Will The Success Of BTS Herald A Change In Our Listening Habits?

Brazilian star Caetano Veloso

In today’s global age, it might be surprising to learn that there are many multi-million-selling, award-winning music artists who remain little-known to the English-speaking world. ‘Foreign-language’ acts are notoriously difficult to break into new territories, perhaps in part down to presumptions made as to the record-buying public’s taste. South Korean boy-band phenomenon BTS may signal a changing of the tide. What is certain is that, for those willing (and there are surely many) to open their ears to their non-native tongue, a wealth of wonderful music awaits.

So who are the most famous acts we might not have heard of? The Latin American countries are a great place to start. In Mexico, we have Ariadna Thalía Sodi Miranda Mottola, better known simply as Thalía — often referred to as “The Queen Of Latin Pop.” Thalía’s career follows the trajectory of Diana Ross and Beyonce in that, before going solo, she was part of a successful pop group, in this case Timbiriche. Thalía’s record-sales stand at somewhere around 25 million. We can’t leave that country without mentioning Vicente “Chente” Fernández Gómez, a veteran of over 50 albums and 30 films. “The King Of Ranchero Music” (a traditional art form) has eight Latin Grammy Awards to his name.

Travel South to Brazil and we find Caetano Veloso, who rose to fame with the Tropicália movement of the 1960s, and has been creating evocative, adventurous music ever since. His list of awards merit their own Wikipedia page, and his influence on Brazilian music is incalculable. Given the adventurous, yet accessible nature of Veloso’s music, his 2012 collaboration with David Byrne seems wholly unsurprising. From that same locale, Marisa Monte has garnered four Latin Grammy Awards over a thirty year career. I had the pleasure of reviewing her latest album, Portas — a sunny, breezy delight, which features four other notable Brazilian artists: Seu Jorge, Arnaldo Antunes, Nando Reis and Marcelo Camelo. Before we leave Latin America, a ridiculously brief mention must be made of Columbian singer-songwriter Juanes who, with nine albums over the last twenty years, has racked up an incredible amount of awards and 15 million sales.

Europe, of course, has a lot to say. In Germany, heavy rock band Rammstein are one of the few to have achieved ‘crossover’ success, becoming equally well known in the English-speaking world. Arguably more famous in their own country, however, are German heavy rock group, Rage. Over in Iceland, we have post-rock stars Sigur Rós. Gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, although formed in America, sing in several different European languages. In France, rock band Noir Désir, although not currently recording, are a firm fixture in the musical landscape, and have been since the 1980s. A more contemporary star is Élie Yaffa, who performs as Booba. France’s version of Kanye West also heads his own record label and designs jewellery.

All this before we’ve even touched on the treasures to be discovered on the African and Asian continents. While the English-speaking world still inarguably exports more music than it imports, there is some evidence to suggest that the balance may be changing. The prospect of a multi-lingual, multi-cultural sonic world must surely be a delight to music fans, and a step in the right direction for us all.

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