Category Archives: Creativity

Our Planet: 911 Emergency

July 19th, 2019

On July 10, 2019, a network representing more than “7,000 higher and further education institutions from six continents have announced that they are declaring a ‘climate emergency’, and agreed to undertake a three-point plan to address the crisis through their work with students.”  As the letter from the representatives of the 7,000 plus institutions states: “The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change. We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a greener and cleaner future for all.”

In this week’s blog, we share this insightful piece by our guest blogger, Tom Schnabel who writes about the Apollo 11 Moon landing and the music it inspired about our blue planet called Earth.  For, as Tom mentions in his piece, it was the “magnificent sight of our planet earth seen from the moon as a small blue ball (that) provided a spark in the environmental movement.” As those involved in international education, let’s work together to bring awareness to the plight of our planet, the well being of its inhabitants, and the future we would like to leave behind for generations to come.

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The Apollo 11 lunar lander Eagle returning to the Columbia command module for the journey back to Earth. Photo: NASA


The Apollo 11 moon landing that took place on July 20, 1969, represented a staggering achievement for the human race. The desire to explore outside the earth’s boundaries reached back to Mesopotamia, ancient Babylon and Persia, also with Aristotle and the ancient Greeks, and later with cosmologists Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and Galileo’s observations. While Einsteinian physics had unlocked more information about the universe, nobody ever viewed the earth from the moon until 1969.

President Kennedy promised in 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and he put forward the resources to make it happen. The Apollo space capsule and the computer systems of Mission Control in Houston are primitive by today’s standards, but the astronauts made the voyage there and back in eight days. Rocket scientist Wernher von Braun said of the moon landing, “What we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down on the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man. For the first time, life will leave its planetary cradle, and the ultimate destiny of man will no longer be confined to these familiar continents that we have known so long.”

Over the past fifty years since the landing, many musicians have found inspiration in the historic moment and responded in song. Brazilian superstar Caetano Veloso was in a sweltering Brazilian jail when his wife handed him a newspaper with a picture of a little blue planet as seen from the moon. He was so moved by it that he later wrote the song “Terra” (“Earth”). Read the English translation of the lyrics here.

Brian Eno composed an ethereal, floating suite called Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks for the documentary film For All Mankind, which celebrates the earth’s beauty and the Apollo space program. An expanded edition of the soundtrack with 11 new tracks will be released on July 19 in celebration of the 50thanniversary of the landing. You can listen to the original remarkable sonic journey in its entirety below:

The electronic artist Michael Adam Kandel, aka Tranquility Bass, took his stage name from the Tranquility Base landing site in the Sea of Tranquility, the area of the moon where the Apollo 11 crew touched down. I’ve always liked his catchy tune called “Cantamilla.”

I learned from this past Sunday’s New York Times Apollo 11 special section that Duke Ellington composed and performed the song “Moon Maiden” for the event.

There have been countless tributes to this historic achievement over the years, some listed here in this New York Times article. I highly recommend the 2019 documentary Apollo 11, which tells the story with previously unseen footage from the development to the actual landing. You might also check out an interesting show called Apollo 11: the Immersive Live Show, playing at the Rose Bowl through August 11.

Fifty years ago, the magnificent sight of our planet earth seen from the moon as a small blue ball provided a spark in the environmental movement. This anniversary seems all the more poignant today as governments and climate-change deniers roll back environmental protections and cut down huge swaths of rain forests to plant soybean and palm oil trees. It is a dire situation–global warming will increase to the point where life as we know could be seriously threatened by 2050. One can only hope that this anniversary will serve as a reminder of what’s at stake back home on earth, even as we seek to return to the moon and continue to explore beyond our solar system.

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toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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An Artist’s International Student Journey

Remembering Monir Farmanmaian (1924 –2019)

May 3rd, 2019

monirPhoto via: Keyhan Life

Monir Farmanmaian, the Iranian female artist known for her mirror mosaics and geometric patterns passed away on April 20, 2019 at the age of 97 in Tehran.  Until recently, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know much about Monir, only a cursory knowledge of her and her work through articles and photographs. I only began to learn about Monir, her art and accomplishments, five years ago when I read an extensive article in The New York Times on the exhibit of her work at The Guggenheim Museum.

