Would you like to read an entire research paper I wrote on the merits of bilingual education?
Of course you don’t- so I’ll just sum it up by saying that language education in America kinda sucks and many people, including devastatingly whitebread losers like myself, would reap clear benefits from an education that integrates two or more languages throughout the school day, beginning at a young age. Learning a language increases a person’s cultural sensitivity and global consciousness, allows kiddos from immigrant families to assimilate more smoothly, and can even contribute to better quantitative outcomes, like test scores. Plus, the competitive global job market or some shit.
What does this have to do with music, the blog, or anything? Well, in middle school I started taking Spanish classes (these were the first Spanish classes offered in my school district at the time, btw) and immediately took to the language. I loved learning and learned fast, too. I was taken down a notch by a genuinely evil high school Spanish teacher, but convinced myself that I had a solid enough knowledge base and could probably start classes again in college. While that wasn’t the greatest decision- I’d certainly be better off had I not taken a couple of years off from studying- I was lucky enough to enter into a fantastic Spanish program that helped me to fall in love with the language all over again (because it’s a Romance language, u get it?). And now, though I wouldn’t describe myself as fluent, I’m comfortable speaking, reading, writing and listening to Spanish.
One of the things that’s gotten me here is, of course, music. Though I don’t always understand every word of every song- and I now fully comprehend how difficult figurative language can be for nonnative speakers- just hearing the sounds and intonations of the language, even when listening only passively, has been a huge help. And for someone who’s kind of playing catch-up here- due to sucky language education in America, of course- that means a lot.
Although I believe that language education is absolutely essential and should be much more pervasive here in the States, it’s important to ~check your privilege~ when exploring the cultural artifacts and practices that are often studied alongside languages- y’know, film, music, folklore, holidays, etc. It can be all too easy to cherry-pick the parts of a culture that are easiest to understand, or most interesting, or most famous, without actually taking the time to educate yourself about their context. In addition, though it’s also easy to position yourself as something of an expert on a particular culture you’ve spent so much time studying- especially considering the fact that in academic works you’re expected to pretty much do just that- any anti-racist, anti-imperialist student of languages and cultures absolutely must learn to take a step back and recognize that she is an outsider in the study of cultures that aren’t her own.
So in this case, when I tell you about my fave Spanish-language songs I don’t mean to say that this is a definitive playlist of the best Spanish-language songs in the entire world, ever, nor do I mean to imply that I’m a scholar of Spanish-language music or that this list is representative of a single culture (the artists on here come from several different countries, the US included). I’m just a student (coming from a privileged position in which I can take university-level Spanish classes, access as much information as I want via the Internet, and travel to many different places) sharing some good tunes that have helped me pick up the second language I love so dearly.
For all you Spanish speakers and learners, as well as those who just like good music, here’s a playlist of some of my faves en español.
Ana Tijoux is a woman who is also a rapper who is also an activist so naturally she’s one of my heroes. Both her flow as an MC and her songwriting show just how talented Tijoux is– plus she wrote a song based on Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which is super dope.
Essential tracks: “1977”, “Somos Sur”, “Vengo”
Speaking of rap and activism, if sarcastic, in-your-face, leftist social commentary gets you going check out Los Chikos del Maiz. This is a Spanish group with the most excellent catalog of songs about Marxism you’ll probably ever have the pleasure of hearing. Los Chikos del Maiz write songs that are purposefully incendiary, but always laced with humour- and they’re especially poignant in the context of Spain’s political climate. Definitely a must-listen for brushing up on your political vocab when the revolution comes.
Essential tracks: “Pasión de Talibanes”, “Intro”, “Paraísos Artificiales”
Now to the extreme opposite end of Spain’s music spectrum. If you love dad music as much as I do you’re sure to enjoy Los Secretos. Their extensive discography and predictable yet enjoyable “adult contemporary” kinda sound make Los Secretos an excellent choice for some good ~easy listening~.
Essential tracks: “Buena Vida Mejor Vino”, “Pero a Tu Lado”, “En Este Mundo Raro”
Buena Vista Social Club is an essential component of the Spanish-language music starter pack. Unlike every other name on this list, Buena Vista is a record, not a band. The album features a collective of legendary Cuban musicians, many of whom saw their careers nosedive after the Revolution. Though it’s problematic to say that the album’s American producer “rediscovered” this sound, it is safe to say that Buena Vista is a work of art that’s more than worthy of its place in history. Plus, it’s a total gateway drug for getting into Cuban music, which is fantastic.
Essential tracks: “Chan Chan”, “Buena Vista Social Club”, “Candela”
Los Hijos de La Montaña, a Mexican-American duo, released their self-titled debut last year. It’s a fantastic interpretation of Latin American musical traditions, with a little contemporary indie-folk mixed in. The vocals and instrumentals are consistently beautiful throughout the album, though moods and tempos change quickly (making the album all the more engaging). I’m really jazzed to see where they go next– but playing their first album on repeat will probably hold me over for a while.
Essential tracks: “Amor de Lejos”, “Lengua de León”, “La Bala”
Sticking to the whole ~indie~ thing, you’ve got to check out Chicano Batman. Our local public radio station chose their track “Black Lipstick” as a recent Song of the Day, solidifying both their ~indie~ creds and their status as a Next Big Thing kinda artist. Though much of their work is in English, they get a spot on this playlist because I’m obsessed to the point where I’m considering driving to San Antonio solo to see them in a couple weeks.
Essential tracks: “Itotiani”, “La Samoana”, “La Manzanita”
Mujeres also makes some excellent stuff for those of us lame white people who will never stray too far from textbook indie music. Like coolest teens ever Mourn, Mujeres hails from Barcelona and does a significant amount of songwriting in English. However, their surf-y, garage-y sound is more akin to Hinds and I’m definitely cool with that.
Essential tracks: “Aquellos Ojos”, “Salvaje”, “Vivir Sin Ti”
El Último Vecino is another Barcelona band (shit, maybe I should ditch Austin for Barca?) that specializes in throwback-tinged synth-pop that harks back to a bygone era of New Wave glory. Listening to this band makes me feel more compelled to start a Spanish-only version of Heroes Night (RIP) than anyone ever should.
Essential tracks: “Tu Casa Nueva”, “La Entera Mitad”, “La Noche Interminable”
PS, honorable mentions to Juan Wauters and Devendra Banhart for having a substantial number of excellent Spanish-language songs in their catalogs. I’m also throwing in some miscellaneous Cuban classics, a little cumbia, the wonderful garage punk group Los Nastys, our lord and savior Juanes, and a couple of Violeta Parra songs for good measure. ¡Salud!