The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said music is the universal language. It certainly can be, but it helps if you understand the lyrics. A bilingual singer can reach fans around the world by releasing music in languages other than English and by communicating with those fans in a language they can understand.
In this edition of Bilingual Jobs, we chat with two musicians with linguistic prowess. Yaniza is a bilingual singer-songwriter who writes and performs songs in English and Spanish, as well as a combination of the two. Kristina Lachaga is a singer-songwriter with aspirations of multilingualism; she’s studying four languages to help her connect with her fans. Both of these budding pop stars are using language to make music even more global.
Yaniza: Bilingual Singer Expanding Her Audience
Born and raised in New York City, Yaniza Doré (stage name: Yaniza) has loved singing since she was a little girl.
“My parents said I was humming music before I could even talk,” she recalls of her childhood.
Yaniza was raised in a bilingual household. Her mother is a native Spanish speaker, and her father’s native language is English. She was in a dual language program in elementary school, which supplemented the Spanish she picked up at home.
In 2013, when Yaniza was in college, she began posting weekly YouTube covers of songs and performing live at venues in New York. Initially her covers were in English, but over time she began to sing in Spanish as well, combining her love of music with her bilingual abilities.
She says singing in Spanish has helped her stand out on YouTube and reach wider audiences than she had been before.
“I’ve found that doing covers in Spanish or Spanglish makes you more competitive,” Yaniza says. “And more people can listen in different parts of the world, so that’s cool!”
In addition to covers, Yaniza has written and recorded a number of original songs, primarily in English. But this year, she took her identity as a bilingual singer to the next level by writing and releasing her first original song in Spanglish, “Contigo”.
The song seamlessly blends English and Spanish lyrics into each other, creating a catchy and distinctive Spanglish song. This may sound like a songwriting nightmare, but Yaniza says it came naturally to her.
“I’m really lucky that the lyrics just sort of came to me,” Yaniza explains. “The song wrote itself! Different parts would pop into my head without warning and I just had to figure out how to put everything together and fill in any blanks.”
The songwriting process involved musical inspiration mixed with thoughtful language skills. Yaniza explains how it worked: “I think the first part that came to me was the part that goes o pa’ ‘lante pa’ ‘tras, and so I thought what’s something in English that would make you move forward and backward? Dancing!”
One of the most challenging parts of being a singer on YouTube is the importance of being first when you cover a song. Yaniza says that while quality matters, timeliness is the most crucial factor in growing your video and your channel’s viewership count.
“With Spanish covers, it’s harder because I have to memorize the song in Spanish, which is my second language, and record it and get it out as quickly as possible,” Yaniza says.
For original songs, another challenge is making sure the Spanish lyrics don’t unintentionally offend anyone. Yaniza is careful to make sure she’s saying things in a way that is culturally and linguistically appropriate.
Despite challenges, Yaniza finds being a bilingual singer — and a musician in general — extremely rewarding, even though she has to face both the positives and negatives of online feedback.
“I’m always baffled when people say mean things because it’s like, how could you say that to someone?” Yaniza says. “But I’m also blown away when people say really kind things. They’ve heard me sing for like a minute, they don’t know me at all, but they’re leaving such nice comments.”
It’s particularly meaningful to Yaniza when fans express the ways in which her music has helped them through a rough time in their lives.
“There was this dad who had just sent his son off to college, and he was so glad he found my song ‘Fly Away’ because he felt like he could just let him go and turn it into a happy moment instead of a sad one.”
Kristina Lachaga: Pop Musician Becoming A Polyglot
Known by her fans as “The Girl With The Big Pink Heart,” Kristina Lachaga is a triple threat — actor, dancer and pop singer-songwriter.
Lachaga, who has been performing since she was 9 years old, says music is the love of her life and that its universality can bring the world together.
“Whenever a song comes on, we have this amazing opportunity to connect with each other,” Lachaga says. “Through music. Through dance. Through smiles. Without even speaking.”
But she wants to make these connections even deeper, by learning the languages of her fans. Through years of hard work, Lachaga has gotten to a conversational level in Spanish, Russian and French, as well as learned a little Korean, and she hopes to continue her language-learning adventures.
“To be able to break down the language barrier and connect with someone on a deeper level through heart-to-heart conversation on-stage, off-stage, or even on the world stage is next-level,” Lachaga says. “That’s something I want to do.”
Lachaga is a Spanish surname. Her paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States from Bilbao, Spain. She studied Spanish throughout her time in school, and was able to use it to communicate with Spanish-speaking students during her cross-country anti-bullying concert tour.
When Lachaga was a teenager, she was cast in a commercial, in which she had to sing in Russian while dancing in the streets of Manhattan. She picked up a little Russian then, but didn’t begin studying it in earnest until the 2018 Winter Olympics so she could follow news of her favorite figure skater, Evgenia Medvedeva.
That summer, Lachaga took part in an online Babbel language challenge, during which she studied Spanish, Russian and French, and posted videos of her speaking them on social media. Her fans were enamored with her language skills.
“Their response defied my expectations,” she remembers. “I heard from fans that are native Spanish speakers, fans that live in Canada and Europe, and even fans that are also learning languages. It was so amazing to start a new conversation with my audience — and in other languages, no less.”
Lachaga plans to continue improving her language abilities, with the hopes of eventually writing songs in other languages, touring with international artists and, of course, deepening her connections with fans around the globe.