My appreciation of Iran’s classical and contemporary art has been that of a late bloomer and one that I’ve very recently began to explore, albeit very slowly. My earliest recollection goes back to the first and only decade of my childhood growing up in Iran, where accompanied by my art loving parents I found my young self standing in the spacious but dank and dimly lit basement studio of a struggling artist somewhere in Tehran. There were a few more of these types of visits to artists’ studios around the city, but my first visit to the young artist’s basement showroom is the one I still see in my mind’s eye. My parents supported this artist, whose name I don’t recall, by purchasing a number of his paintings which were displayed on the walls throughout our house. One, which hung in the sitting room where my parents entertained guests, was my most favorite. You could only make out the painting from afar; close-up it was a mashup of colors, soft hues of orange, yellow, blue and sand. Once you pulled back a few steps and sat in the furthest seat in the room, you were able to take in its full beauty, faint silhouettes of a caravan of camels, a ghostly apparition of the bygone days of the Silk Road, floating through the desert as the sun ever slowly dipped and disappeared into the horizon.

As a ten-year old, I had little knowledge and exposure to Iranian culture. My parents seldom, in fact never, listened to Iranian classical, contemporary or pop music. I was exposed to The Beatles, Nat King Cole, Bossa Nova, Jazz, Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. The films I saw in the cinemas in Iran were mostly foreign, dubbed into Farsi. My mother took me to my first opera when I was eight. It was Puccini’s Turandot at Rudaki Hall in Tehran.  My piano teacher took me to my first recital when I was around the same age to hear a talented young pianist from America perform pieces by the masters of western classical music.

I first left Iran at age ten to start school in England. After that my returns to Iran were more of a tourist’s; short stays for a couple of weeks or months during the Christmas and summer holidays. And, at sixteen, I left Iran to study in the U.S. At the time, I didn’t know that it would be the last time I’d see Iran, my home, and many of my relatives. I didn’t know that my departure was permanent.

There’s something that happened to me as a young woman leaving Iran, first for England and then for America. I started to detach and let go of that which identified me with my place of origin so that I could acclimate, blend and fit in at my new home.  What little I knew of Iran’s rich cultural history, I let go of.

Monir Farmanmaian, née Monir Shahroudy, didn’t let go and didn’t detach. Instead, she embraced her Iranian heritage and culture and infused her art with it.

Monir was born in 1924 in Qazvin, Iran to progressive parents who supported and encouraged her education. After her father was elected to parliament in 1932, the family moved to Tehran. Her love for art began at an art class she took in school once a week. She’s noted to have said that she found it “more fun than math.” After graduating from high school, Monir enrolled at the University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts.

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University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts

In 1944, at the height of WWII, Monir together with her brother, her fiancée and his  friend, left Allied-occupied Iran on a British liner bound for Bombay (today, Mumbai), India. They then boarded an American naval ship that took them as far as San Pedro, California, and after four days and three nights of traveling across the U.S., they arrived in New York.

She continued her education at Cornell University and Parson’s School of Design. We may say that Monir was the first Iranian student to come to the U.S. to study during WWII.

After college, she worked as a fashion illustrator and graphic designer. She even created the Persian-violet trademark for Bonwit Teller, the luxury department store in NYC.  At Bonwit Teller, Monir crossed paths with none other than Andy Warhol who at the time was working as a shoe illustrator.

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In New York, Monir’s social circle included artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol,  Joan MitchellAlexander Calder, Frank Stella, to name a few.  In the early 1950s, she used to visit the Guggenheim museum when it was still in a townhouse and known as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. She was also there in 1956, the day when ground was broken for Frank Lloyd Wright’s concrete spiral.

Her first marriage to an Iranian artist with whom she had migrated to the U.S. seemed to have stifled her creativity. It was only after they had divorced that Monir truly came to her own. After her divorce she returned to Iran. It had been 12 years since she had left and she was wary of returning, not sure of what to expect. She remarried Abol Farmanfarmaian, a man from an aristocratic family, whom she knew of her time living in New York. Back at her homeland, and in a happy marriage, Monir began to flourish as an artist. Inspired by the Persian art of mirror mosaics, known as ayeneh-kari, Monir began to explore the use of this medium and fusing together Islamic patterns and modern abstract geometric shapes and design that soon became her signature creations.

In 1958, she won a gold medal for her display at the Iran Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In 1963, she had her first solo exhibition at a gallery in Tehran.

