Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Music that is special to me - International Disney and Penn Masala

Hello, everyone! Hope you're all having a good day.

First of all, I just wanted to acknowledge the most recent changes that I've made to this blog, overhauling its name to "Russian to Finnish," the new description and little flag icon, and so on. This switch was made in preparation for my swiftly upcoming junior year of college abroad in Russia and Finland! In ten days (which feels so surreal to write), I will leave for a semester at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, Russia, with which my home institution of Beloit College has a long-standing direct exchange partnership, followed by a semester studying at an as of yet undisclosed location in Finland, as the external organization I'm going with, ISEP, has yet to place me in one of my three top-choice Finnish universities, those being the Universities of Helsinki, Turku, and Tampere. This year will be the culmination of so many academic and personal goals for me that I've carried within me for so long - in Russia I will be able to deepen my fluency and cultural knowledge of a language and an area of the world that has come to captivate me in my college years and out of which I've forged a major and an academic path, and in Finland I will finally get to explore a place and begin to learn a language that I've yearned to since I was eleven years old.

As nervous as I may be from the prospect of being away that long in unfamiliar places, and just from the generic jitters that come from such a prospect, my heart is overflowing with joy and anticipation. I'm so excited to share my thoughts, reflections, adventures, and even faux pas as I embark on this long awaited journey.

Anyway, that was a slightly longer-than-expected explanation. This post, as the clever among you may have guessed from the title, is about music which is special to me! Specifically international Disney songs and Penn Masala.

Anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five minutes will surely know that I'm a giant language nerd, and anyone who has ever talked to me for more than twenty will probably know about my love of Disney movies.
In many ways, they're two things that have always been connected, and indeed have built off of and fed each other to some extent.
I enjoyed some of the classic Disney Renaissance movies to a great extent in my childhood, in particular The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Fox and the Hound, and in more recent years have also seen and grown to greatly appreciate Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Moana. on. Or, more appropriately, Il Re Leone, La Sirenetta, La Bella e la Bestia, Red e Toby, Mulan, Il Gobbo di Notre Dame, and Oceania, because I actually watched most of those videos, along with a lot of other shows, films, and children's media, in my native language of Italian throughout much of my childhood - one of the many ingenious methods used by my parents to ensure that we maintained a certain level of bilingualism in our Italian-American household.

For a couple of years, I didn't really watch them that often. And in sixth grade, when I was twelve years old, between hosting an AFS exchange student from Italy in our house (and meeting his AFSer friends from around the world and hearing more about my own mother's memories of her time as an AFSer from Italy to Tennessee back in 1978 as a result) and checking out these books about different countries from my local library, I began to fall deeply in love with foreign countries, cultures, and in particular, languages. Strangely enough, however, for quite a time I made these giant lists of languages that interested me, basically adding any of them that I came across in those books I mentioned that seemed interesting, getting them up to fifty strong - but without ever really knowing how most of them sounded spoken.
About a year later, I was perusing the Internet as per usual, and for some reason found myself listening to the familiar tune of the song "the Circle of Life" from The Lion King, but in the warm and rich Italian version sung by Ivana Spagna that I had listened to countless times in my childhood.
Suddenly, the thought popped into my head that if an Italian version existed, surely there would be others in dubs of other languages that interested me.
So I typed in "Circle of Life Arabic." Then Finnish. Then Brazilian Portuguese. European Portuguese. Hungarian. Dutch. Japanese. Chinese. Anything that interested me, and that I could think of. I still to this day have very vivid memories of those moments, as I sat there, spellbound, searching for that one simple and familiar song in language after language, finally listening to the true sounds of these foreign tongues that had interested me in theory for so long already, bewitched by the unfamiliar tones and cadences that linked them together, which further ignited a burning desire within me to know them, to decipher them.
In that moment, I knew for sure that learning many languages was a direction which I wanted my life to take.

This wasn't just limited to "the Circle of Life." In the coming days and months after that defining day, I began to search for the other songs from The Lion King soundtrack and other Disney movies I'd seen in different languages, and what has ended up happening since then is that I get temporarily obsessed with different, specific songs for periods of time, searching through all the different versions I can find on YouTube, to the point where I come to associate the songs with different times in my life. For seventh grade, it was "the Circle of Life." For eighth grade, it was "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," also from The Lion King, and "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. For ninth grade, it was "Honor to Us All" and "Reflection" from Mulan. For late tenth grade into the beginning of eleventh grade, it was "I Won't Say I'm in Love" from Hercules. For eleventh grade, it was "God Help the Outcasts" and "Heaven's Light/Hellfire" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and, of course, the mother of all overplayed songs that year, "Let It Go" from Frozen. For freshman year of college, it was "I See the Light" from Tangled. And for this past year, unsurprisingly given my multiple posts about my favorite versions of "How Far I'll Go," would be the entire Moana soundtrack, but particularly "How Far I'll Go" and "I am Moana." 
The latter has become one of my favorite songs of all time, a beautiful tune fusing the comforting and encouraging words of Moana's grandmother Tala, and an empowering inward determination to overcome her obstacles and achieve her goals. It's a song whose versions I listen to in times of uncertainty, happiness, joy, achievement, anger, and even devastating sadness, and I find it always helps me to feel better.

