“Our country will become whatever” are the opening lyrics of the 2003 song “Music Knows No Boundaries” from the South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The opening line is repeated against the chorus singing the title of the song “Music Knows No Boundaries.”
I thought of this gorgeous and hopeful song this past summer as I watched two films that shared this sentiment.
The first film "Yesterday," directed by the Anglo-Irish director Danny Boyle features the music and lyrics of The Beatles. After a global blackout, a young struggling English folk musician Jack Malik finds that he is the only person alive who remembers the music of The Beatles. Jack decides to claim their music as his own and records a demo at a local Suffolk recording studio.
The demo finds its way to Ed Sheeran who offers Jack the opening gig at his Moscow concert. This leads to a record deal and impending stardom for Jack.
Himesh Patel, a British actor born into an Indian immigrant family, stars as Jack in the film. Though Jack’s parents are among the first to hear his version of “Let It Be,” Jack’s ethnic background is not a focus of the story by screenwriter Richard Curtis, known for romantic comedies like "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones's Diary." Curtis and director Boyle instead create a film illustrating the power of music to transcend race, ethnicity and even nationality.
"Yesterday" is an unabashed tribute to the universality of the words and music created by the four lads from Liverpool who changed the not only the music industry, but whose British invasion changed our world, too.
Before they became the Fab Four, they, too, were fans whose very band name paid tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
This cross-pollination of music and culture serves as the catalyst for the second film I watched this summer — "Blinded By the Light." Drawing its title and inspiration from the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, "Blinded By the Light" is a 2019 film from director Gurinder Chadha, probably best known for her 2002 film "Bend it Like Beckham."
Chadha’s new film is based on the true story of Sarfraz Manzoor who co-wrote the script for this film based on his experience as a Pakistani immigrant to England during the Thatcher era in Britain. Manzoor has attended more than 150 Bruce Springsteen concerts.
Javed Khan, Manzoor’s fictional counterpart, finds himself a minority in high school. When Roops, the only other South Asian student, introduces him to the music of “The Boss,” Khan’s life changes dramatically. Skeptical that an American musician could understand his own life and struggle, the more Javed listens, the more he finds that Springsteen does speak to his struggles and frustrations.
Chadha does a masterful job not only incorporating the music, by the lyrics into the fabric of the film itself.
I took my 13-year-old daughter to see "Blinded By the Light." Like her brothers before her, she has heard her fair share of New Wave and other artists from the 1980s.
While it was Springsteen for Sarfraz Manzoor, for me it was U2.
How can a band from Dublin, Ireland, speak to a kid from Kansas? Because music knows no boundaries.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.