“I Danmark er jeg født,” written by H.C. Andersen, performed by Isam Bachiri
Many Danes will cite H.C. Andersen’s 1850 song as the quintessentially Danish song, but when Danish-Palestinian singer Isam Bachiri sang a cover of “I Danmark er jeg født” (I Was Born in Denmark) for a 2007 tourism campaign, the song took on another dimension: It became a statement about what it means to belong and an anthem of pluralism: It is possible to be Danish at heart whether or not you were born somewhere else, have foreign roots, or in my case live abroad.
“Jeg ved en lærkerede,” written by Carl Nielsen, performed by Kim Larsen
The soundtrack to my childhood, “Jeg ved en lærkerede” (I Know Where There is a Lark’s Nest) brings back memories from morning assembly at my primary and middle schools. Morgensang (morning song) is a tradition still practiced in many Danish schools, where the pupils assemble before the start of the their classes to sing in the day. I loathed it when I was younger, as did my peers (it was ‘uncool’ to sing along), but now, I realize how many of my primary and middle school memories are tied to those morning songs.
“Om Lidt,” written and performed by Kim Larsen
If ”Jeg ved en lærkerede” was the soundtrack to my middle school years, “Om Lidt” (In a Moment) was the anthem to the end of my middle school years. Appearing on Larsen’s aptly named albumForklædt som voksen (Disguised as an Adult), “Om Lidt” captures the angst of realising that an era is coming to an end. I remember listening to this song on my brick of a computer, tears in my eyes, when I got home after the last day of middle school and felt as if my world had ended that morning when I said goodbye to my friends, to my world as I knew it back then. I still listen to it at the end of every semester.
“Ik Neem Je Mee,” written and performed by Gers Pardoel
I arrived at a boarding school in Maastricht at the height of this song’s popularity; the local radio played “Ik Neem Je Mee” (I’ll Take You With Me) at least twice per day. I did not speak a word of Dutch, but like my peers, I could at least mouth along to the chorus. “Ik Neem Je Mee” is hardly a musical masterpiece, but the memories I associate with it – screaming “ik neem je me-e-e-e-eee!” as we rushed through breakfast at 7:30 AM before pedalling to school on a bicycle with two flat tires to take our mock exams – make it the soundtrack to two of the happiest years of my life.
“Barbie Girl,” written and performed by Aqua
I loathe “Barbie Girl” as strongly as I imagine Spanish people loathe the Macarena and Brazilians loathe “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”, but “Barbie Girl” is so closely associated with Danish music I have come to associate it with home, much to my chagrin. When I hear it now, I keep my feelings to myself and nod along when someone tells me with subdued laughter that I should be proud of this late-90s Technicolor kitsch masterpiece.
Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat,” written by Oluf Ring, performed by Kammerkoret Musica
Since leaving Denmark for Maastricht four years ago, I have only been home over the winter and summer breaks. Therefore, the Sankt Hansaften (St. John’s Eve) celebration on summer solstice has taken on extra significance for me, to the point where I refuse to leave the country in late June. When my family and I sing “Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat” (Denmark, the Light Night is Fading Now) around the Sankt Hansaften pyre, we may not sound as melodious as the choir in this recording, but the occasion is just as solemn and beautiful as this song.
“Under stjernerne på himlen,” written by Tommy Seebach, performed by Rasmus Seebach
You can find higher-quality recordings of “Under stjernerne på himlen” (Under the Stars in the Sky) on YouTube, but this live version was filmed in my hometown in 2012, when Seebach, then the biggest name on the Danish music scene, came to Kolding. “Under stjernerne på himlen” was the last song he sang that night and arguably the most moving one. A cover of his father’s original, Rasmus Seebach dedicated this song to his father’s memory – a beautiful gesture, since his Tommy Seebach’s original recording of the song never charted well, while his son’s cover peaked at number one on the Danish charts.
“En lærke letted,” written and performed by Mads Nielsen
Like “Jeg ved en lærkerede,” “En lærke letted” is a song about a lark, but Nielsen’s lark is a metaphorical one: Written after the Danish liberation on May 4th 1945, the song marked the end of five long years of German occupation. Beyond its political significance, “En lærke letted” is a beautiful song about communities and the moments and feelings that bind us together – aptly, because Nielsen intended for the song to be sung out loud. While nationalist groups have abused “En lærke letted” by claiming it as a statement on racial purity and radical difference, “En lærke letted” is about love of one’s community and peers more than it is about love of country. Most of all, it is a song of and about beauty.
“Bibo No Aozora/04,” written and performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Jaques Morelenbaum
Not a song about my home, but a song from a movie that makes me feel at home. “Bibo No Aozora/04” accompanies the final scene of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Babel, and whenever I hear the song, I see the Tokyo skyline and the beautiful scene that ends Iñárritu’s film. Beyond its function in the movie, I have embraced “Bibo No Aozora/04” and given it a function in my own life: Whenever I arrive in a new city or country for the first time, I listen to this song as I land and feel a unique sense of calm that prepares me for the experiences to come.
“Green Eyes,” written and performed by Coldplay
Though I now recognise it as the best song Coldplay has written, “Green Eyes” was not my favourite song when I first heard it. When I listened to A Rush of Blood to the Head, on which album “Green Eyes” appears, I would skip the song. It took falling in love with someone who considered “Green Eyes” not just the best song on that album, but also the best song of the millennium, before I gave it a second chance. As I listened closer to the lyrics, I heard how wrong I had been to skip the song and put it on repeat instead. We called it ‘our song’, and to this day, it retains that special place in my life.
