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15 Great Foreign-Language Songs By Americans

April 21, 2012  |  10:20am
15 Great Foreign-Language Songs By Americans

Americans aren’t exactly known for our foreign language skillz. So today we celebrate those citizens who’ve branched out beyond their native tongue. Here are 15 songs in French, Spanish, Chinese and even Achumawi—a language that existed in these parts long before English.

15. The White Stripes – The White Stripes “Lafayette Blues
Born: Jack White – Detroit, Mich.
Language: French
Lyric: Mar-en-tête, Levrette/Lannette, Lafayette, Livernois/Labrosse, Louis, Mettetal/Rochelle, Marseilles/Riopelle, Manistique, ArmourMercier, Lemay Tournier, Saliotte et Leroy Montlieu, Cadieux/Nouveaux, Venue en Detroit
Translation: March-header, Doggie Style/Lannette, Lafayette, Livernois/Labrosse, Louis, Mettetal/Rochelle, Marseilles/Riopelle, Manistique, ArmourMercier, Lemay Tournier, and Leroy Saliotte Montlieu, Cadieux/New Venue in Detroit

14. Beck – Guero “Qué Onda Guero”
Born: Beck Campbell – Los Angeles, Calif.
Language: Spanish
Lyric: Ay güey!, que onda?/Qué onda guero?/Qué onda guero?/Qué onda guero?/Qué onda guero?
Translation: Oh dude!, That wave?/What’s up guero?/What’s up guero?/What’s up guero?/What’s up guero?

13. Abigail Washburn – Song of the Traveling Daughter “Song of the Traveling Daugther”
Born: Abigail Washburn – Evanston, Ill.
Language: Chinese
Lyric: Men wai you ge shijie/Xinzhong you ge shengyin/Sifang jiu deng ni lai/Younu/Lianshang gandao taiyang/Jiaobu suizhao xingguang/Tiandi zai ni zouyou/Zoule yi shan you yi shan/Zhe shan guole ne shan lai/Xinzhong you ge shengyin
Translation: World sits outside the door/A voice in your heart is calling/The ends of the world await/Traveling daughter/Feel the sunshine on your face/Starlight guides your feet/Earth and Sky will carry you/Journey after journey/One mountain to the next/Voice in your heart is calling

12. Y La Bamba – Lupon “Isla de hierva buena”
Born: Luz Elena Mendoza Portland, Ore.
Language: Spanish
Lyric:Silencio silencio silencio por favor/Mis maneras me han hecho sufrir/Cantame esta canción/Y ay dejame el sol/El si quiere vivir/Ay dios datadata/Ay dios datadata
Language: Silence silence silence please/My ways I have suffered/Sing me this song and oh let me in the sun/The if you want to live/Oh god datadata/Oh god datadata

11. Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams “Belle”
Born: Jack Johnson – North Shore, Oahu
Language: French
Lyric: Oi Lienda/Bella que fa?/Bonita, bonita que tal?/But belle/Je ne comprends pas français/So you’ll have to speak to me some other way
Translation: Hey sweetheart/Beauty, what are you doing?/Beauty/Beauty, how are you?But, Beauty I don’t understand French/So You’ll have to speak to me some other way

10. Calexico/Iron &Wine – In The Reins “He Lays In The Reins”
Born: Samuel Beam – Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Language: Spanish
Lyric: “Salvador Duran starts making up some vocals and singing along, and Sam was just completely blown away,” recounts Calexico’s Joey Burns. “Salvador loosely translated them as being on this long road in somewhat of a struggle and a heartache. And Sam just thought it was perfect. It worked so well with the lyrics he had written,” Burns told Paste back in 2007.
Translation: One more tired thing the gray moon on the rise/When your want from the day/Makes you to curse in your sleep at nightOne more gift to bring we may well find you laid/Like your steed in his reins/Tangled too tight and too long to fight

9. Nina Simone – I Put a Spell on You “Ne Me Quitte Pas”
Born: Eunice Kathleen Waymon – Tryon, N.C.
Language: French
Lyric:Ne me quitte pas/Il faut oublier/Tout peut s’oublier/Qui s’enfuit/Oublier le temps/Des malentendus/Et le temps perdu/A savoir comment/Oublier ces heures/Qui tuaient parfois/A coups de pourquoi/Le coeur du bonheur
Translation: Don’t leave me/You have to forget/Everything can be forgotten/That is flying away already/Forget the time/The misunderstandings/And the time that was lost/Trying to understand how these hours can be forgotten/Those that are killing sometimes/With whys that hurt like punches/The heart of happiness

