That's Easy For You To Say

October 16, 2008 11:40 AM

My submission to the "a song sung in a language you don't speak" challenge.

First I gotta say that this and the "cover another mefite" have been my favorite themes, but I was too busy last month to participate. Singing in languages we don't speak is one of the main features of my band, we have a bunch of songs that we do and it was really hard for me to pick one.

In the end I really wanted to post "white man country" by Mutabaruka, but I ended up choosing this one.

Now, while it is a great song, this just wouldn't be the same without the sitar, and I don't have one handy, so what I did is I looked for some unofficial recordings of rehearsals, found three versions, cut the instrumental bits and put them together, then I sang on top of it. So, the instruments are played by the original guys who wrote it, and the words are based on the cover done by another band in the late 90s.

Side anecdote: years ago, around the time when I first learned this song I went to Toronto, and when I got off the plane and took a cab on the airport, the driver happened to be Pakistani. I asked him if he by any chance spoke Punjabi. He said:

- As a matter of fact I do, sir.
- Oh, I know a song in Punjabi!
- Is that right, sir?

And I started singing it. As I sang, the smile disappeared from his face and only then I grew aware of the fact that I had no clue what I was singing, and it could be really bad. I shut my mouth and hoped it was only my bad accent that made him stop smiling. So, here it is, apologies to anyone who might take offense.

posted by micayetoca (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Awesome choice. I always thought cornershop was brilliant for bursting the bubble of the original's exoticism just by translating it.

I think the fact that the three rehearsal tapes are tuned slightly differently gives the whole thing this woozy, off-kilter feeling to it that goes well with the project.
posted by umbĂș at 11:54 AM on October 16, 2008

Ah, that's mind-blowing. And also reminds me how I love the sound of a sitar.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:49 PM on October 16, 2008

That is so cool. I love the story that goes along with it, too. When I played my Spanish cover to my friend at work, it was met with uncontrollable giggling. I'm glad I didn't wind up offending her.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 6:37 PM on October 16, 2008

Beautiful. Seriously, beautiful.

My side anecdote: I asked a cab driver in Bristol what he was listening to while he was taking us to the train (because it was the greatest mix of Indian music and hip hop I have ever heard in my life--and have never heard again) and he said, "Punjabi MC," and showed me the CD and I looked and looked for it in the UK and then when I got back to the US (and this was in 98, so not everything was so easily available on the internet).

I couldn't find anything by them for years, and then about a decade later they did some song with Jay Z or something and that's all I could find (or, you know, Jay Z sampled their song probably). Killed me. KILLED Me.

But not this song.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:08 PM on October 16, 2008

Oh, yes, the versions are out of tune with each other, this is true. There are also noticeable variations of speed and I tried to make everything match, but it required a lot more than I had at the moment. It is far from impeccable, but whatever it lacks in quality can be offset with the joy of being the debut for the "Punjabi" tag, I hope.

And since we got off with the anecdotes: years ago I was at this party in Mexico city and there was this girl that I thought looked distinctly Mexican, but she was talking to everyone in perfect North American English. A friend of mine grabbed a guitar and started singing a couple of songs, then he passed the guitar to me. I had no idea what to play, so I started playing this song (in Punjabi), hoping that no matter how bad I was, at least it would be "interesting". As soon as I started singing, the girl stopped talking, started fanning herself and hyperventilating. I kept going, but she kept fanning-hyperventilating-pointing at me. It looked like a bad case of Beatlemania.

It turned out her father was Pakistani, and she had been born in Canada. When she managed to articulate words again, the first thing she said was:

- How come you speak Punjabi?

Which was a glorious moment of victory for me, since all of my friends refused to believe that the song was in any actual language.

Making girls hyperventilate when I sang, proving my friends I didn't make up the language of the song, I definitely have had worse nights than that.
posted by micayetoca at 5:55 AM on October 17, 2008

Hey, mica, the variations in speed and pitch are, IMO, some of the best features, and here you are apologizing for 'em!

And with your story there of hyperventilating womenfolk, I'm thinking maybe it's time to start learning a Punjabi song or two...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:02 AM on October 17, 2008

Dude, YES. What a strange, awesome vibe you've created. I've never really heard anything quite like this.

Norwegian Wood is one of my favorite tunes to play on the guitar. Great take.
posted by ORthey at 11:46 AM on October 17, 2008

"Oh, I know a song in Punjabi!"

That is too cool, man! It's no wonder you have the girls hyperventilating! This is great!
posted by snsranch at 5:15 PM on October 21, 2008

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