Singing in 25 languages, Pink Martini’s China Forbes shows music is a universal language
The group brings its worldly mix of music to the Fargo Theatre Wednesday night.
FARGO — Classical singers will often learn a few additional languages to sing in Italian, German or French.
China Forbes took that a couple of steps further. Rather, she took it a lot further. Fluent in her native English and French, she studied Italian to sing operas. Since joining Harvard classmate Thomas Lauderdale’s band Pink Martini , she’s learned to sing in 25 languages.
“I never thought I’d sing in Japanese. Or Turkish. Or Arabic,” she says.
Fans can hear Forbes, Lauderdale and the rest of Pink Martini when they make their local debut at the Fargo Theatre Wednesday night.
“It’s a dazzling array of excellent musicians playing music influenced by jazz, classical, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and other music. It will be very uplifting,” Forbes says of the show.
The group’s 1997 full-length debut, “Sympathique,” featured a mix of standards — “Que Sera Sera,” "¿Dónde Estás, Yolanda?" and “Brazil” — with a few Forbes and Lauderdale originals — “Lullaby” and the title track.
When they wanted to work on a song in a language she didn’t know, she’d ask a friend who spoke Greek to work with her on a song like “Never on Sunday” or a friend who spoke Portuguese to help with “Brazil”.
When it came to learning a song in Arabic, she worked with a professor in Portland, Oregon, where the band is based.
“It’s a phonetic adventure every time,” she says.
Fans are often very supportive of her linguistic gymnastics and appreciative to hear songs in their native language, but she recalls a Turkish woman who told her that her Arabic was bad.
Forbes shrugged off, stating that was singing with an Egyptian accent.
Singing so many songs in different languages and knowing the crowd won’t always follow along lyrically, Forbes is in the habit of introducing each number as a way of explaining the tune.
“The music is so good, the audience doesn’t care what language it is,” she says.
And while sometimes you can tell a sad story or a love song just by the music, Forbes notes that’s not always the case. “One song in Turkish sounds so joyful, but it’s devastating,” she says, referring to “Aşkin Bahardi”.
Forbes will sing in English on her upcoming solo album, as she’s done on her previous two solo releases. The singer/songwriter writes more in the vein of popular music, including her new singles, “Full Circle” and “Rise”.
The latter addresses suicide and was written after the band’s percussionist Derek Rieth took his own life in 2014.
“That was a tragic loss for all of us,” she says.
Forbes knew her bandmate struggled with bipolar disorder and had hoped working with him on music would help him.
“The words are about hope and encouragement, to just hang on,” she says.
It’s a message many people need to hear, which is why she released it. “Anyone I can help, it’s worth it,” she says.
The group has collaborated with some unlikely artists, from the Von Trapps — the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp from the movie “The Sound of Music” — comedian Carol Channing, director Gus Van Sant and National Public Radio journalist, Ari Shapiro.
They met when he interviewed them for NPR, and then started coming to their shows whenever they were in the Washington D.C. area. After hearing him sing, Lauderdale wrote “But Now I’m Back” for him on 2009’s “Splendor in the Grass”.
“Now he takes all of his vacation days to come on the road with us,” Forbes says.
If you go
What: Pink Martini
When: 8 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Fargo Theatre
Info: Tickets are $59.50, plus fees at jadepresents.com