8. Madeleine Peyroux – Careless Love “Parole J’ai Deux Amours”
Born: Athens, Ga.
Language: French
Lyric: On dit qu’au delà des mers/Là-bas sous le ciel clair/Il existe une cité/Au séjour enchanté/Et sous les grands arbres noirs/Chaque soirVers elle s’en va tout mon espoir/J’ai deux amours/Mon pays et Paris/Par eux toujours/Mon cœur est ravi/Manhattan est belle/Mais à quoi bon le nier/Ce qui m’ensorcelle/C’est Paris, c’est Paris tout entier
Translation: It is said that overseas/There under the clear sky/There is a city/Delighted to stay/And under the tall black trees nightly/She goes to all my hope/I have two loves/My country and Paris/By them always/My heart is happy/Manhattan is beautiful/But why deny
what bewitches me/This is Paris, it’s all Paris

7. Patty Griffin – 1000 Kisses “Mil Besos”
Born: Patty Griffin – Old Town, Maine
Language: Spanish
Lyric: He encontrado en tu amor, la fe perdida/Ahora tiene mi vida una razón/No sé si fue el embrujo de tus ojos, que le dijo a tus labios/Róbale el corazón/Yo sé que en los mil besos que te he dado en la boca se me fue el corazón/Y dicen que es pecado querer como te quiero/Quizás tengan razón
Translation: I found your love, lost faith/Now my life has a reason/Maybe it was the spell of your eyes, you said to your lips/Steal his heart/I know that in the thousand kisses/I gave you in the mouth/I was the heart; and say it is sin love as I love/Maybe they’re right

6. Joe Dassin – Joe Dassin “Les Champs-Èlysées”
Born: Joseph Dassin – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Langauge: French
Lyric: Je m’baladais sur l’avenue/Le coeur ouvert a? l’inconnu/J’avais envie de dire/”bonjour”/Ã n’importe qui/N’importe qui/Et ce fut toi/Je t’ai dit/N’importe quoi/Il suffisait de te parler pour t’apprivoiser.
Translation: I trotted on the avenue/Open heart a the unknown/I wanted to say “hello” anyone/Anyone/And it was you/I told/Anything/It was enough to talk to you to tame you

5. Beirut – Elephant Gun “Le Moribond/My Families Role In The World Revolution”
Born: Zach Condon – Santa Fe, N.M.
Langauge: French
Lyric: Adieu l’Émile je t’aimais bien/Adieu l’Émile je t’aimais bien tu sais/On a chanté les mêmes vins/On a chanté les mêmes filles/On a chanté les mêmes chagrins/Adieu l’Émile je vais mourir
Translation: Adieu Emile I liked you/Adieu Emile I loved you well you know/We sang the same wines/We sang the same girls/We sang the same sorrows/Adieu Emile I die

4. Ritchie Valens – La Bama “La Bamba”
Born: Richard Valenzuela – Pacoima, Calif.
Langauge: Spanish
Lyric: Baila bamba/Para bailar la bamba/Una poca de gracia/Ay arriba y arriba/Para bailar la bamba/Se necesita una poca de gracia/Una poca de gracia/Y otra cosita/Y arriba y arriba/Y arriba y arriba/Arriba iré arriba iré
Translation: Dance the bamba/In order to dance the bamba/A little bit of grace/Ah higher and higher/In order to dance the bamba/A little bit of grace is needed/A little grace/And another little thing/And higher and higher/Ah higher and higher/Higher I will go, higher I will go

3. The Mars Volta – Frances The Mute “L’ via L’viaquez”
Born: Cedric Bixler-Zavala – Redwood City, Calif.
Langauge: Spanish
Lyric:L’ Via/Hija de Miranda/Tu Apellido se cambió/L’ Via/Sin Ojos me quieres dar/Una historia sin mi madre/Solo tengo que decirte/El dolor de noche dice/Solo se quedo el vestido/Le lave la sangre
Translation: L ‘Via Daughter of Miranda/Your last name was changed L ‘Via/Without eyes I want to give/A story without my mother/Only I have to say/The pain of night says/Only stayed the dress/We wash the blood

2. Little Joy – Little Joy “The Next Time Around”
Born: Binki Shapiro – Los Angeles, Calif.
Langauge: Portuguese
Lyrics: E onde a sorte ha de te levar/Saiba, o camino e o fim, mais que chagar/E queria o dia ser/Gentil a tua mao aberta para quem e/Aberta para quem e
Translation: And where the fortune will lead you/You know to know, the path is the end/And if the day wants to be gentile/To your open hand for who is it

1. Devendra Bahnart – What Will We Be “Walilamdzi”
Born: Devendra Banhart – Houston, Texas
Langauge: Achumawi (original Pit River dialect)
Lyric: Dalilamdzi Walilamzi/De’Landzi Delandzi, Seena Seena/Empo Empo Empo Allea Namuli Allea Hamuli/Dalilamdzi Walilamzi/De’landzi De’landzi/Senna Seena/Coyaba wade toololaakadzi
Translation: The dawn is dawning/a shadow a shadow/I come home/May you rejoice/Rejoice grandmother rejoice grandmother/World over, all living/Person, you are living

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