Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Universal Language of Music

By Rebecca Koch,

In Lusaka, Zambia

Hip-hop and R&B music is littered all over my iTunes, but I never thought that my music preferences and knowledge would help me get to know people in Lusaka, Zambia. From watching popular music videos in our hotel, discussing popular music with the Y&R advertising managing director to running around town, music played a large role in making my adjustment to a foreign country much easier. I’ve broken up the various instances that music has helped me throughout the week in Zambia into the following sections:

The people here really enjoy American music:
This was discussed over lunch with Peter Armstrong, managing director at Y&R advertising. A lot of people in his office listen to popular music throughout the workday. The office environment was laid back while anything from Big Sean to Coldplay is heard through the hallways. Employees take turns choosing different songs and occasionally have brief conversations about the song and what they liked or disliked about it. They dictate the mood of the office by constantly interacting with each other to work and to socialize together.

It’s like a tradeoff:

While establishing our musical preferences with a worker at my internship, we would interject asking each other if we had heard a certain song or artist, while later noting that if we haven’t heard it we should listen soon. “If I give you some of my American music, you should give me some local music,” I finally proposed. Although many people enjoy the popular American music, culture shines through with local and regional tunes. While I am currently experiencing Zambia firsthand, I want to evoke this feeling far after I’m gone. Storing some music on my computer ensures that I will not forget about the learning experience and supplements any pictures or souvenirs that I forget.

We all speak music:

This last section includes more than one experience. The first involves a jog around town. Every morning, I run around the city near our hotel. The city is scattered with individuals walking to school or work and the road is flooded with cars waiting patiently in traffic to reach their destination. As I jog by the cars, the majority of the windows are cracked slightly with the radio blaring. Listening to the tunes playing in the cars nearly convinced me that I was in the States. About eight cars that I passed were playing the same song that is played on American radios, Rihanna “We found Love”. Rihanna was also played in a local village we visited. No one we talked to spoke English, but they danced and hummed to the American music.

The next experience took place at the Soweto market. While the market is a great experience, it is extremely intimidating especially when no one around is speaking my language or talking to me in a different language. The crowded area was filled with unfamiliar people and languages but I was greeted with excitement and comfort when Jay-Z and Kanye West songs were played in numerous portions of the mall. Knowing the music and knowing that the people enjoyed similar music helped ease my nerves and created common ground for the workers and myself.

This common ground demonstrates the power that music has with people. While there are languages that people don’t speak, cultural practices unique to certain areas and countries that some will never visit, music helps connect people in a way that books and transportation cannot. It is an understanding that spans continents and connects people who are seemingly unrelated. And although music does not need a language to be understood, it is a way we can understand each other.

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