On Music: The Universal Language of Mankind

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People say music is the universal language. The universal language of mankind. A language that has no boundaries, no borders, no class or caste. A beautiful language for all, without any barriers.

All one has to do is search for music and its universality on a platform like Google or Pinterest or any other search engine, and one is bound to come across countless quotes, phrases, and perfect one-liners in support of this commonly agreed-upon fact – that music is a universal language.

Where words fail, music speaks, a quote says.

Another one says Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universewings to the mindflight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.

And another says Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.

Or When words leave off, music begins. Or Music can change the world because it can change people. Or music is indeed the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.

Or, and I promise this is the last one, Music is an outburst of the soul.

Now, obviously, all these quotes are not just random quotes given by random people. These quotes belong to great philosophers, thinkers, and musicians, some of the greatest, most influential, and wisest humans to have ever lived. And I deliberately chose not to mention which quote is by whom, for one would easily find this information within a second on the internet. And anyway, that is not the point of this essay.

The point I am trying to get to is this, every single one of those quotes, given by different personalities, many of whom lived in different centuries, in essence, point to the same fact, thereby conveying the same message. That music is, without a doubt, a universal language. A language of the soul.

I, too, wholeheartedly agree with these quotes. I, too, believe in music’s universality. I, too, believe that music is the universal language of the soul, of mankind, of everything. How could it not be so? How could anyone in their right mind deny it?

Music seems to have existed since before time. Since before the first human being ever walked on this earth of ours. It seems as if we have all learned the language of music in our wombs or that our souls are already well-versed in the language of music. For what else could explain mankind’s universal love for it? What else could explain music’s existence in all parts of the world, from the remotest tribes somewhere deep in the remotest forests to the most highly-developed and sophisticated urban cities across the world? Music is everywhere. It is omnipresent, all-pervasive.

What makes a man, no matter which part of the world he belongs to, shake his head or tap his feet or hand to the groove of the music, to the rhythm, melody, and harmony of the music, regardless of the origins of that music? It did not matter to him if the music was from somewhere across the world, from a land he has neither seen nor experienced ever before nor ever will, from a land he has probably never even heard of.

What compels a man to enjoy that music from that far-off, unknown land?

It has to be something more profound and meaningful than mere words. It has to be something so universal and all-encompassing that one does not even bother to find out the color or gender or class or caste or economic background of the musician who produces that music, in order to judge or like that beautiful piece of music.

Where music is concerned, the usual ways of human beings take a back seat. The usual discrimination based on the color of one’s skin or one’s social status is somewhat ignored. The usual gender bias is somewhat relaxed. And music is celebrated in itself, for what it truly is, regardless of who created it.

And this is the only reason why I, a man from India, can perfectly enjoy the music of Latin America or Africa or Europe or America or Australia. This is why I enjoy the reggae music of Bob Marley, the Latin rock of Carlos Santana, the blues of B.B. King and Muddy Waters, the rock and roll of Elvis Presley, the blues-rock of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and the Doors, the folk ballads of Bob Dylan, and all types of Indian songs.

Now, this is not an exhaustive list at all. The artists I mentioned above are just the ones I mentioned as examples, to prove a point that was obvious and need not be proved at all. The list of artists I listen to, the regions they belong to, and the languages they sing in, is endless.

I have fallen in love with several songs whose creator’s names I do not even know. I have fallen in love with songs in languages I have never even heard, and if heard, certainly do not understand or comprehend even a single word.

But still, I love them, enjoy them, and cherish them.

I often find myself listening to Spanish songs I do not understand but are catchy and make me happy, instantly putting me in a good mood. Songs like Guantanamera, Corazón Espinado, Bésame Mucho, and Clandestino. These are songs that I adore and love.

I also sometimes find myself completely absorbed in Nordic folk music which almost always sounds dark, dangerous, and mysterious to me, and which, obviously, I do not understand the meaning of. My favorite one, Herr Mannelig, is a Swedish folk ballad that tells the story of a female mountain troll who proposes marriage to a young human man. I am obsessed with its dark, haunting sound (at least of the version I have heard).

I have heard songs from the great African continent, in languages, I have neither heard nor can comprehend, but have fallen in love with them nonetheless. A perfect example would be Shosholoza, a Nguni song that was sung by the mixed tribes of gold miners in South Africa. It is a traditional miner’s song originally sung by groups of men from the Ndebele ethnic group that traveled by steam train from their homes in Zimbabwe to work in South Africa’s diamond and gold mines.

I do not remember how I first came across the song. Maybe through some movie (Invictus, maybe?) or documentary or by random chance. Who knows? All I know is that I have fallen in love with it, often gaining some kind of inspiration, motivation, and strength from the song, although I never knew what it really meant until I Googled the lyrics much later. I derived from it the strength to keep going and keep fighting. I do not know how or why, but I just felt it.

Another song I never initially understood but greatly enjoyed was Bella Ciao, the late 19th-century Italian protest song which was first sung by the mondina workers to protest the harsh working conditions in the paddy fields of northern Italy. This song too has a special way of inspiring people. Not just Italians, but all kinds of human beings. And please do not ask me how or why, for I am trying to figure that out myself.

These are just a few examples, for as I have mentioned, the list is endless, ever-changing, and ever-increasing.

A young man from India can only really be touched by these various songs, in various languages, from various countries, because of the universal nature of music. What else could it be? What else would explain people who do not know or understand a word of English passionately singing the songs of Bob Marley or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Or people who do not know or understand a word of Spanish singing Spanish songs as if it were their first language? And what would explain me singing Shosholoza or Bella Ciao without knowing or understanding even a word of Ndebele and Zulu, or Italian?

Due to this universal nature of music, one is often surprised to find an Asian in love with European music, a European in love with African music, an African in love with Indian music, an American in love with Indian classical music, or an Icelander in love with American music, and so on and on in a never-ending manner.

And this is only to speak of music with lyrics. When it comes to music without the interference of words or language, that is, purely instrumental music, it has been universal since time immemorial. Therefore, I do not think I need to mention the importance and universality of the Beethovens and Bachs, and Mozarts of history. It would only be foolish of me to do so.

Music is a significant element in all cultures across the world. It has been so in the past, is still so, and shall continue to remain so. Music is a part of life. A way of life. It is used for religious rituals and ceremonies, for social activities. It is used to convey important messages that transcend generations. It defines a century, an era. It defines the short history of mankind. It shows our progress as a species, our progress in the arts. It defines a culture, a continent, and even an entire race of humans maybe.

Music is a part of the collective soul of humanity. A vital part.

Music is what makes us who we are.