Traveling is a wholly sensual experience, but travel blogs are limited – until scratch-and-sniff blog technology becomes widely available – in that they can only deliver visual aspects of journeys, supplemented by long-winded self-indulgent descriptions of places and events that ironically render readers senseless.
But here at Herro Asia we strive to deliver up our slice of the East on all fronts, which is why we’ve built an introduction to the popular music we encountered, often to our consternation, throughout our travels.
We came to India expecting to take in tremendous amounts of Ravi Shankar, fast-paced Bollywood numbers, and intense classical tabla drumming. So essentially like coming to America hoping to only hear George Gershwin, Robert Johnson, and the soundtrack to ‘South Pacific’ playing everywhere you went.
What we instead were able to enjoy was the ceaseless lo-fi din of Punjabi hits played through cell phone speakers. Indians, we quickly gleaned, have mastered nuclear fusion as a source of power, but so far have only utilized it for their cell phone batteries, ensuring that at all hours of the day you will be able to hear a song that sounds almost exactly like this:
After a while, the repetition, simplicity, and Alphabet Soup-like conglomeration of “fun” English words took on the consistency of a classical raga drone in our minds, so maybe we got what we wanted after all.
In addition to these, the World Cup was being played at the time, so we heard plenty of Shakira’s irresistibly hateable Waka Waka and the other one about flying flags and being stronger. Also, a shitload of Lady Gaga songs.
As our latitude increased, so too did the volume of surrounding cell phones and, to our eventual rage-provoking dismay, the frequency of us hearing the Eminem and Rihanna hit where they sing about abusive relationships and being annoying. From the few times we watched TV here, it became clear that in Central Asia, the sun never sets on the empire of 80’s German hair metal band The Scorpions, or at least, footage of their live shows. This was one of those things we never ever could have expected.
The alternative to this, intriguing at first then ultimately unbearable, were lengthy guttural odes that, like Indian pop, drew upon R&B and hip-hop models of throwing perplexing, needlessly aggressive multilingual raps midway into the track, no matter how disjointed it rendered the overall product. Most of our long car rides between post-industrial wastelands were colored by such songs.
We found out later that the whiny segments typically cover subjects like the beauty of the steppes, and father-son relationship issues. Hmm…
Oh, and in addition to these ballads, we heard a lot of Lady Gaga.
Most of our experiences with Chinese musical tastes took place in trains and malls, which for whatever reason meant: Lots. And lots. Of smooth jazz.
But we also heard, at one memorable point, a rock song anchored by a rapping toddler:
And the Cranberries gone Chinese:
Apart from being asked several times if we were familiar with the popular karaoke song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads To the Place I Belong West Virginia”, our primary connection with American music was the massive amounts of Lady Gaga we heard everywhere.
You can read about our experiences with “I Am Sorry” in our review of public/private transit in Southeast Asia (LINK). Cambodia indeed seemed to be in the death grip of saccharine love ballads produced solely for karaoke purposes, but K-Pop – overproduced, hyperactive Korean pop was making strong irritating inroads. And, of course, Western music was appropriated d in various ways. In both countries we heard, at least thrice daily, the Khmer version of a Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me”.
In Kho Phi Phi, someone had tipped off the locals to the fact that white travelers are biologically incapable of hearing anything besides old Jack Johnson songs, and so it was more often than not that the vacuous strains of ‘Banana Pancakes‘ floated through the breeze like a placid, white, upper-middle class fart from the nearest beach hut.
But usually we just heard Lady Gaga.
Our extensive observations in the field lead us to believe that Lady Gaga has become a spiritual leader to all Asians. Centuries from now, shrines featuring symbolic representations of her triumphs will jut out from the ruins of Buddhist and Hindu monuments, and five times a day muezzins everywhere will sing her praises in the form of Engrish-ified verses of “Telephone.”