DOLCE RADIO #1: Music Transcends Borders

Music is a universal language. But lyrics? Not always the case.

According to the IFPI Global Music Report 2021, published this March, the UK music industry remains the third-largest in the world behind the USA and Japan. And yet, only 17.5% of the world speaks English as a first or second language. No wonder, then, that so many Western musicians have found fortune through the re-interpretation of their music overseas.

The non-anglophone translation of Western music is a cultural phenomenon in itself, proven by countless innovative re-workings over the past half-century or so. They include native-language covers of successful pop singles, such as Faye Wong’s Cantonese version of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ — a huge hit in Hong Kong in the early ‘90s following its appearance in Wong Kar-wai’s film ‘Chungking Express’.

Full-blown genre makeovers that incorporate the traditional musical styles of local cultures have brought sophistication and charm to Western pop music, such as is the case with Brazilian musician Seu Jorge’s album of bossa nova Bowie covers for Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. Ivorian musician Tiken Jah Fakoly’s reggae version of Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’, meanwhile, reimagines the story as one of an African in Paris.

And Western artists have also dedicated their music to overseas audiences by singing their own songs in a foreign language — see ‘80s Glaswegian indie band Orange Juice dabbling in French for ‘Poor Old Soul’, and, of course, David Bowie’s German-language version of ‘Heroes’, recorded in West Berlin.

As Latin America maintains its position as the fastest-growing region globally in terms of music, and with the Asian market outside of Japan also growing by a staggering 29.9% in 2020-2021, the translation of English-language music may become increasingly significant as Western artists look to re-establish their international presence post-pandemic.

Check out our full playlist for Radio LBB below, which highlights why the linguistic transformation of UK and US pop music is more than just a novel curiosity — but a rich and rewarding means of cross-cultural creativity in itself.

Further Reading