Blurred Boundaries // Bordes Borrosos

In all cases, the fusing of English and Spanish in music was never forced. It was simply an extension of a lifestyle where you spoke Spanish at home and English at school; one where you had friends who you solely spoke to in Spanish and another group of friends who you only spoke to in English; and so on. The brain naturally learns to acknowledge and work with these differences.

However, for the uninitiated ear, hearing the languages contrasted in the music can feel severe. One artist that keeps the same composure regardless of language is Lorely Rodriguez, better known as Empress Of.

Rodriguez was born and raised in Los Angeles to immigrant parents from Honduras, but is now based in Brooklyn. Her approach introduces the two languages with great ease. Her voice is soft and caries a strong sense of longing that intertwines well with the music – so much so that listeners can easily become lost in the sounds. Her 4-song EP, Systems, starts with two songs in English and ends with two in Spanish, but its dream-like feel almost melts all the songs together. It takes a few moments to pinpoint the moment where she switched over to Spanish.

While the overall feel of the EP is hazy, Rodriguez admits that she took a more technical approach when it came to language, which is why she entitled the EP, Systems.

“I wanted it to be this thing about how language is a system –” she says, “– a system of symbols that distinguishes things. English is a system. Spanish is a system. The music is just the glue.”

Each word seems to be tied to the next or borrow emotion from its predecessor on Systems, as though it could not function individually. The words seem to follow a blueprint, with every emotion intricately calculated. On the last track, “Camisa Favorita,” Rodriguez repeats a lot of the same words to show that strong relationship.

“Fácil
Que fácil es olvidarte
Olvidarte
Que feliz soy, no haz cruzado
Cruzado mi mente”

En todos los casos, la fusión de inglés y español en la música nunca fue forzada. Era simplemente una extensión de un estilo de vida donde se habló español en casa y en el colegio Inglés, uno en el que uno tuvo amigos que sólo hablaron en español y otro grupo de amigos que sólo hablaron en Inglés, y así sucesivamente. El cerebro aprende de forma natural para reconocer y trabajar con estas diferencias.

Sin embargo, para que el oído no iniciado, al oír las lenguas contrastadas en la música se puede sentir severa. Un artista que mantiene la misma compostura sin importar el idioma es Lorely Rodríguez, más conocido como Empress Of.

Rodríguez nació y se crió en Los Ángeles de padres inmigrantes de Honduras, pero ahora tiene su sede en Brooklyn. Su música presenta los dos idiomas con gran facilidad. Su voz es suave y lleva un fuerte sentimiento de añoranza que entrelaza bien con la música – tanto es así que los oyentes pueden fácilmente perderse en los sonidos. Su cuatro-canción EP, “Systems” comienza con dos canciones en inglés y termina con dos en español, pero su onírica sensación casi se fusiona todas. Requiere un momento para notar el momento en que se cambia de inglés a español.

Mientras la sensación general de la EP es nebulosa, Rodríguez admite que ella tomó una aproximación más técnica cuando se trataba del idioma, por lo que ella le llamó al EP “Systems.”

“Yo quería que fuera una cosa sobre cómo el lenguaje es un sistema -” ella dice, “-… Un sistema de símbolos que distingue las cosas. Inglés es un sistema. Español es un sistema. La música es sólo el pegamento.”

Cada palabra parece estar ligada a la siguiente o pedir prestado emoción de su predecesor en “Systems,” como si no pudiera funcionar individualmente. Las palabras parecen seguir un plan, con cada emoción calculada intrincadamente. En la última pista, “Camisa Favorita”, Rodríguez se repite muchas de las mismas palabras para mostrar esa relación fuerte.

Still, even with Empress Of, where it may take a listener a while to realize that they stepped into a world of Spanish lyrics, it still can be disorienting and make the listener feel disconnected. For this, many of the artists brought up unexpected similar instances within monolingual music.

Rodrigo Gonzalez of Los Angeles band Salt Petal cites rock singers who sing in English, but whose vocal styling are mumbled, murmured, or even distorted. He includes Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, whose deep voice often comes off as grumbles — yet the style matches the aesthetic of the music and listeners go along with it, even if lyrics are highly misinterpreted. There are even websites and tons of articles dedicated to humorously misheard lyrics. It’s unlikely that most people know the correct words to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – and there’s a reason lyric videos are so popular on YouTube.

Songs with jumbled lyrics still go on to become popular because regardless of the way the vocals are executed, they are still an important part of the bigger sentiment that makes up the song.

Sin embargo, incluso con la Empress Of, donde se puede tomar un oyente un tiempo darse cuenta de que entraban en un mundo de letra en español, todavía puede ser desorientador y hacer que el oyente se sienta desconectada. Por eso, muchos de los artistas indicaron casos similares, e inesperados, dentro de la música monolingüe.

Rodrigo González de la banda angelino Salt Petal cita cantantes de rock que cantan en inglés, pero cuyo estilo vocal se murmuró, susurró, o incluso se distorsionó. Él incluye a Eddie Vedder de Pearl Jam, cuya voz profunda frecuentemente parece como quejas, sin embargo, el estilo coincide con la estética de la música y los oyentes le siguen, incluso si las letras están muy mal interpretadas. Hay sitios web y toneladas de artículos dedicados a letras y canciones mal entendidas. Es poco probable que la mayoría de la gente no sabe las palabras correctas a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” de Nirvana – y se supone hay una razón vídeos con líricas son tan populares en YouTube.

Canciones con letras desordenadas todavía se hacen populares porque, independientemente de la forma en que las voces se ejecutan, siguen siendo una parte importante del sentimiento más grande que compone la canción.

Juan Wauters

Indie musician Juan Wauters, who grew up in Montevideo, Uruguay, and now lives in Queens, New York, says that capturing this sentiment is vital to his work.

“My goal in life as a musician [is to] create a song that could transcend language and also use language as a crucial part of it. I have great appreciation and respect for melody and language in music. I think they are both as important,” explains Wauters. “I want language to talk in a way that illustrates something about me, and I want melody to do so as well… I have an understanding that if someone has such a sensibility to sing something that transcends language, that person has something to say that goes along well with the music as a whole.”

Flores of Las Cafeteras also explains that you don’t need a reference book of translations in order to understand a song.

“When I listen to Portuguese hip-hop, or West African music, or even punk in the US, I don’t always know the lyrics, but I feel the life that exists in the music,” he says. “Most of our music is in Spanish, and we have played for audiences where Spanish is not their first language. Folks will come to us after a show and tell us that they didn’t understand everything, but they felt everything.”

The idea of feeling and being part of an experience as opposed to just passively listening to music could not be truer than in dance music, where vocals are not always at the forefront of the music, but are still an important component of an overall expression.