The Anglovision Song Contest and La Diversité

So, the annual camp-fest is over. The Grumpy Old Man retired to his favourite darkened room for most of it but emerged in time for the voting. Actually, I do – just – remember a time when I enjoyed it in a “serious” way, back when Abba were a novelty for not singing in their own language… Apparently “about 99%” of last night’s entries were in English. Ok, maybe some slight exaggeration there, but the trend seems inexorable.

Regular trips around Western Europe in recent years have left me underwhelmed by the seeming ubiquity of Anglo-American pop music, but a trip to Cyprus last year lifted my spirits. I don’t think I heard one English song on bus or car radio all the time I was there. So, as the votes began to pile up for Azerbaijan last night I won’t say the night was filled with Eastern promise, but, having not yet heard the song, I did allow myself some optimism that the winner was going to offer something a little bit different. Oh oh!

My own vote? Well, I didn’t hear the songs, so can only comment on the voting presentation. Fantastic! Marvellous!! Stupendous night!!! What a great show!!!! Shall I go on? Well, only to say top marks to the forlorn Frenchman who manfully delivered the tally of his country’s votes – entirely in the language of that country. Amazing!!! C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre…

But here’s the rub. The anglophone craze actually does the UK no “favours” at all. The Blue effort was evidently indistinguishable in the monocultural monotone. So what’s the solution for those who would seek a return to the glory days of Sandie Shaw or (Sir) Cliff Richard? Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? We’ve got plenty other languages here. How about making 2012 the year when the UK shows some linguistic and cultural invention and enters a song in a language other than English? What is there to lose?

Someone should be getting on the phone to Julie Fowlis now.

About Gordon Wells

Language learner and teacher (English, Gaelic, Hindi and Urdu). Interested in bilingualism and creativity. At home in the Hebrides.

Posted on 15/05/2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Quite right. Having said that 1974, Brighton Dome, Eurovision. Abba. History in the Making.

    Abba I think are now recognised as a genuinely classic ensemble.

    Nobody I think could doubt that Dancing Queen is one of the best popular music songs of all time. It once had a whole World Service broadcast all of its very own.

    It is the production values in the songs, as well as the musicianship, quality of the lyrics and gold standard performances and inch perfect timing that made them one of the best bands of all time. Like wine they mature.

    Listen to Dancing Queen. At the end of the song (last 22 seconds), a whole orchestra comes in. No-one had done that before. Is that really true? Listen to the song and you will hear the orchestra.

    Returning to the lyrics, there is an important point to be made here about language and words. There is a very good argument that because Abba were writing in their second language, the way in which they used the English language, became more refined because of the context in which they were writing. It all becomes very interesting.

    For example, I have yet to meet anyone who does not regard the following couplet to have been (in the context of the song and songwriting) one of the best couplets of all time.

    ……The history book on the shelf Is always repeating itself….

    It is only bettered in my view by the best pop song couplet of all all time, the award (no political block voting to contend with here from the old Eastern Europe) won hands down by the Ramones with

    …. now I think I got to tell ’em, I ain’t got no cerebellum….

    interesting again to note that the songwriters here are also writing in their second language (they are American).

    What conclusions can we draw? It would take someone who understands the history of the English language to explain the context here. I am peripheral to the debate, but will offer a view.

    In a nutshell with so many influences on the language in terms of incoming influences to these shores, the result is layers of meaning (Empson’s Seven Levels of Ambiguity), a rich layeredness to the whole language in other words, completey separate words, some from Anglo-Saxon and some from Norman, meaning exactly the same thing, living and being spoken organically through the ages in complete harmony, (something not shared by any other language, I understand) and of course the whole notion of irony in English.

    How many other langauges can have as many as seven different meanings for the same word?…. It does all get very interesting.

    Where does Gaelic come into this equation? Like all languages the roots grow strong, they inform, they educate, they entertain and like little streams they join to become a deep river and ultimately reach into the sea of all language.

    The point raised about the novelty of Abba singing in English in 1974 is a good one. It worked because it was Abba. The purity of hearing song from other languages and celebrating them in a competition is lost.

    Thirty plus years of Eurovision and the only real question left is whether Jedward will win or not. They are Irish. In their native tongue they would have sounded better no doubt, but of course they couldn’t sing in the first place, so that can be questioned as well. They won their own competition seen through the lens of Simon Cowell who has no interest in music and words and language at all. The only language he understands and lyricism he understands is the rhyming couplet produced by the sound of the cash till each time it turns the hurdy-gurdy of the million pound signs that come up before his eyes every month.

    Final reflection on Eurovision last night, very interesting from a language point of view, very interesting from a cultural point of view, very interesting from a pop music perspective, but ultimately very sad.

    Block voting, silly costumes, pastiches of tunes that mimic phrases from previous entries. Entirely reductive. It could all have been so different, but perhaps these things come in Katrina and the Waves and we will once again see some kind of revival in popular music, and different idioms and different languages in the competition.

    Perhaps an alternative? Discussions of language forms and a celebration of song from other countres in their own languages might well be inspiring. Perhaps a competition of this description already exists. Certainly exists here in Wales, just unfortunate that they are only interested in hearing the songs sung in Welsh.. somehow I doubt if we will see a genuine revival, but but but…..

    Simon Cowell has a lot to answer for in terms of his pernicious hold on popular culture in the context of who becomes a star and the tunes that are sung. Nul points. Reprise (middle eight) But, but. but….

    We live in hope. It could just happen. Cometh the hour, cometh the band perhaps, my goodness we need it. Jedward actually came seventh. How sad is that? You never know, perhaps a new classic band is round the Eurovision corner.

    You never never know……The history book on the shelf Is always repeating itself… an interesting year 1974.

    • Gordon Wells

      Facebook confounds – yet again. So thanks for re-posting to the blog itself. My original subtitle was “Time for a Gaelic entry, methinks. Or is Klingon the only way forward?” Well, the field is much broader than that, of course. Maybe you will spread the message around your corner of Wales – though I’m going to have to take myself off back to my darkened room for a day or two before attempting a detailed reply to your comment – beyond saying I’ve only heard Abba’s English originals bettered when sung in Urdu. Check out Salma and Sabina Agha’s classic versions, eg:

      I think the above covers more or less the gist of the FB exchanges so far. Now, deep breath, relax. Any further comments can come in their own sweet time…

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