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Monir’s rising star as an artist was halted by the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979. She and her husband left for NY soon after. Her art collection in Iran was confiscated by the government. America in 1979 was not as welcoming as when she had first arrived in 1944. The Iranian Revolution, the US Embassy hostage crisis, and then September 11, had placed anyone of Iranian and Middle Eastern origin in the Axis of Evil camp. Monir was turned away by galleries. No one was interested in her work. In NY, she continued creating her mirror mosaics and reverse glass paintings, mostly for herself and friends. After 25 years of living in self-imposed exile in NY, Monir and her husband returned to Iran. She was allowed to open a studio. Soon, she began receiving commissions one of which included a piece for the opening of the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006. Another was a permanent six-panel installation in 2009 at the Queensland Art Museum in Brisbane, Australia. The Iranian director, Bahman Kiarostami, premiered his documentary Monir in 2014.  (For a clip of Bahman Kiarostami’s documentary Monir, click here.)

In 2015, at age 93, almost 60 years after Monir had first visited the Guggenheim in its original townhouse, she had her first comprehensive retrospective of her work in the United States. The exhibition “Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014” was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

If we ever find ourselves questioning the viability of international education and the intangible benefits of student exchange programs and access to higher education, we need to remind ourselves of the real life stories of people like Monir Farmanfarmaian and those who came before and after.  The trajectory of Monir’s life, from the town of Qazvin, Iran, to the capital city of Tehran, and then New York, and back to Tehran is as depicted in her beautiful mirror mosaics. Fused together, it is a reflection of the richness and vibrancy of her own dual education, global experiences and those of her cultural heritage.

Additional Reading & References:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/21/arts/design/monir-farmanfarmaian-iranian-and-nonagenarian-celebrates-a-new-york-museum-first.html

http://www.reorientmag.com/2015/01/monir-farmanfarmaian/

https://hyperallergic.com/276470/a-portrait-of-an-iranian-artist-who-went-home-after-35-years-in-exile/

http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/the_third_line_at_abu_dhabi_art/

http://p-l-us.com/en/monir-farmanfarmaian/

https://kayhanlife.com/news/kayhan/obituary-artist-monir-farmanfarmaian-celebrated-for-her-mirror-work-dies-at-97/


jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Global Youth

August 18th, 2017

youth

Americans get a bad rap for speaking only English, of making no effort to learn the languages of other cultures. For the most part, this is true. Unlike Europe, where an hour drive might find you in a completely foreign land, the furthest the average American will make it as far as edge of the state. But that’s not all of us.

In Southern California, from where I hail, the proximity to Mexico makes it not only worth it to speak at least some basic Spanish, it’s almost compulsory. And we are not alone. Foreign languages are being taught at younger and younger ages and it bodes well for the future of our region and the country in whole. Another language connects one more deeply to a culture, the nature of our world as one people, and most importantly, makes you sound like a fancy pants.

So, when I see a fluently bilingual toddler I am not only impressed but often more jealous than is reasonable for an adult toward a 5-year old.

Of course, there are the rare drawbacks:

In line at the ATM one day there was a young dad and his little girl, maybe all of four years old.

The father stands with his daughter, entering in his PIN:

Beep.

“Nueve!” the girl yells confidently.

In a quiet voice he replies, “That’s very good sweetie but shhh please”

He presses another button.

“Quatro!”

“Yes Clara that’s right but please we have to be quiet right now.”

He focuses on the screen tries to hide the buttons with his hand, keeps an eye on his daughter all at once.

Beep.

“Dos!”

“Clara!”

Clara erupts into giggles.

“Clara please”

The father, perhaps regretting just a bit his daughter linguistic skills, tries to turn her away, making a modestly curious little girl an obsessed investigator.

In what must have felt like a moment of glorious looney tune ingenuity Clara’s father points off to the distance,

“Clara look it’s a mariposa!”

Beep. The last button is entered.

“A butterfly? Where!?”

“Oh, I guess it flew away, let’s go li’l one.”

Better luck next time Clara. Like the rest of you baby geniuses, you give me hope for the future, a good laugh and a healthy dose of envy.