In any case, as can easily be seen, these Disney songs in different languages are something truly special to me. Aside of often espousing positive and empowering messages of finding or being yourself, or containing nostalgic childhood significance, they have been a force that has inspired, driven, and helped me to learn foreign languages, which is my greatest passion in life. And as someone who has enjoyed and followed Disney dubbing for different movies closely for quite some time, it's fascinating to see the different ways in which the field has evolved. For instance, back when I first started to enjoy the dubs, the Russian ones were a little lower-quality from an acoustic standpoint, and it was difficult to find the official soundtrack versions on YouTube. Now, they've honestly stepped up their game immensely, and the Russian Moana soundtrack is one of my very favorites.
New languages are constantly emerging. Recently Mulan and The Lion King have been dubbed into Armenian. The Lion King has been dubbed (albeit sometimes with admittedly dubious quality) into Turkic minority languages from Russia such as Abaza, Karachay-Balkar, Kabardian, and Crimean Tatar! Several movies have been dubbed into Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Indonesian, Malay, Marathi, Romanian, Persian, Serbian, Slovene, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese, and voiced over into Georgian and Uzbek. Sometimes for specific movies where a particular language might be geographically or culturally pertinent, a special dub will be made, such as the Zulu dub of The Lion King, the Tahitian and Maori dubs of Moana, and the Navajo dub of Finding Nemo (okay that last one doesn't make a huge amount of sense but come on how cool is that???).

Observing developments such as those I've just mentioned makes me indescribably happy. There is truly power in representation of different groups, and the availability of media in different languages. I know for me that even outside of my immense passion for languages in general, growing up as a bilingual child, my consumption of this media in different languages was one of the most effective and enjoyable forces that ensured my continuing skills in my native language growing up in a place where I was not surrounded by it day by day. Especially for languages that may be lesser-spoken or endangered, children are the future, as the hope for continuing use of the language, so ensuring that they have materials and resources at hand such as these that can not only be used, but enjoyed, are a priceless asset to language survival.

So thank you, Disney. Your foreign dubs have inspired and empowered my dreams in so many ways, and for that I will always be grateful.

And now Penn Masala!
Penn Masala is an a cappella group from the University of Pennsylvania which mainly does fusion songs between American pop and Bollywood hits. I first heard them when they made a brief appearance in one of the Pitch Perfect movies which I saw during a movie night my freshman year of college, and being captivated by their vocal talent and multilingual songs.
From there I listened to a ton of their old albums from over the years, and have avidly followed and thoroughly enjoyed the two others that have been released since I started listening to their music.

Somewhat similarly to the different Disney songs, I've listened to some Penn Masala albums so much that they've come to remind me of different times in my life. Panoramic reminds me of my very first semester of college, the cool breezes and fiery foliage of autumn in southern Wisconsin, walks to early morning classes, and the jittery adventures as I began to discover and expand my passions and academic paths. Resonance reminds me of the end of my first semester, my long-awaited and incredible return to my beloved Turkey, and the beginning of the second semester. And their most recent album, Yuva, reminds me of the still cool but sunny Midwestern spring as my most recent semester of college came to a close, and my greatly anticipated first return to Ann Arbor that soon followed.
Having been a part of an a cappella choir my senior year of high school and greatly enjoyed it, I always love listening to other groups singing a cappella, and Penn Masala's immense talent is no exception. By listening to their music, I've come to discover and appreciate the original versions of the Hindi, Urdu, and Bangla hits that they include in their masterful mashups, which are often combined based on connected themes and messages within the songs. Most of their music is very energetic and bouncy, which always makes me happy when listening to it, and most of what isn't is calmer and more soothing, the sort of thing that I love listening to in order to fall asleep.

Penn Masala has eventually become one of my favorite musical groups. Their talent and innovative musical multilingualism has brought me much happiness, and introduced me to the linguistic and musical beauty of some of the world's richest and most fascinating cultures.

*There doesn't seem to be an all-album video up on YouTube for Yuva, so I'm just going to link some of my favorite songs from that album, among some favorites from the others. Enjoy!*

In any case, I hope that beyond all the gushing and fangirling, I've managed to get my point across, and perhaps even interest some of the rest of you to take the plunge with me.
If you search for pretty much any song - or clip, for that matter - from a Disney movie you love in a different language that interests you, or a multilingual version, chances are you'll find it. And if you check out Penn Masala on their YouTube channel, iTunes, or Spotify, for all the reasons mentioned above and more, I guarantee that you won't regret it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Be back soon. 

No comments:

Post a Comment