Language Learning with Handpicked Spanish Jams

Courtesy of estereolobby.com
Courtesy of estereolobby.com

If you are perusing these pages, it is likely you are already aware of the all-powerful utility of music. Music as an outlet, as entertainment, as a releaser of dopamine, for love mixes, for making long days at your desk job bearable – the list goes on. This seemingly-infinite utility is only multiplied with the surge of accessibility and music streaming apps like Spotify, which supply us with an endless well of tunes for whatever the occasion. In addition to the list of obvious uses, the Swiss Army knife of music also happens to proxy as a great learning tool for other languages. While Rosetta Stone Spanish on Amazon runs around $250, there is a wealth of amazing Spanish music out there that can all be experienced for free.

Having moved to Spain a little over a month ago, in an attempt to learn a language that has alluded me for years now, Spanish music has a been a huge part of the learning experience for me. When grammar books and studying verb conjugations gets weary, a little Jorge Drexler goes a long way. The language of songs has the added difficulty of being in lyrical and an inherently more abstract form. It is a little harder to make guesses based on context or hand gestures, but this is great exposure and practice with another element of language.

So, if you feel like getting in a little Spanish listening practice, or just want to check out some fun indie/alt-rock tunes in a prettier-sounding language than English, give this playlist a go. For more advanced Spanish learners, writing the lyrics as you listen to the songs does wonders for your listening and comprehension ability. I try to do this as much as I can to improve my ability to understand the rapid-fire and overwhelmingly colloquial Andalucían accent here in southern Spain. But que rollo (how boring!) this is starting to sound more like homework and less like fun, so, without further digression…

Todo se Transforma by Jorge Drexler. Jorge Drexler is a well-known Uruguayan artist perhaps best known for his work on The Motorcycle Dairies soundtrack with the song “Al Otro lado del rio.” I first came across “Todo se Transforma” on a mix during college, and I continued to listen to this song for years without every really knowing what it was about (other than some vague sense of things being transformed). Jorge could have been talking about a Michael Bay film for all I knew, until a recent re-listen, when I was floored by the intricate and beautiful story within this song that I had heard a million times but never understood. This one is also great practice in understanding the past-perfect tense!

Vive Solo by Juana Molia. Haunting and ambient electronic indie folk would best describe the genre explored by this Argentinean artist. A mouthful indeed, but it would be difficult to describe Juana’s intriguing and unique sound with fewer adjectives. “Vive Solo” is a little on the mumbly and incomprehensible side for us non-native speakers, but it’s a strong Spanish tune nevertheless, with some beautiful phases and phenomenal ambience.

Jesus esta llorando by Guadalupe Plata. Spanish-biker-rockabilly would best suit Guadalupe Plata’s wild sound. Their lyrics are usually pretty simple (albeit hilarious) and are reasonably easy to understand, even with minimal Spanish knowledge. Take the lyrics from this song for an example: “Jesús está llorando /porque has sido mala / mala / mala / mala.” Which basically translates to, “Jesus is crying because you’ve been a bad girl.” They have some pretty phenomenal instrumental tunes as well, and great videos to match if you are a fan of the style.

Brindo Por Tiby Macaco. Perhaps, if this song were in English, it would be a little over-the-top ‘feel good’ for my taste. But sometimes, songs get a free ‘awesome pass’ if for no other reason than the novelty of being in a language more romantic than that which you are accustomed to. “Brindo Por Ti” is a great starting-off-the-morning song, the kind that makes you want to hug your neighbors and be grateful for your pet turtles.

Que Puedo Hacerby Los Planetas. A solid indie rock group from Granada, Spain, (my temporary home during my time here) Los Planetas are kind of like Dinosaur Jr.’s estranged Spanish cousins. Shoe-gazey grunge riffs and meandering baritone vocals make for a fun and nostalgic listen. It’s an interesting experience listening to well-crafted 90’s style grunge/indie rock in a language other than English. However, it turns out the beloved 90’s grunge sentiment permeated other cultures as well, and Los Planetas are a perfect example.

Me He Perdido by Nacho Vegas. Melancholic banjo always gets me. Add some nostalgic Spanish mumble-folk vocals, minimalist brushed drums, and a touch of female vocal harmonies and you’ve got yourself a strong tune. Although relatively new to me, Nacho Vegas is one of the more famous folk rock artists here in Spain and with a listen to “Me He Perdido,” it’s easy to see why.

El politico neoliberal by Pony Bravo. This Sevilla based indie rock outfit packs a ton of groove into their flamenco influenced lo-fi jams. Plus, the cover art for this album is a painting of some hawk/eagle killing a parrot, so there’s that!

El Dia de Manana by Nueva Vulcano. In a similar vein as Los Planetas, Nueva Vulcano explore the jangly grunge rock genre that is close to my heart, but with a cultural twist that makes it fresh and novel. These Barcelona-based garage rockers are well worth checking out if the garage/punk genre does anything for you “El Dia de Manana” the perfect upbeat jam to start things off with.

Guitarra y Vozby Jorge Drexler. Yes, another Jorge tune, but he is simply too awesome to only appear on this mix once. I am also strangely OCD about starting and ending mixes with the same artist. Like John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity famously said: “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. . . there are a lot of rules.” Well this is one of my odd rules; something about it brings things full circle for me. Regardless, this is a beautiful tune with fast spoken-word style Spanish that is great for practice understanding rapid-paced conversation. It also has a very theme-fitting chorus: “hay tantas cosas / yo solo preciso dos / mi guitarra y voz / mi guitarra y voz.” The ultra-suave Uruguayan accent helps make this simple yet elegant hook stick it your head long after the song has ended making it hard not to love this one.

Learning a new language is, in many ways, a kind of return to childhood. There are so just many things (hay tantas cosas!) what are they all called!? I’ve used these songs for exploring this novel sense of wonder, as well as learning a little vocabulary to help along the way. My hope is that you will able to do the same. Discouragement is an overwhelmingly common theme when first testing the waters in a language other than your own. But even on the worst days of speaking, I’ve still got my guitar to noodle around on, and I’ve still got my voice (child-like though it may sound in Spanish). I also have an infinity of sweet new music to explore, to help make the process a little less daunting.

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