8 Huge International Musicians That Deserve U.S. Success

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Dolly Parton is huge in Denmark. The '90s soft-rock metalheads Mr. Big are big in Japan. But how does the American market respond to music from overseas? Now and then, a non-English-speaking musician ends up with a hit here in the U.S., usually thanks to a song that sounds more like a novelty number than anything all that profound. (Who can forget, even if they wanted to, Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus"?) With this mind, here are eight international artists whose music won't make you cringe and totally deserve a shot at success in the U.S.

  1. Warda Al-Jazairia:

    The recent passing of French-born, Algerian-Lebanese singer and film star Warda Al-Jazair is a great loss to the world of Arabic music. She was well-known for her singing of patriotic Algerian songs, as well as truly poetic love songs, usually backed by the very Arabic instrumentation of strings and hand percussion. The video below is a live performance of one of her most popular hits, "Betwanes Beek," which roughly translated means "happy to be with you." Her legacy is comparable to another great singer, Umm Kulthum, who also sang of politics and love.

  2. Petite Noir:

    Singer, songwriter, and producer Petite Noir (real name Yannick Illunga) isn't exactly a HUGE international star, but there's no reason to believe he won't be by the time you read this. Born in Belgium, now based in Cape Town, South Africa, Petite Noir creates music that eerily blends African rhythms with down-tempo production, while referencing some of post-punk's moodiest bands, including Joy Division and Modern English. His recent release "'Till We Ghosts" is an example of what he describes as his "Noir Wave" sensibility.

  3. Kadri Gopalnath:

    Born in 1950 in the city of Mangalore, India, Kadri Gopalnath spent 20 years mastering the alto saxophone and adapting it to play Carnatic music. Carnatic music is a type of Indian classical vocal music, originating in Southern India, where the vocal line is sometimes performed on instruments, although not typically the saxophone. He is highly respected by masters of Carnatic music, as well as Western jazz musicians, including saxophonist John Handy, who helped bring more attention to Gopalnath by joining him onstage to perform at the 1980 Bombay Jazz Festival.

  4. Emily Karpel:

    Fans of Bjork, Florence and the Machine, and maybe even Zooey Deschanel, might want to check out the gorgeous, yet quirky music of Israel's Emily Karpel. Born in Canada, Karpel moved to Israel at the age of 3 and began her professional music career there at 15. Her music, like her fashion sense, is pop with a definite edge, and lyrics are sung in Hebrew. "Osher" is one of Karpel's recent productions; the song's video initially features Karpel in a very Kanye West-like bear suit. After changing into a tight lime-green dress, Karpel makes her way to a dark, dungeon-like club and, after dancing a little bit with her fellow masked clubbers, shoots and kills everyone in the place.

  5. Girls' Generation (Seoul, South Korea):

    The nine-member, all-girl, South Korean pop juggernaut Girls' Generation's most recent hit "The Boys" brought them exposure well beyond the Asian markets, and even landed them a performance on Late Show with David Letterman. All nine girls are the collective product of one of three major artist management companies based in Seoul, South Korea, each of which train young men and women to sing, dance, and act before unleashing them to capture the hearts and minds of tweens all over the planet. This year, Girls' Generation members Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun formed a spin-off group called TaeTiSeo and released a single called "Twinkle" which debuted on iTunes at number four, a first for a Korean musical artist. You go girls!

  6. Le Vent du Nord:

    The folk group Le Vent du Nord (The North Wind) are immensely popular in their native home of Quebec. They perform a repertoire of Québécois music on traditional instruments, including button accordion, Irish bouzouki, and fiddle, and sing in Quebec French. Québécois is heavily influenced by Celtic music, especially as it is heard in Ireland and Brittany. Their live shows are legendary, bringing audiences to their feet to sing and dance, and all of their albums have been nominated for multiple awards.

  7. Omar Souleyman:

    From Syria, specifically the border country with Turkey and Iraq, comes singer and master of Dabke music Omar Souleyman. Western audiences may be familiar with Souleyman thanks to his recent collaborations with Bjork and popular releases on the Sublime Frequencies label. His music is perfect for Syrian weddings, where guests hold hands and shimmy to the relentless rhythms the Dabke, a rural Syrian dance. On stage, he is joined by lyricist Mahmoud Harbi, who stands nearby ready to whisper in Souleyman's ear each individual line of poetry to be sung.

  8. Borobax:

    Playing in a rock band, especially one that freely mixes up pop with hip-hop, is a pain if you live in Iran. Despite having an international following, the Tehran-based Borobax are censored in their home country. However, thanks to the Internet, Iranian satellite stations based outside of Iran and a few intrepid record labels, Borobax's music, which seems to owe as much to the Monkees as it does the Beastie Boys, continues to find ears throughout the Middle East and Europe. The band's recent hit "Bodo Dire" and its accompanying video effectively destroys any stereotypes one may have when it comes to Iran and its popular culture.

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