “Opá, yo viazé un corrá” (Dad, I’m going to build a farm, with some slang and contractions), is incredibly fun to watch and catchy (this video has had more than 20 million hits already). Other songs from the album include a farmer singing about a hog and a rooster’s lament.

9. Ukraine: Ruslana — Wild Dances

This Ukrainian artist won the 2004 Eurovision song contest, and five years later received the honor of being included in the soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto 4.

10. U.S.A.: Johnny Cash — Hurt

American IV was Johnny Cash’s last album released while he was still alive (two more have since come out), and it remains one of his best. For Hurt, Cash takes a song from Nine Inch Nails and makes it much more powerful and profound. Age and illness ravaged Johnny Cash’s body and voice for years, but he continued to sing and record albums until his death. The Man in Black will be missed.

A few notes:

  • These are all songs I genuinely like, so future entries may take a while.
  • That said, constructive suggestions for future entries are welcome.
  • I’m focusing on contemporary, “fun” pop music, with the exception of the Beatles, because they’re the Beatles.
  • Of course I’m not trying to sum all of any country’s musical influence into one song. What song could ever do that?
  • *I reserve the right to include Puerto Rico even though it’s not  a country. I like Calle 13.