Xenophilia: Music Americans Don’t Understand

Despite what the title of this post might imply,  listening to music in other languages is a wonderful experience because you are free to focus on the instruments and the way the singer navigates around their language without the distraction of a message or “meaning.” Here’s a selection of some of my favorite songs from around the world. Let me know what you think. If you dig it, say so, and I’ll do another one soon.

If you don’t want to play each video individually, but would rather just hit play and trust that I have super awesome taste in music, here’s a playlist for you.

Beijing, China 

Hanggai is an extremely unique band hailing from Beijing. I started listening to them when I saw them live at Bonnaroo ’11 when Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz curated a lineup of world music he called “Gypsy Punk.” Hanggai mixes traditional Chinese music, Mongolian throat singing, and punk rock for an eerie and unforgettable sound. This video gets really good at 1:17, so definitely listen until then (or skip forward, I won’t tell anyone).


Stromae is a rapper and house musician from Brussels (of Rwandan descent) . Stromae is “Maestro” with the syllables switched. If you like to dance or listen to dance music, this guy will rock  your world (I mean, we all know Europe make much better house/dance music, right?)


“Maavan Te Tiyan”  by  Rajeshwari Sachdev


Sigur Ros aims to bring you the haunting beauty of Iceland’s landscape with their music. Not only is frontman Jónsi’s Birgisson known for hi signature style of playing guitar with the bow from a cello, he sings in an unintelligible formation of words called Vonlenska (translated as Hopelandic). I also enjoy this song.


Tomer Yosef started out as a comedian. He appeared on TV, radio, and a couple of Israeli feature films before launching his music career. He has done lots of work with Balkan Beat Box has toured extensively with them. This song is incredibly catchy even though it’s hard to sing along.

Spanish Roma (Gypsies)

Gypsy Kings consists of two bands of brothers descended from Spanish Gypsies that fled to France to escape the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. They introduced the world to ‘rumba Gitano’ – the sound of South America’s rumba rhythm married to flamenco guitars. It’s said that you can never really play flamenco unless you are a gypsy, it has to be in your blood. I’ve posted the 1988 music video because it’s pretty darn 80’s awesome, but here’s a version with much better sound quality.

and one more from….

The Whole World via D.C.

Thievery Corporation doesn’t represent any specific country or musical style, but instead reflects the diverse cultural interests and astute social observations of Eric Hilton and Rob Garza, who actually met at D.C.’s Eighteenth Street Lounge.


8 thoughts on “Xenophilia: Music Americans Don’t Understand

  1. This article was great, with one exception: the title. You’re lumping every American into a category, and that’s really unfair. I’m an American and I listen to music from Germany, France, Canada, Japan, China, Thailand, etc. But, other than that, solid song recommendations. Stromae is amazing!

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  5. Nice selection, Hannah/Ezra – I really dug Hanngai, especially. May I suggest a shout out to the Yoshida Brothers? They’re a Japanese pair who play traditional shamisen while collaborating with modern musicians, think you’d really like ’em. http://youtu.be/N-2KBSA8wEs

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