Today’s popular music is overplayed, lacks originality and gets old really quick.
Mainstream music playing on the radio and television is fine to listen to at first, but after hearing your new favorite song three times in one hour it gets played out fast. You learn the lyrics and the arrangement of the song in a day and then it is not as exciting to hear it anymore.
You can do what I do and choose not to listen to the radio at all to make new hits enjoyable to listen to for a longer period of time. The quality issue still persists, though. A lot of songs sound too similar, especially hip-hop and R’B. It is rare to find something you have not heard already. There are exceptions, of course, but in general there is not a lot of new music that excites me in those genres.
This led me to start exploring music from other countries sung in different languages that I cannot understand. For some reason I find this music more appealing now. It could be because you hardly ever hear foreign music on the radio or television so it does not get played out. However, I listen to world music at home and on my iPod almost religiously and it never gets old. It is always fresh.
I have a Los Pinguos CD that I bought almost four years ago and it is still one of the most played CDs I have today. Los Pinguos are from Argentina and even though my Spanish skills are sub-par, I still enjoy their music immensely.
Gigi Rabe, music department lecturer and director of the steel drum band at CSUN, said she finds world music so refreshing and interesting because it is completely different from what you hear on the radio every day. Today’s popular music all sounds the same, from the quality of the singers’ voices to the rhythms. It does not require a lot of skill to play pop music, Rabe said.
“If you listen to one, two or three female singers here they all sound the same,” she said. “It gets boring.”
Rabe said that even when international artists try to emulate American pop music it is more interesting because they bring another element to it by using a different language.
This is what I experience when I listen to Rwandan R’B singer Corneille. He sings in French, which I studied for six years a long time ago, but I have since forgotten a lot of it.
From a musical standpoint it is not much different from American R’B, but the experience is. The language adds a whole other dimension to the songs. It almost becomes another instrument and you pay less attention to what the words are saying than how they actually sound.
Tim Rice, associate dean of research and academic affairs at UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, said that as a musician he has never been that interested in the words to songs. Voice quality is more important to him than the lyrics. When Rice listens to a singer he does not focus on what they are singing about, but how they sing it, he said.
World music artists usually use more live instruments in their songs than pop music, which tend to squeeze as much as possible out of a keyboard, computer and drum machine.
That is another thing that makes world music more interesting – instruments. Sometimes I am listening to a song and I hear a sound I have never heard before because it is from an instrument that is from a specific country or region.
For example, Indian music has the sitar, a string instrument that has a very distinct sound and is used very often in that part of the world. The berimbau is another unique string instrument with its roots in Brazil. It is traditionally only used in capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that incorporates live music and singing.
Anthony Seeger, professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA, became interested in world music when he was in sixth grade and did a project on India. He was drawn to the different sounds he heard while doing his research. Seeger also spent several years in Brazil in the mid 1970s to early 1980s studying the native Indians there and came in contact with the berimbau and the call and response songs of capoeira.
Seeger said even some of the Indian tribes would sing songs in another language they did not understand just because they enjoyed the way it sounded.
Whenever I go to record stores nowadays I have made it a habit to stop by the international music section first to see what interesting things are available. The CDs might be a few dollars more expensive because they are imported, but it is a good investment. They stay in my rotation much longer than any chart-topping album available.
If you are like me and in need of a break from some of the bland music that is being mass-produced today, check out a foreign artist or group and immerse yourself in a new musical culture.