When I’m feeling blue: On How Music Saves Your Life When You’re Abroad (or at home)


We all have those days, the sad days, the days when you wake up and you’re not sure why you have to do anything, why you can’t just sleep a little more, until the storm passes, or when you wish you didn’t have to smile and be polite when you’re world is coming to an important stand-still or impasse. Or at the very least, the days when you just need time to think, to sit by yourself and take a deep breath…

These days, as the posts on this blog might intimate, I have had quite a few… That’s alright, I guess.  Sometimes when I need a moment, particular songs help me have my me time, while still doing all the other daily rigamarole that I need to do.  I was reflecting the other day on how the music I listen to while abroad leaves it’s imprint on me. When I was in Qatar, Luis Fonsi’s “No me doy por vencido” was constantly on repeat, even though it’s a song about not giving up on a relationship that is about to end, I used it as inspiration while preparing my grad school applications, and worrying about my mom when she had emergency surgery and then complications.

This time around is no different. There are two songs in particular seem to give me perspective… and then a third one, came to mind, just during the last day or so.  I will start with that one first.

I don’t speak Yoruba, but thanks to the powers that be, and people I grew up around as a child, I do know quite a few Yoruba church songs, for the most part, I have no idea what they mean. As of late, feeling tired with this program, tired with the home stretch of the educational chapter of my life,  the (culturo-spiritual bust that this Ramadaan, my first one in the Arab world,  turned out to be (and other stuff that need not be mentioned), I started sing to my self a random Yoruba song, that I haven’t thought of in years…

ki lo le se, Olorun mi, Ki lo le se…

Yup that’s all there is to the song…  I kept repeating it over and over again, to the point where I said to myself, what the heck are you singing?

So, I did what anyone in this day and age does, I looked it up.  And finally after 20 some odd years, and at least 5 since I last heard this song, I know what it means…

“What can’t you do My Lord?  what can’t you do”

To me at least, it’s a fitting reminder that I may not be in control of anything, but God is control of everything…  Yet another song that came to me at the right time. Here’s a Youtube video of it being performed by an evangelist lady (she is NOT Nigerian, fyi) ….

As for the second song it’s pretty much in the same vein as the above one, it’s call “Inshallah” and it’s by an Islamic singer (i.e. he sings religious themed and otherwise wholesome music, a younger Sami Yusuf) Maher Zein.

I like this song for a number of different reasons, well first of all it’s in Arabic, and I feel like I get a double benefit of language practice by listening to it. Secondly, the message of the song is one that always helps bring me back to the middle. It’s one of those songs that stops my whining midstream, because I have to think of the bigger picture…

Here’s a rough (very rough) translation of the first verse:

If one day, the troubles are so heavy upon you

and lost on your own, you can’t find an answer

and  your troubles, make night last so long

and throw you out into a loneliness, that only repeats it’s wailing,

stretch out your hand, you will find all around you,

That God, He felt what you were going through before you did,

By God’s grace/will, you will find the way…

I can’t count the number of times this song cameo on on my music player and I stopped to reflect on what it was saying.  Here is a clip of the video, through writing this post, I discovered that there is an English version, but IMO it’s not as good as the Arab version, nor is it a direct translation of it.

But everything not religious/spiritual.  My third song, is one that reminds me that’s it’s ok to cry… it’s called “Respira” (breath), by Spanish singer Luis Fonsi… I love the whole song, and literally look for it on my player sometimes when I feel overwhelmed… A rough translation of some of the most pertinent parts of the song is as follows

Blindly crossing between pain and grief,

Only in faith, you break the wall,

You tear the mantel,

While shaking like a paper sailboat,

I see you, and I know that you’re feeling like less than nothing,

Close to you, I stay without saying anything,

I listen to you without judging, and try to help you breath…


I know how tired suffering makes you,

Rest dear,

Breath, take a second and just breath

Close your eyes and see,

While it hurts, breath out the pain with me…


Tomorrow, if this game of life serves you a different card,

A better one, I will be there,

To bet on you and celebrate the fact that you want to be happy,

Here’s the video:

This song is so special to me, I think if I ever met Luis Fonsi, he might have a conniption… because I would do just that as I broke down sobbing trying to tell him how he helped get me through some rough times… Awkward… ha, ha… (hmmm I should put that on my Spain to-do list: meet Luis Fonsi)

Sometimes, unconsciously I suppose, do exactly what the song say to do… take deep breaths.  I wonder how weird that made me look to the women on the tram in Alexandria… oh well.

I fear that my translations don’t do either one justice, I guess they don’t really tap into what I am feeling when I listen to them. but, thinking about these songs made me think about music in general,  the role that it plays in my life. Songs as therapy didn’t start with me as an adult woman making random trips abroad.  Although I think my repertoire has gotten better.  For one, I don’t listen to English language songs for inspiration as much anymore… I’m not sure that it’s because I feel like they’re inferior.  It’s more because as my Arabic and Spanish abilities grew, I was exposed to a whole new world of beautiful figurative language and such that I can’t translate it’s meaning, but I feel it all the same.

Nonetheless, I distinctly remember writing something my journal after hearing the Backstreet Boy’s song “As long as you love me.”… that song epitomized true love in my 13 year old mind I guess.  So I memorialized the fact that when I fell in love, I wanted it to be with someone like the BSB song was talking about, someone who didn’t care about “who I was, where I was from,  or what I did” all that mattered was that I loved them, and the loved me…


Ha, ha… yeah I’m glad I don’t use English language songs anymore…


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