Plaza Voices: The Universal Language

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called music the "universal language of mankind," an old idea with some new scientific backing.

Music, like all languages, is constantly evolving, mixing ideas, identities, and cultures. Globalization and the internet have enabled more and more of us to listen to and create music that crosses the borders between languages, ethnicities, and nations. 

The results can be wonderful. They can also be deeply problematic, involving cultural appropriation and what is sometimes called "columbusing." But the fusion of styles, languages, and traditions will continue, alongside an ongoing, passionate dialog about the authenticity, power, and merit of the artists themselves.

All of that said, here are a few artists whose music transcends borders:

Rodrigo y Gabriela: This duo left Mexico City when their metal band broke up, and ended up busking around Europe for a few years before making it big. Their classical, flamenco-infused guitar style brings new life to classic rock and metal tunes as well as their own original music.

Gogol Bordello: This frenetic NYC band, usually described as "Gypsy punk," was created by Ukrainian-born frontman Eugene Hütz and includes musicians from Belarus, Russia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, and China/Scotland. 

Yasmine Hamdan: This Lebanese singer/songwriter, currently living in Paris, has been called "Arabic music's modern voice." Her work draws inspiration from classic Arab female singers, but with a style that might be called electro folk-pop.

Prince Royce: This Dominican-American star recently released his first English-language album, combining the Dominican bachata style with American influences like Hip Hop and R&B, adding to his already extensive album list.

Ready to explore? Check out our streaming music database, Music Online, and see Michelle's free music blog post for other great resources. If DPL doesn't have something you're looking for, try Interlibrary Loan!

And come check out the Denver Public Library's very own music studio at the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch Library! The studio is free to use and has instruments as well as recording and editing capability. Call 720-865-2370 or email for more information.

Plazas are a dedicated space for migrants from all over the world to connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s successful global community. This program engages newcomers of all ages and backgrounds with free opportunities and specialized support as they gain second-language conversation skills, prepare for citizenship, create new networks in business, and exchange perspectives across the immigrant experience.

To find a Plaza program near you, please see our events calendar.


Written by Amanda R. on August 3, 2015


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