Every country has their amazing (more or less) music scene, influenced both by traditional melodies and international trends. Also, there is a lot of music bands that do not perform in English (the language we all understand), but still sound fabulous, however little you understand from the lyrics. Let me share with you some great tunes.
Nordic folk band Wardruna is set to compose the score for the next season of ‘Vikings’ and it is all you expect to her from the snowed-in plains and mountains of Norway, with its dark skies and majestic northern lights.
Up Dharma Down (Philippines)
These guys were one of the first bands I learned about in the Philippines. Their genre cannot be described more precisely than experimental indie shoegazing electronic pop rock with sweet tender vocals and lyrics both in English and Tagalog.
Taiwanese band Mayday (五月天) are probably distant Chinese cousins of Arctic Monkeys – the level of fandom among the young and middle-aged population of Taiwan and Mainland China is truly impressive. I mean, they are pretty adorable and the embodiment of Asian awesomeness.
Enanitos Verdes (Argentina)
Argentinean band ‘Little Green People’ recorded their first album in 1984, their latest – in 2013. What’s amazing is not even the fact that these guys keep touring and being brilliant, but how their catchy songs manage to incorporate both the sounds of the 80s and new tunes and trends of our days.
Büyük Ev Ablukada (Turkey)
Turkish psychedelic rock band Büyük Ev Ablukada was my introduction to the Istanbul music scene, with their lovely songs about dinosaurs and deliberately hectic rhythmic patterns. Also, it was my first music concert in a very very long time, somewhere in the smelly graffiti-sprayed alleys of Karaköy.
Souad Massi (Algeria)
Born to a poor Algerian family, Souad Massi made her way from music school and passion for guitar up to the international stage, thanks to her enchanting voice and tender melodies, sang in Arabic, French, and Berber. After her involvement with a political music band in Algeria and subsequent death threats, Souad moved to live in France.
Tinariwen (‘Deserts’) is perhaps the most internationally famous Touareg band from Mali. Formed among the merciless and marvelous sands of Sahara desert, through executions, poverty, rebellions and revolutions, Tinariwen made their way to the stages of Roskilde festival and to collaboration with many Western music bands. Among the sounds of blues and West African rhythms, you can hear desert wind stirring the strings under the scorching African sun.
Formed back in the 80s, Kíla contributed a great deal to Irish folk music by blending it with rock beats and original lyrics. And they sing in Irish language, what else do you need?
Kaizers Orchestra (Norway)
It is rare these days to come across a non-metal non-English Scandinavian band that would be somewhat popular abroad. Although Kaizers Orchestra are on a temporary hiatus, their videos from back in the day stay weird and original.
Okean Elzi (Ukraine)
Post-Soviet rock music is something I grew up with. Unfortunately, most of it focuses on lyrics rather than instrumental parts, which leaves it virtually unknown to the non-Russian-speaking audience. Okean Elzi, from Ukraine, besides singing in Ukrainian, have something about their character that actually can be perceived in a non-verbal way when you listen to their songs.
Bugotak (Siberia, Russia)
To remind you that Russia is so much more than occasional submarines, Dostoyevskiy and vodka, let me introduce you to the depths of Siberia, with shamans, throat singing and shrooms. All you wanted to know about minority cultures of Russia but were afraid to ask.
The Ways (Iran)
The Ways is an iconic band from Iran – they play soft rock and pop rock with oriental touch.
Ára (Sápmi, Sweden)
I could find too much information on the Swedish-Sámi band Ára. Their music combines traditional Sámi jojk singing with modern instruments, and presents a great introduction into Sámi culture, or what’s left of it in Northern Europe.
Luar na lubre (Galicia)
Luar na Lubre is a brilliant band from Galicia, performing traditional songs in Galician and Spanish, with amazing Galician gaitas and enchanting vocals. I listened to them a lot back in the day when Celtic music was basically my air.
Antònia Font (Mallorca)
This band from Mallorca was my first introduction to music in Catalan (or, well, Mallorquí), and partly the reason for my deep and profound love for the language. I must admit that some languages are only good for heart piercing and tearjerking ballads, while others are perfect for songs about aliens, igloos and psychedelic submarines.
Soap Kills (Lebanon)
When you hear about ‘Lebanese electro trip-hop band’, you kind of want to press ‘Play’, right?
Shahin Najafi (Iran-Germany)
Shahin Najafi, introduced to me by my current housemate, is a German-based Iranian singer, known for his provocative lyrics, eccentric dressing style and majestic beard. All his songs are accompanied with English subtitles for the non-Persian-speaking part of the planet, but I personally just enjoy watching him move it move it.
Amadou and Mariam (Mali)
Amadou and Mariam is a fabulous duo from Mali that met in the Institute for the Young Blind and started producing their first recordings in the 80s. Brilliant mix of trumpets, guitars, ney, tables and vocals gained the duo worldwide popularity, and they subsequently played with Stevie Wonder and Manu Chao, among other musicians. With so many great bands originating from Mali, Senegal and around West Africa, I have more and more reasons to go there and plough the sands of Sahara all the way south.
