Lifestyle Music Travel

Travelling Through Sound

Every summer for the past five years, I’ve gone on holiday with my best friend. We eat great food, drink chilled wine, and swim in warm, salty oceans. 2020 has taken this tradition away from us, and while many of us Oxford students have been quite fortunate in terms of the impact of Covid-19, I think we’ve all longed for travel- even if it’s just to outside of our hometowns or college accommodations.

I quickly found that international music had the ability to negate the, often quite suffocating, feel of lockdown. Eating chorizo from Morrisons in the garden whilst listening to Ghanaian funk isn’t quite a holiday, but it’s close enough. Now, I really regret that my aural awakening didn’t come sooner, and so I want to share it with you.

On this playlist are 11 songs, from 7 different countries, ranging from disco/funk to (dialed-back) house/electro-pop, and some chilled, sensual vocal tracks. This range hopefully provides a little something for everyone to enjoy and serves as a useful general introduction to different genres of international music. Find something you like and explore from there!

Here are my thoughts on a few of the songs from the playlist:

Aaj Shanibar— Rupa, Disco Jazz (1982)

I was pretty shocked when hearing this song for the first time- never before had I heard of great 80s disco tracks from India. Funnily enough, the artist, Rupa Sen Biswas, was pretty shocked, too. When she released the album Disco Jazz in 1982 after recording it in a fairly rushed setup while on holiday in Canada it flopped, and Rupa retired from the music business. Then, after a couple of decades, her son saw that one of the songs, Aaj Shanibar, had gained over a million views on Youtube, with DJs incorporating it into their sets during the 2010s. The brilliance of this song is in its merging of what we’d expect from Western disco with the trends of the Bollywood pop of that era. It has an elongated guitar solo and synth-y melodies throughout, but Rupa’s strong, lilting vocals mixed with plucky lute sounds make it far more upbeat and unpredictable than some of the fairly heartless disco churned out by the UK and US powerhouses.

Afe Ato Yen Bio— De Frank Professionals (1978, Ghana), in Afro-Beat Airways: Ghana & Togo 1974-1978, 2010.

A catchy lyrical tune running over a tropical funk beat. Apparently, the title translates to “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”, an ode and prayer for a positive future.

Shênzhèn 5— Bon Voyage Organisation, Xingyè EP (2015, France)

This album draws influence from Eastern sounds and beats, with Durand describing much of his much as inspired by travelling and exploration.

Polaroïd/Roman/Photo— Ruth, Polaroïd/Roman/Photo (1985/2010, France)

In another Rupi-esque case, this didn’t get much love when first released, only selling a handful of albums. 25 years later, it was picked up and re-released. French synth-pop is great and there is loads of it, even though we usually don’t consider the French language as synonymous with this quite cold, robotic genre of music. The two conflicting vocal styles in this make it a stand out of the album.

Mistério Sterio- Curumin, JapanPopShow (2008, Brazil)

This artist is Japanese/Brazilian, and draws inspiration from Jorge Ben Jor among others, which is really evident in this very beautiful 70s-style song.

On Retinae- East Version— Dip In The Pool, On Retinae (1989/2016, Japan)

This can also be found as ‘On Retinae- West Version’, which is exactly the same song but with English vocals. This is incredibly cool, and allows English speakers to understand the lyrics in one version while appreciating the sounds of the artist’s native language in the other. Dip In The Pool is a vocalist and keyboardist duo, who co-create their material before taking it to the studio. My first thought upon hearing this was of a more controlled (and happy!) version of Björk’s Vespertine, and others have likened the duo to Kate Bush. In any case, this song seems quite ahead of its time, with the 2016 re-release date almost more believable than its original 1989 creation.