The Universal Language of Love Songs
Today is Valentine’s Day, which for some, comes with big bouquets and bite-sized pieces of inedible chocolate, and for others brings complicated feelings and a social media cleanse just to avoid all the PDA.
As complicated as Valentine’s Day may be, I think we can all agree that love is a beautiful thing. The definition of love, however, alludes us - it can be as fleeting as it is enduring, as palpable as it is intangible; it can bring extreme clarity and cause immense doubt.
For centuries, artists around the world have used love songs to express their inner turmoil around the topic and work towards a personal understanding of such expansive and sometimes contradictory feelings. Love songs appear in every part of the world, almost every genre of music, and are as human as can be. In fact, Darwin was the first notable scientist to argue that the capacity for music evolved in humans precisely for the purpose of writing love songs. In observing the songs of various songbirds, he decided that we’re doing the same thing, singing to woo a mate. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin asserts “primeval man, or rather some early progenitor of man, probably first used his voice in producing true musical cadences... This power would have been especially exerted during the courtship of the sexes,—would have expressed various emotions, such as love, jealousy, triumph,—and would have served as a challenge to rivals.”
In short, all songs were originally love songs.
Love songs are so universal that they can be an effective way to initiate difficult political and social conversations. In places where freedom of expression is limited and political criticism is punished, love becomes the language of protest - the last common denominator. The lines between love of self, love of others and love of identity can be intentionally blurred to invoke complex feelings of longing, despair, helplessness, anger, and frustration. Recalling one induces feelings about the other.
We've put together a list of our favorite African Love Songs that use romantic love to convey different types of messages. This Valentine’s Day, we urge you to reflect on how the romantic love you’ve experienced can provide insights about other parts of your life, others and the world.
Hope you enjoy! What’s your favorite love song?