Ever heard Tori Amos covered in Cantonese? You're welcome.
Though English is seemingly the most global language—spoken from London, England to London Island, Chile—it would appear that while there are those not blessed with the ability to decipher the tongue of Shakespeare, they still sometimes like to make their own versions of our songs without really messing around with the music (which is obviously the best way to do it, because fuck “interpretations” just get out the Google Translate and get on with it). This was best summed up to me by a Swedish friend who told me about his childhood days singing songs 'round the campfire in the frozen North. I was expecting some haunting folk tunes about Vikings or getting trapped in your Saab for two months, but instead, she just sang me the Cats song “Memory” in Swedish. Fired by this piece of cross-cultural brilliance, I went in search of more foreign language covers. Here’s what I found.
G-Dragon covering “This Love” (Maroon 5)
This sexy little twink is a member of Big Bang, a Korean boy band that rocked Wembley in December. A badass Bieber, he’s all about rapping, necklace-n-vest combos and woolly hats. He’s so successful that even Yahoo Answers, that pillar of Internet wisdom, has a page wondering if it was him or Maroon 5 who originally penned “This Love” (answer: it was neither).
Johnny Cash - “Wer kennt den weg” (“I Walk The Line”)
Artists covering themselves in different languages is always good, because it feels like the days when singers were essentially record company slaves who had to do whatever they were asked in order to shift units in new “territories” full of people eager to fully understand the poetry they were listening to. The man in black seems well suited FOR the dark gravitas of German in the same way that “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” singer Jimmy Ruffin seems totally suited to Italian in this version of his enduring hit.
The Analogs - “Guns of Brixton” (The Clash)
Polish punk stalwarts The Analogs are so keen on their influences, they made a whole album of covers (2005’s Talent Zero), with lyrics translated into Polish. This is one of a few Clash covers they’ve done, and their version of peerless Buzzcocks’ (anti) love song “Ever Fallen in Love” inspired this moving, wordless tribute from a Polish kid and his guitar. Of course, it’s hard to talk about second-language (cartoon) punk covers when you can just listen to NOFX doing “Champs Elysees”.
Alkistis Protopsalti - ”How You Remind Me” (Nickelback)
I’m told that Greece’s lesbian community isn’t really evolved enough to have icons, but if ever there was a Greek lesbian icon, it’s Alkistis Protopsalti. She’s the Mediterranean’s answer to Ellen, Jodie Foster, or the woman who plays Susan Kennedy in Neighbours. This version of Nickelback’s classic song of identity and amnesia is given a run for its money by her version of Tanya Stephens’ ”It’s a Pity,” the video for which features our hero sticking her middle finger up to the rat race by waterskiing along a bunch of main roads. There’s a rich collection of Greek-language covers, and given that this is a nation bizarrely obsessed with b-list Manchester indie heartbreakers James (go to any James videos on YouTube and most/all the comments will be in Greek), it’s no surprise that Filippos Pliatsikas’ version of “Say Something" is popular and, you know, really deep. Pliatsikas was the main man in 90s Greek rock megaband Pyx Lax, whose big hit “Epapses Agaph Na Thimizeis” employs every trick in the 90s rock book: loads of flange, long hair, and a video featuring two women, some mystery, flickering images, and the sense that serious long-haired guys are the only guys capable of truly serious long-haired emotions.
Artem Loik - “The Real Slim Shady” (Eminem)
Looking at this sweet Ukrainian X Factor contestant do his very best with Eminem, I can’t help but imagine him years down the line, smoking crack in a basement with his entourage, stricken by marital strife, child custody issues, and rampant Nixon-levels of paranoia.
The Piano Guys - Peponi (Swahili) – Coldplay “Paradise”
According to the spiel under this video, it’s possible to get “writer’s block” when you’re covering a song (Note to Piano Guys: you did not write the Coldplay song “Paradise”). For American easy-listening/Classical YouTube sensations The Piano Guys, the answer to this block was to take a “random” new approach: an “African approach!” Africans, they’re so random! Cue sweeping shots of piano, cello, and a singer on a mountain and the wide plains of, er, Utah, and a version of the song sung in Swahili featuring the singer’s own “African scat” (which the Piano Guys refer to as “Scafrican”). All they need to do now is team up with the X Factor auditionee who covered Rihanna in Kenya.
Tukuleur - “Africa” (Toto)
You want some real Africans (two guys from Senegal)? Here they are, covering Toto’s neo-colonial classic “Africa” with a whole lot of French rapping and the line “Africa, you are my mother and my father.”
Albert Pla - “Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed)
I remember a friend telling me about seeing Lou Reed amble through a totally forgettable set in Central Park. At the end, everyone was leaving wearily, when Lou reappeared, grandly told the throng that he “came here to play,” and launched into another 45 minutes of the back catalog. I can’t help but feel that Lou would disapprove of cheeky Catalan jester Albert Pla. I imagine Pla making faces at him over dinner while a smoking, sunglasses-wearing Lou tells him that he “came here to eat.”
Faye Wong - “Silent all These Years” (Tori Amos)
A friend of mine got into studying Mandarin simply because he was in love with Faye Wong. Some time later, he realized she was singing in Cantonese at the time. She starred in Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express, which had her Cranberries cover on the soundtrack, and this cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” has to be seen to be believed
Toure Kunda - “In the Air Tonight” (Phil Collins)
A song about a dude drowning/Phil Collins’ angry divorce sung by legendary Senegalese singer Touré Kunda in the Soninké language. Seems like a mainstream way to end this.
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