AlexB

Alex Brenner – When he is not helping international students as ACEI’s Communications Officer, Alex puts his writing chops to work as a script doctor for Hollywood screenwriters and guest blogs for ACEI-Global. Alex has a BA in English from UCLA and has been fortunate to have travelled to many corners of the world as a child and an adult.

For further information on the international credential evaluations, visit our website at www.acei-global.org or contact ACEI at acei@acei-global.org.

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Qawwali Music: The Mystical, Peaceful Side of Islam

September 30th, 2016

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I first heard the Sufi devotional music called qawwali around 1982 on a WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) album. WOMAD was Peter Gabriel’s world music label and brainchild. This was right about the time when a bunch of Brit record executives coined the term “world music” as a category for retail sales purposes. The five-minute excerpt I heard was powerful, enthralling. I was transfixed. I contacted WOMAD and asked them how long the original was. The answer? Two hours.

The music was that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani devotional singer who died in 1997. His musical journey started with a dream he had of singing in Pakistan’s most famous mosque, and it was something he was able to realize before his untimely death at 49.

The word qawwali means “utterance” in Urdu, and Nusrat was and is the most famousqawwal. I first saw him perform at a fundraiser at the LAX Hilton on behalf of a cancer hospital in Lahore. The speaker was Pakistan’s #1 cricketeer, Imran Khan. My table was besieged by men asking us to raise $5,000, the amount assigned per table. Me and a bunch of music fans and public radio types? No way could we come up with that. Nusrat had food poisoning and looked green onstage. It was not easy for him.

The second time I saw him involved driving to Buena Park for an all-Pakistani show. I recall hundreds of Mercedes in the parking lot but no BMWs. Fans were crumpling up $10-20 bills and throwing them on stage in tribute to the great singer. His next show took him to the former Universal Amphitheater (now Gibson). I didn’t make it to that one.

One time I was playing Nusrat’s music on air when KCRW’s then General Manager Ruth Seymour got a call from her mother, who was put on phone hold while the music was playing. When Ruth picked up the phone, her mom said the music sounded like somebody getting their toenails pulled out. It’s a good thing that not all people hear Nusrat that way. Though often intense, his is a music of peace and love.

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Nusrat would try anything musically, which is one reason he became the most famousqawwal. There was the Massive Attack remix of “Mustt Mustt,” and also the fun, crazyBally Sagoo remixes. Don’t be fooled, however. Nusrat also performed powerful, rich devotional music and love songs with his group, as you’ll hear on the first cut by him of this show.

Abida Parveen is the most famous female qawwali vocalist, adored by fans all over the world. I heard her once in Orange County years ago. She has a big voice, perfect pitch, and a powerful, ecstatic delivery.  She will occasionally visit the U.S., but you will likely not know about it unless you read the local Pakistani newspapers.

In a 2013 article in the UK paper The Guardian, Parveen said, “My culture–our culture–is rich in spirituality and love. Sufism is not a switch, the music isn’t a show–it’s of life, it is religion. If I want to recognized for anything, if we should be recognized for anything, it’s the journey of the voice. And that voice is God’s.” Qawwali, like gospel music in the U.S., is a communal experience, a joy meant to be shared.

I did not include another famous qawwali group, the Sabri Brothers, because their tracks are super long. Sadly, I recently wrote a post about one of their founding memberswho was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Sufi gospel is a way of getting closer to the divine, both for listeners and performers.  Dictatorships and Islamist hardliners don’t like music, don’t trust it either. We’ve seen that in the Soviet Union, Chile, Argentina, Iran, and other places.

For those who don’t know about this powerful and ecstatic music, let it be a reminder that its message of peace and harmony is an antidote to the turmoil in Pakistan that we hear in the news.

Here is a video shot in Pakistan in 1993 of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 9/2/16:

  1. Abida Parveen / “Choonghat Ohle Na Luk Sajna” / Baba Bulleh Shah / Oreade Music
  2. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo” / Devotional Songs / Real World
  3. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Mustt Mustt” / Mustt Mustt / Real World
  4. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Kinna Sohna (Bally Sagoo Remix)” / Big Noise: A Mambo Inn Compilation / Hannibal

 

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Sister Deborah and Ghana Jollof: Tasty Rice

This is a culinary tale–or rather competition–West African style.

