Ben James Wood
Artist, maker, tour manager, driver, other.


I write articles, memoir, project profiles and travel journals

I'munna Speak Your Language

I imagine you've been listening to my new song I'munna Speak Your Language (…/imunna-speak-your-langu…) and wondering where those voice samples came from, right?

Don't worry, I know you haven't, but let me tell you about it anyway. November 2014, in the town of Pingliang, China, I played a show with Luke Leighfield to approximately 100 of the sweetest, most welcoming friends and superfans. By superfans I mean people we didn't know who brought delicately made gifts, thoughtful questions and unprecedented patience. It was overwhelming.

Me on arrival at Pingliang bus station, November 2014.

After the show, before we went out for noodle soup in a tiny kitchen, air bloated with cigarette smoke and sweat, I asked some of our new crew to record exciting or motivational messages into my Keezy app in their native language, so that I could communicate with the audiences at the remaining shows on the tour. Until this point, see, everything I'd said on stage had been met with confused ripples of applause or total silence. It's probably fair to say the majority of people had no idea what I was on about and since I like to fill a good 50% of my set with casual chat, this was really quite restrictive.

Armed with a full arsenal of Chinese exclamations, I brought sprinkles of surprise and laughter, but mostly more confusion to the following week of shows. It turns out these phrases lose their meaning the further you travel from Pingliang.

Spending time in places where English is not spoken by the majority makes me feel stupid. Or maybe just childlike. I'm specifically thinking about China and Poland here. Maybe Italy, too. My confidence recedes and being unable to understand or be understood makes me try to emulate behaviour rather than language, because language is just so difficult to remember. As a result, it's easy to become suspicious, reclusive and stuck in survival mode. Pretty much the worst way to explore and experience a new country. That's sort of what the song is about.

The most reliable way to communicate and explain is through facial expression and positive energy, reading translated notes sounds so insincere. The spirit and excitement in these short recordings completely reenergised me and continue to give me a kick, so they absolutely represent what I wanted to say to the kind people who came out to see my show or listened to my recordings. An Qi's message was the coolest, so I featured it on the track, though in truth I still don't know what she's on about.