A few months ago I came across a song called ‘Aku Lapar’ from Fransoa, a Frenchman living in Bali. Sung to the tune of seventies hit ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, he gives a list of 40-odd Indonesian foods accompanied by a punk parody film clip made in a Seminyak restaurant. From nasi goreng to bakso to pepes the list is quite impressive. In place of the original chorus, which means ‘it’s alright for me’, he sings aku lapar (I am hungry).
This song, and the video that goes with it, made me laugh out loud. Why do I like it so much? Many reasons. For a start, the original song by Plastic Bertrand was one of the few foreign language pop songs that was played in Australia in the eighties (it reached number 2 on the Australian charts in 1979), so I have fond memories of it. And it’s already so camp. You couldn’t really take the line ‘I am the king of the divan’ seriously, could you?
The hidden educational value
Also, there’s something about a list song that appeals to me. I’ve written a few myself. One lists 16 fruit and their attributes (in Indonesian); one gives 20 ways to use bamboo. And another gives the names of the major Indonesian islands and cities found on them, in a kind of ‘I’ve been everywhere’ song. I have even written a song for yoga teachers to help them learn the names of poses in Sanskrit. I think the appeal for me is the hidden educational value. If the song is catchy you’ll remember the words. And if you remember the words you’ll have learnt something. I’m pretty sure I learnt some history from Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.
In the case of ‘Aku Lapar’ you could learn the names of some Indonesian food. But even more than learning words I admire Fransoa’s creative spirit and his willingness to write and sing in another language. Indonesia could do with more foreigners being creative in Indonesian instead of so often sticking with English (or another language).
I also like song that’s sung in more than one language. Let’s face it, I’m a language geek so I get a kick out of hearing pop songs sung in other languages, like ‘Las Cosas de la Vida’, an Eros Ramazzotti song which has Italian, Spanish and English versions (the last a duet with Tina Turner no less).
‘Kiss, Kiss’ was much better in the original Turkish, by the way (Simarik by Tarkan).
A song that mixes languages, an interlingual song you could say, is also something I’m very fond of. Manu Chao does it better than anyone. A well-known example from the early nineties is ‘Amigos Para Siempre’, which was the theme song for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It featured three languages but it took me until I started studying Catalan at La Trobe University to realise that. I was singing along like everyone else: ‘amigos para siempre means you’ll always be my friend. Duh da da da means our love will never end.’
And if you’re wondering just what those missing words are? Amics per sempre. Yep, exactly the same words as the Spanish (friends forever) just sung in that hard-to-understand-flat-vowels-closed-mouth Catalan way.
Some years back I was part of a latin choir in Canberra. That’s latin as in viva la fiesta, not as in Gregorian chants. One of the songs we sang was ‘I Am Australian’ by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton… in Spanish. Yo soy, tu eres, somos Australianos. I loved singing that. It really felt like we were showing diversity in our community and demonstrating solidarity with all Spanish-speaking Australians.
Indonesian would be a great language into which to translate that song. The chorus fits quite well: ‘Saya, kamu, kita Australia.’ Has anyone done it? Maybe the time is right.