Last Sunday morning, I heard a story and song on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a rice rivalry in West Africa, particularly Ghana vs. Nigeria, surrounding a ubiquitous rice dish in the region (Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) called Jollof. The tune’s nice grooves and rhymes caught my ear, as did the conversation between host Linda Wertheimer and Ofeibia Quist Arcton, the Ghanaian journalist and NPR reporter. (When in Senegal, Quist Arcton finishes her stories with a wonderful flourish: “Ofeibia Quist Arcton, Dahkaaaaaaaaaah.” I’ve always loved her style.)

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Ghanain restaurant menu. Photo by Rachel Strohm (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The song “Ghana Jollof” is sung by Sister Deborah (b. Deborah Owusu-Bonsu), a popular Ghanain TV host, model, and academic, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Arts, London. The lyrics were written by her brother, Wanlov (“one love?”) the Kubolor. The song basically postulates that the Ghanaian version of the rice dish is better than the Nigerian version. The basic ingredients include rice, tomatoes, onion, chili pepper, salt, pepper; Ghanaian and Nigerian versions add goat, lamb, or beef. The Senegalese version (not part of the culinary showdown) uses fish. Between Ghana and Nigeria it’s a competitive recipe, so think West African Top Chef.

Intrigued by the story, I searched for the video and found it online. It’s quirky and fun, and a little mysterious. Why are those guys dressed up as women? Folks are shown on the up-and-up, driving a 6-series BMW convertible.

I had fun with this, and I hope you do too. For those of you interested in trying the dish, here is the Ghanian vegetarian recipe. And the competing Nigerian version:

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Tijuana’s Youth Orchestra: Bach, Not Banda, Mahler, Not Mariachi

April, 7th 2016

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I know about El Sistema and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where Gustavo Dudamel got his training. I also know about his work with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of LA, something Dudamel was behind creating. Both El Sistema and YOLA give inner city kids a way off the streets into the world of classical music.

With Venezuela in turmoil,  the future of El Sistema, funded by oil revenue, may be jeopardized. It seems, however, that like a lesser-known youth orchestra in Tijuana may have a bright future. You don’t typically associate classical music with Tijuana, but the Tijuana Youth Orchestra gives the lie to that assumption.

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The story begins in January 1991, when the Soviet Union was breaking up. Eduardo Garcia Barrios was studying conducting in Moscow at the time. Barrios and his musician colleagues wanted to start a youth orchestra somewhere; that somewhere turned out to be a world away, in sunny Baja, Mexico. Barrios, along with a Russian harpist, Elena Mashkovtseva, moved across the globe from icy Russia to Baja, and founded the Baja California Orchestra for adults. The enterprising Barrios also founded REDES 2025, a program to train at-risk young people to become classical performers. In a Independent Producer’s Project feature, he told journalist Sam Quinones, “Music has this power. To play music you need discipline, to understand your body. It’s 120 kids doing one thing at the same time…it would be cheaper to make football teams, but music provides something different, spiritual order.”

Those words could have come from the much more famous Gustavo Dudamel. Both men, however, are doing the same thing: transforming young lives with the power of music.

Listen here to the NPR / KCRW feature. And watch a clip of the Tijuana Youth Orchestra — it’s a big orchestra, not as big as the Simón Bolivar, but big nevertheless. Have a look:

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Musical DNA Goes Everywhere Today

February 25th, 2016

James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” not only became a #1 R&B hit, the anthem for the Black Power movement, but also inspired new pride among countless Africans in newly-independent nations that had just become free of colonial power.  Hits like this were heard via the Voice of America radio, which broadcast from Gibraltar throughout Africa with the great Cameroonian host Georges Collinet, now @ Afropop Worldwide.

With social media and the internet, music travels around the world even faster.  Here are two examples of hit songs reaching artists and audiences far away:   a reggae cover of Adele’s “Hello” from the Solomon Islands:  never mind the bad lip synching:

An even better version is by this Korean student, for whom English is a second language,  but it’s weird that the guitarist isn’t showing.  Nevertheless, she really must have studied hard because she nails it:

Finally, a Peruvian teenager sings Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the Quechua language of indigenous Peruvians:

Finally, an Arabic version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid, by two Lebanese artists, Jean Marie Riachi and Abir Nehme, who sings the lyrics).

Although some might consider such covers to be English-language musical hegemony, I feel that such covers help spread musical DNA all over, revealing some amazing young talent as well.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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