Your Afghan Playlist?

A question for you, reader: what American or English-language songs would you play for Afghan students in order to both (1) introduce them to the broad range of English-language musical culture and (2) help them build their English listening and interpretation skills and familiarity?

There are some rules. My question is educationally motivated, so any music shared should support Afghan and Islamic values, and should promote the values that the Afghan educational system is trying to promote.

  1. No references to alcohol or drugs.
  2. No references to extramarital love, lust, or dating, and no references to sex. (That includes innuendo.)
  3. No misogyny. (Women-positive lyrics much encouraged, as long as they don’t violate #2.)
  4. Nothing that would be perceived as non-Islamic proselytizing. This includes no mentions of Jesus, the Bible, or biblical figures.
  5. Consider carefully the place of cursing and anti-establishment rhetoric in the context of a fledgling Islamic republic attempting to promote the rule of law.

Here’s an inital stab pedagogy: every week, make a playlist available to students. For homework, have each student choose a song he or she likes best and try to write down and learn the lyrics. In class, do some karaoke-style recitation, and then have discussion about vocabulary, cultural referents, and interpretation.

I’m seeking as diverse a sampling as possible, and hoping for music that might in some way be both representatively American or Western and that might be stuff they haven’t encountered before. I’d be grateful for any and all suggestions in the comments.

(One last thing: the class in question will also include a film portion. Any ideas for great American movies that fulfill the above criteria are welcome, as well.)

Your Afghan Playlist?

9 thoughts on “Your Afghan Playlist?

  • May 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I was going to call this task impossible until I remembered The Shaggs.

  • May 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I may be thinking about this too much (or not enough):

    Johnny Cash – “Get Rhythm”
    Fugazi – “Waiting Room”
    Tracy Chapman – “Mountains O’ Things”
    Odetta – “Deep Blue Sea”
    Okkervil River – “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe”
    Pavement – “Stereo”
    TOOL – “Forty-Six & 2”
    Robert Johnson – “Cross Road Blues”
    Woody Guthrie – “So Long It’s Been Good To Know You”
    Hank Williams – “Ramblin’ Man”
    Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
    Weird Al Yankovic – “Smells Like Nirvana”

  • May 15, 2011 at 5:29 am

    How about some really oldies and goodies?
    Old Man River
    Stephen Foster songs like My Old Kentucky Home or I Dream of Jeannie

    Could any film be more American than The Sound of Music?
    You’ve Got Mail
    Julie and Julia

    Just a few suggestions from an oldie! 

  • May 15, 2011 at 8:13 am

    So “God Bless America” is out? Though seriously, I have listened to dozens of Afghan pop and folk songs and almost all mention Allah in some context or another, so the secular nature of our music would be something your students would pick up on quickly.

    Joan’s choices are good, and I might add others from our musical tradition. Are songs from the folk and social protest tradition, such as This Land is Your Land, If I Had a Hammer, and Blowing in the Wind, too contentious for what you are trying to do?

    Afghans definitely see music as an outlet of expression for strong feelings about love and beauty, so be sure to include a ballad or two. Somehow I’m thinking they would respond well to Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.

    How about songs associated with significant cultural events such as Here Comes the Bride, Auld Lang Syne, or Amazing Grace?

    Beach Boys? Chuck Berry?

    Finally, don’t shy away from songs written or performed by women.

    Have fun!

  • May 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Thanks all: great advice and suggestions. Please keep ’em coming — I’d love to pass along 2, 3, 5, 10 or more playlists to the Languages department head and the instructor who’s teaching the course come fall. (Who knows — maybe even with crowdsourced liner notes aimed at an Afghan audience?)

    Here’s an initial attempt with what I’ve got access to here:

    1. “Momentum,” Aimee Mann
    2. “Muddy Waters,” The Seldom Scene
    3. “Broadway,” The Clash
    4. “Under the Milky Way,” The Church
    5. “Peace Train,” Cat Stevens
    6. “The Logical Song,” Supertramp
    7. “Clocks,” Coldplay
    8. “Born to Run,” Emmylou Harris
    9. “Paper in Fire,” John Mellencamp
    10. “Never Go Back,” Dag Nasty
    11. “Radar Gun,” The Bottle Rockets
    12. “Boom Boom Mancini,” Warren Zevon
    13. “I Danced,” Violent Femmes
    14. “Little Green Bag,” George Baker Selection
    15. “Feeling Good,” Nina Simone (or My Brightest Diamond)
    16. “Living on a Thin Line,” The Kinks
    17. “Margaret Vs. Pauline,” Neko Case
    18. “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen
    19. “Brothers in Arms,” Dire Straits

  • May 21, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Also thought about Apollo 13 or 12 Something (Brave, maybe?!) Men, the film about a jury trying to decide a case.

  • May 23, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Are you thinking about contributing to an anthology with your writings or doing something independent?

  • May 23, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Some portions of what I’m doing here will go into articles that I’ll revise into chapters of the book I’m working on.

  • May 23, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Really interesting project/assignment sequence. Some songs:

    –“Mr. Tamborine Man” by Dylan
    –“Sound and Vision” by David Bowie
    –“Money Won’t Change You” by Aretha Franklin
    –“Man in the Long Black Coat” by Dylan
    –“Walking On the Moon” by The Police
    –“Summertime Clothes” by Animal Collective
    –“Paperback Writer” by The Beatles
    –“Box of Rain” by Grateful Dead
    –“Where is My Mind?” by The Pixies
    –“Brand New Day” by Sting
    –“Silver Rocket” by Sonic Youth
    –“Beautiful Day” by U2
    –“Talk” by Coldplay

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