Nervous Recs: Listen to Music in a Language You Don't Understand

Zoning out to incomprehensible lyrics makes your mind go silent, which may be exactly what we need right now.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Listening to music
Photo by Dmitri Kessel / Getty Images
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When I find myself in a state of utter panic, my anxiety at its peak, there’s one song I always turn to, one song I know will rescue me from my misery and hit the reset button on my brain: "Omohupa," by The Otarus. This has nothing to do with what the song is about. There’s no soothing refrain telling me that everything is going to be alright, no line reminding me how good I have it and how much worse off I could be. In fact, it’s the opposite: "Omohupa" calms me down, in large part, because I can’t understand a word of it.


I have no idea what language that song was written in; after trying to figure it out for years, my best guess is that it might be Yoruba. When I listen to "Omohupa," I stop thinking in words: Absorbed by a language I can’t comprehend, incapable of even trying to process what’s being sung, my mind goes silent. That silence lasts for the song's three-and-a-half-minute runtime. Once it’s over, the tension in my shoulders has drained, the tightness in my chest has disappeared, and I feel okay again.

As I went searching for other songs that might have that same effect on me, I discovered that the ones that really work are all sung in another language. French, Spanish, Portuguese, Igbo—it doesn’t matter, as long as I don’t know it. These songs give me a brief reprieve from constant thought. I’ve never felt anything more relaxing, or more cleansing, than that.

At a time when we’re cooped up inside, tied to our screens, inundated with emails and texts and articles and Slack messages, there’s no better way to escape all those words than by listening to music in a language you don't understand. Try it sometime. Whether you’re burnt out at the end of a long workday, or overwhelmed by living with your mom for the first time in eight years, or freaking out because someone at Whole Foods just sneezed in your general direction, chances are you’ll feel a little bit better, even if only for a moment.

If you're looking for someplace to start, give this Noisey playlist a spin:

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