The international entertainment media is awash with David Bowie condolence remarks and eulogies from all over the world after he succumbed to cancer on the 10th of January, days after celebrating his 69th birthday.

David’s music is renowned world wide and garnered massive audiences also because his music was in the English language, which is understood by most of the people. Music is an international language understood by almost everyone even when the language in which the lyrics are is foreign, however it makes more sense and has more impact when understood by the audience.

Linguists in the music industry

There are so many times famous and international musicians who sing in a particular language have once in a while crossed borders by having lyrics belonging to different languages; that is languages that are not even spoken on their continent.

Though they are already famous, this adds more to their fame as the people speaking that particular language feel touched and somehow get to identify with that particular music.

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An example here is the song Liberian girl that was sung by the very famous king of pop Michael Jackson. If one carefully listens to the song there are parts where a lady’s voice is heard chanting a love spell in the Swahili language. Yes, in this song Michael sings about a Liberian girl, though we are not sure why the so called Liberian girl goes on to declare her love in the Swahili language. The latter is mainly spoken in the eastern part of Africa.

The image below is of the King of Pop; Michael Jackson

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Micheal Jackson

Countries that speak Swahili include;

  • Kenya
  • Uganda
  • Tanzania
  • Burundi
  • Rwanda
  • Zanzibar
  • Mozambique
  • Congo
  • Malawi
  • Somalia
  • Comoro islands

There are other international musicians who are bi lingual or multi linguists and therefore have songs in other languages other than English in which they do most of their songs.

Then we also have Ricky Martins based in the USA but whose music sales worldwide. He is known to have songs that are both in English and Spanish like the sensational ‘Livin La Vida Loca’. In the year 1991 Ricky released an all Spanish solo album as reported by

Ricky Martin is reported to have sung in other languages too like;

Then we do have Enrique Iglesias also a Latina just like Ricky Martins and is also known to chip in a little bit of his mother tongue while singing.

The great and mighty Celine Dion is known world over and her songs have been hummed to even by the very young girls despite evidently not knowing the meaning. Most of Celine Dion’s famous songs are in the English language, however what some of her funs don’t know is that it is French that is her first language and not the queen’s language. Yes, Celine was born a Canadian French in Canada and therefore according to her biography didn’t speak that good English until she was 15 years of age. Celine also sings in other languages like French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and many more.

Then in the African continent there are musicians that made their way to the international scene through very famous hit singles that were not even in the English language like; Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe who sings in Shona, and the late Lucky Dube from South Africa.

Oliver Mtukudzi Zimbabwe

Above is Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe who sung the famous Todi hit.

Music remains and will always be a universal language of its own though, very much loved songs or those with specific messages have to be translated at times for greater impact.

By Angela Kyolaba

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