Baaba Maal (Senegal)
Coming from a poor fisherman family, Baaba Maal gave up on his fishing career quite early in life for the sake of guitar and singing, and then got a chance to study music in Paris. His collaboration with Simon Emmerson led to the formation of Afro-Celt Sound System (African and Celtic fusion – how about that?)
Youssou N’Dour (Senegal)
Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, from percussionist and singer, now became the Minister of Tourism and Culture in Senegal. Judge for yourself, but this guy is quite popular in and outside Senegal.
Etnia Supersantos (Italy)
When I first moved to Bologna in 2011, I found the city quite bland, a bit pretentious and moderately communist – same can be said of most of university cities in the world. Luckily, Bologna has this band, and this band has this most addictive song. And a load of other catchy songs. Next time you’re in the north of Italy, check if they’re performing anywhere near.
Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopia)
Ethiopian jazz at its finest – listen to the music veteran Mulatu Astatke and feast your ears at some instrumental brain massage.
It is cute Japanese soundtrack to existential animated series ‘Cowboy Bebop’, so I’m just gonna leave it here.
The Florence-based folk rock band is permanently on tour, so don’t forget to catch them next time you are in Italy.
Modena City Ramblers (Italy)
Back in my happy Dublin days, I hung out with a lot of Italians. Modena City Ramblers from, well, Modena city, is an Italian-Celtic fusion with elements of country music and beautiful Italian language. They write a lot of politically relevant songs and have been performing since 1991.
Turkish young people and expats alike squee in astonishment when they get to see Duman live. Because they rock, that’s why.
BaBa ZuLa (Turkey)
Another Turkish alternative music band, famous for their use of traditional instruments in their electronic version, and perfect mix of Anatolian rock with electronica and reggae. Also, they started dressing that classy before it was even in fashion.
Julie Fowlis (Scotland)
The loveliest female voice of modern Scotland, Julie Fowlis’s vocals are behind that great theme song from ‘Brave’. Besides this, she practices traditional singing in Scottish Gaelic and regularly collaborates with other musicians from across the Irish sea.
Gaye Su Akyol (Turkey)
Turkish performing artist Gaye Su Akyol and her song «I am living with camels» will stick to you for a while after watching the video above: the haunting mix of oriental rhythms and psychedelic beats combined with some beautiful vocals in Turkish language.
Ляпис Трубецкой (Belarus)
If you are feeling some Soviet nostalgia, check out Lyapis Trubetskoy, a Belorussian band every person of my generation knows from the radio and music TV. And yeh, their videos look unembellished and retro.
It is hard to imagine reggae music sprouting in the cold ground of post-Soviet Ukraine, and yet look at these guys who were the most successful musical act that transplanted the beats of sunny Caribbean on Russian-language stage.
Undervud are one of the original Russian-Ukrainian hipsters, and the song I’m embedding here is dedicated to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space that boggled the minds of ladies all over the world back in the day.
Fermin Muguruza (Basque Country)
Musical hybrids of traditional Basque music, reggae and ska – tune in to listen to the Basque language of Fermin Muguruza.
Ayyuka is another exemplary band from Istanbul’s rock scene, that dips you in the psychedelic melancholy of Istanbul nights.
Zdob Si Zdub (Moldova)
Moldovan band Zdob Si Zdub performs in Romanian and Russian and was a great part of my teenagehood. I am tempted to call it gypsy folk rock ska.
This Ukrainian band pretty much accompanied me through high school. This particular song title can be loosely translated as ‘Makeover’, but they also have a few albums of (perhaps overly) sweet vocals and videos in nostalgic instagram colours – before instagram even became a thing.
Fanfare Ciocarlia (Romania)
Gypsy brass band from a small Romanian village that have been rocking all of Europe and beyond for the past two decades.
Folk punk reggae hipster ska from the Netherlands.
東京事変/Tokyo Incidents (Japan)
Japanese pop rock band formed by Yumiko Shiina. That jazzy piano and bizarre costumes. Gotta love Asians.
One awesome rock-folk-pop band from Barcelona, prefect personification of this permanently baked and weird city.
La Pegatina (Catalonia)
Urban rumba and ska band from Catalonia with some incredibly catchy dance beats.
Czerwone gitary (Poland)
This band is pretty much Poland’s answer to The Beatles. They started performing in the 60s, disappeared in the 80s, and made a glorious comeback in the 90s. This is a solid A.
Enchanting Icelandic band performing classical instrumental pieces and songs in Icelandic against he backdrop of – well, Iceland. You know you wanna go there right now.
That is a long-ass list! If you know of any other non-English language bands that sound awesome and/or hilarious even for those who cannot appreciate the depth of the lyrics, hit me up, and I might find time for another blog about it!