I have a faint memory of my mother singing along to “Pata Pata”, an Afro-pop dance song sung by Miriam Makeba many moons ago. Despite not understanding Xhosa, the song resonated with me. To this day, I love discovering music that’s not sung in my native tongues (Afrikaans and English) and because you might too, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best foreign songs (in no particular order) that I’ve discovered over the years.
Spirit (feat. Wale) – Kwesta
‘Spirit’ is a Zulu song and one of the biggest hip-hop tracks in South Africa. The song, which features international act Wale, is an anthem for today’s youth, capturing the essence of keeping strong despite adversity, being fearless in who you are, and striving for what you want. It’s the perfect song to blast in your car and get you hyped to start pushing boundaries without losing the ‘spirit’.
Akanamali (feat. Samthing Soweto) – Sun-El Musician
‘Akanamali’ is a Zulu song by the very talented music producer and DJ, Sun-El Musician and features singer Samthing Soweto. The lyrics behind ‘Akanamali’ was inspired by the stories of young men who struggle to find love because they aren’t rich. Despite the more disheartening lyrics of the song, its easy-going sound caught my attention and has remained one of my favourite summer tunes since its release in 2017.
Matin Parisien – Petite Plume Sauvage
‘Matin Parisien’ is a beautiful French song that I discovered while watching Workin’ Moms on Netflix. The song is about a blossoming love that takes place during the summer months in the city of love, Paris. ‘Matin Parisien’ has become one of my favourite songs and its sound expresses what I imagine being in love in Paris would feel like.
Dominique – The Singing Nun
Any American Horror Story fan will recognise the song ‘Dominique’ which featured in the second season, Asylum. This beautiful, yet slightly eerie French song is a gentle, spiritually-minded ode to a man who “talks only of the good lord.” It was written and sung by Belgian singer Jeanine Deckers, also known as “The Singing Nun”, who was really a nun at the time of the song’s release in 1963. Despite the song’s cheerful sound, it has a somewhat twisted background. I’ll encapsulate this history in a few sentences: Decker was unable to release anything that came close to the success of ‘Dominique’ and eventually went into a state of financial ruin. When these financial burdens became too much Decker and her lover committed suicide in 1985. The song’s lyrics are also largely based on the torturous acts founded by patron saint Dominic. If this story interests you, I would suggest you research it more because it truly is fascinating.
Laisse tomber les filles – April March
‘Laisse tomber les filles’ is another one of the best foreign songs that I’ve discovered. This French song was written by Serge Gainsbourg and originally performed by France Gall in 1964. The song is about a heart-broken girl who confronts the boy that broke her heart. She warns him that if he doesn’t “leave the girls alone,” he’ll end up heart-broken himself. ‘Laisse tomber les filles’ has been covered by several artists, but April March’s cover is my favourite. March recorded two covers of the song in 1995, the original French version and an English version, namely ‘Chick Habit’ (another excellent song). Another interesting tidbit, both versions of the song are played during the end credits of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007)!
Mi Gente (feat. Beyoncé) – J Balvin, Willy William
As if Beyoncé wasn’t cool enough, hearing her sing in Spanish takes it to a whole other level. This ‘Mi Gente’ remix, which features Beyoncé, is the ultimate party song but also has a very humble backstory. All proceeds from the song are donated to hurricane relief charities for Puerto Rico, Mexico, and other affected Caribbean islands.
Umama – Sjava
‘Umama’ is another Zulu song that I love and wanted to include in my best foreign songs list. In this incredibly emotive track, Sjava gives a deeply personal and heartfelt tribute to his mother and all mothers across the world. The beautiful message behind the song is that regardless of how old you are, you can never stop missing your mother. Its infectious rhythm and raw essence easily transcends any language barriers. The official music video for ‘Umama’ was also a clear hit, reaching one million views on YouTube within 14 days since its release.
Into Ingawe – Sun-El Musician & Ami Faku
Rising star Ami Faku and Sun-El Musician collaborated to create the upbeat, mid-tempo and inspirational song, ‘Into Ingawe’. “Into Ingawe” means “it’s all up to you”, which is exactly what this Xhosa track is all about. The message behind the song focuses on having faith, hope, and dedication, and from reading the comments on YouTube, it is exactly what inspires its fans to keep pushing to achieve their dreams.
What are some of your best foreign songs? I’d love to know!
If you’d like to discover even more music, check out our 9Lives playlists that feature some of our favourite songs.