My earliest connection between home and music are songs like “Jeg er Zigeuner [I’m a Gypsy].” My mother’s family of the traveling people identified with these songs in their combination of schlagerand Weltschmertz. I still know this song by heart.
Soon, though, my tastes changed, and the dream of fleeing home became stronger than the desire to stay. Connected. Savage Rose’s “Wild Child” helped me do that.
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics has a special sense of home for me. I was 18, had just moved to Lithuania, fallen in love with an American, and Eurythmics on repeat was the soundtrack to that year of displacement and love.
“Sweet Dreams” was my way into that relationship. “Thorn in My Side” was my way out. But, after all, I got what I deserved …
Some Other Songs
Marianne Faithfull’s “Vagabond Ways.” Because I know, somewhere, maybe, that my roaming ways are more than a fear of home.
Could also be combined with her cover of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” because I’m still not quite sure that up there on the hill is home to me.
Monica Zetterlund and Bill Evans: “Some Other Time.” Because when home is everywhere and, maybe, nowhere—“some other time” becomes a way of living. And just because Zetterlund was a fantastic jazz singer. When I’m homesick for a by now imagined Scandinavia, Zetterlund’s album with Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby, is on repeat. Remember, folks: time is racing.
And, finally, Janis Ian’s “Lover’s Lullaby” because the “The moon was made for wakeful boys /to keep the night away” and because sleep in so many ways is where we might be most at home.
Ken Nielsen is Senior Lecturer and Associate Director for the Writing Center at NYUAD.
“Home” for me evokes a certain consciousness that dates from before my move to Abu Dhabi. Leaving home meant leaving behind not only my family’s house and my hometown, but also, in a way, my mother tongue. Therefore, I have selected Slovenian music, or songs by musicians and bands at least partially Slovenian—both “evergreens” (as we call the legendary classics) that I grew up with, and contemporary tunes by my friends and musicians who I have great respect for and whose concerts and performances have punctuated my youth. The songs take me back to the memory of home they helped shape—my formative years in Ljubljana as it was then, filled with family and friends.
1. Marjana Deržaj: Poletna noč
2. Elda Viler: Lastovka
3. Svetlana Makarovič: Bifejska rastlina
4. Melodrom: Preden grem naprej
5. Lollobrigida: Stroboskop
6. Vlado Kreslin & Severa Gjurin: Abel in Kajn
7. N’Toko: Slovenec sem
8. NAPRAVI MI DETE: Gorska
9. New Wave Syria: Let It Out
10. RondNoir: Monsun
Grega Ulen is a member of the NYUAD class of 2017.
Music is memory. Hearing a song or a piece of music, like thinking about one of the twenty-seven used cars I’ve owned, chauffeur me into my past.
I learned Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” on the guitar from my friend, Warren Wilson. I was living on a commune in New Hampshire. It was 1970, and I had never heard country blues before. Diddy-Dirty Money’s “I’m Coming Home” with Skylar Grey was the first rap tune I fell for unconditionally. It blends pop, with hip-hop and ballad.
I’m a sucker for ballads. I listened to the songs on this top-ten list of tunes about HOME while I was processing images and interviews for a film project I was working on with my wife, Joanne; it’s called Home Sick. I pretty near like everything Elvis ever recorded. His opening of Curly Putman’s “The Green Green Grass of Home” is so deep and sappy, it puts chills up my sleeve.
Paul Simon’s talent as songwriter and his harmonies with Art Garfunkel gave me a sense of musical hope when I first started writing songs myself in 1966. I was a sophomore in high school. Mohammed Ali declared himself a conscientious objector that year, and three years later when I dropped out of college, I did the same. In 1968 I heard Simon and Garfunkel perform together without a band, at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, not far from where they grew up.
The surprise for me on this list – because new music always sneaks up me when I least expect it – is the hotel-room-recording by Cathy Burton and Eller van Buuren, “Surrender.” Simple and un-produced. I really can’t say enough about the other artists mentioned here, even John Denver. If there is something I love besides my wife and daughter, it’s music. I can’t imagine the world without it, or them.
1. Diddy-Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey – Comin’ Home
2. Elvis Presley- Green Green Grass of Home
3. John Denver – Country Roads
4. Robert Johnson Sweet Home Chicago
5. Simon and Garfunkel – Homeward Bound
6. Dusty Springfield – I’m Coming Home Again
7. Cathy Burton and Eller van Buuren – Surrender
8. Joni Mitchell – Night Ride Home
9. Neil Young – Helpless
10. James Taylor – Carolina in my Mind
Jim Savio is a Lecturer in the NYUAD Writing Program. He publishes fiction, essays, and poetry.
Artur Rubinstein in 1906. Courtesy: Library of Congress.
I was first exposed to classical music in my grandfather’s sunroom. He kept his record player there, and often the first thing I would see upon entering his house was the silhouette of his hands held aloft over his bald head, conducting along with a recording of one of his favorite pieces – usually a schmaltzy Romantic concerto or symphony. Here is a playlist consisting of some of the recordings (most made in the 1940s and 50s) I remember listening to while sitting on the floor next to him.