In the world of music, some classics are sometimes just too big to be confined to one language. My friend Ayeesha linked to an interview with professor Muhammad Umar Memon who states:
“Translation for me stems from two different but interrelated impulses: a good text matures for the reader with every reading, reveals itself gradually—call it literary striptease. I can delve into it only through extended togetherness. Translation makes it possible to tease out all I can through this prolonged intimacy. The other insatiable impulse is to uncover my own potential.”
Musicians all over the world would tell you, one of the hardest thing is probably to sing a cover from an original artist and try to put your take on it that will both honor the work of the creator and provided added value for your audience. Now add to that the difficulty of fitting the melody with the intricansies of a totally different languages. It's not easy and it's so much more than just imitation. After all, one can argue that all inventions/ideas are derivative. (For instance, the Creative Commons project states its goal as follows: "dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.")
The following are a few popular songs, interpreted in different languages:
The classic Jacques Brel "Ne me quitte pas":
written and sung in Malagasy by Eric Manana "Aza ilaozanao":
And in English by Cindy Lauper "If you go away"
Being one of the world cup songs surely helps in getting a song translated. Here is the Ubiquitous "Waving the Flag" by K'naan, translated, sung and produced in no less than 20 languages (including Haitian Creole, it seems):
It also appears that K'naan is somehow presnet in all the translated versions of his songs which is quite a feat in itself. Here is the French version: "Chanter dans les stades" and one of my favorite, the Mongolian version.
Sometimes artists are just trying to surf on the wave of popularity of a trend in other countries. The French boys band and aptly named "Poetic Lovers" imitated quite a few things from US 90's RnB sensation BoysIIMen: the clothing, the lyrics, the dude with the deep voice...
Frenchmen now snicker at the mention of this short-lived pop sensation but the band was quite successful back then. Still, the one song they decided to translate was one of Lionel Richie's hits: "Say you say me"(French take here). It feels like they tried hard to translate a BoyszIIMen hit but could not do it, which tells you one thing, not every songs can be translated.
English is obviously the one language that seems to centralize all the spin off translation of songs. What would be extremely interesting would be to track whether countries with no previous cultural ties start to bypass the usual language channels and built upon creations that are far removed from each other culturally. One such example is the story of Niwa, the Japanese bass player who moved to Brazzaville, Congo and learn lingala to get closer to congolese musicians Bisso na Bisso.
Finally, no such list would be complete without mentioning the 60's where a flurry of songs were translated back and forth between English and French, the most famous controversy being over the proper accreditation of the French Song "Comme d'Habitude" as the original take on Sinatra's "My Way". Here is an exquisite take of Ray Charles "What'd I say?" by French rocker Dick Rivers and his band Les Chats Sauvages:"Est-ce-que tu le sais?"