8 bizarre ways of expressing love around the world

1: Zulu love letters, South Africa

In Zulu culture, girls show their fondness for the opposite sex using ucus (love letters made from colourful beads). Bead colours represent feelings; red can mean anger and yellow can be used to show desire.

It goes without saying that males often find these colourful patterns confusing and have even been known to ask their sisters for help. In the UK, the tradition of signing a Valentine’s card and having your flaws listed over dinner almost seems crude in comparison.

2: Boxed lunches, Japan

In Japan, where public displays of affection are a definite no-no, it’s traditional for women to create elaborate packed lunches to show affection for their loved ones. Wafer-thin ham spread across a slice of brown bread is simply not good enough here. Instead, husbands take their elaborate bentos (boxed lunches) to work.

The more decorative the bento, the more likely it is to evoke the envy of other males. In a passive-aggressive age where people try to outdo their Facebook friends’ holiday snaps, the Japanese are one step ahead of the game.

3: Wife-Carrying Championships, Finland

In July every year Sonkajärvi,Finland hosts the Wife-Carrying Championships. People flock from all over the globe to watch the sporting event. Wives are slung over their husbands’ shoulders, as participants work their way through a series of challenges.

After overcoming all obstacles, in an extended display of macho stamina, winners are gifted their partner’s body weight in beer, which seems like an excellent result.

4: Whale’s teeth, Fiji

If you’re looking to win over your soon-to-be father-in-law, presenting him with the polished tooth of a sperm whale will almost certainly seal the deal. At least, that’s the case in Fiji, where a tabua is presented to anxious fathers across the country before weddings.

Whales’ teeth were traditionally given as offerings for war or peace, or in some instances in exchange for the taking of a life – two of which you’ll hopefully avoid in marriage.

5: Valentine’s Day-esque celebrations every month, South Korea

If you think one Valentine’s Day a year is stressful then spare a thought for South Korea, where they have couple-based celebrations on the 14th of every month. There’s a day set aside for singles, a day for kissing, and a day just to go out and hug someone.

The annual Black Day on April 14 encourages those who didn’t receive Valentine’s presents to dress in black and gobble down bowls of black bean paste noodles with fellow mourners. Noodles are not known for their healing qualities, but at least they’re reasonably priced and tasty.

6: Walking barefoot, Slovenia

In Slovenia, it is perfectly normal to trudge barefoot across the frozen earth on February 14 each year. Slovenians believe that the birds of the fields propose to their loved ones and get married on this day. Slovenians must walk sockless through wintery fields in order to watch the ceremony of birds, even if it’s pelting down with hail.

7: Pig presents, Germany

If you present your girlfriend with a pig-shaped statue on Valentine’s Day, you’re likely to be slapped, at least in the UK. But not so in Germany, where a swine-themed gift is meant to bring good luck, as well as symbolise lust for your partner.

The present can include anything from chocolate and cakes to soft toys, as long as it contains the image of a pig. It’s a well-known fact that Germans love their pork, but is this a step too far?

8: Male beauty pageant, Niger

The males of Wodaabe Fula stand in theirextravagant dress to attract a mate.

The Guérewol is a yearly courtship ritual competition for the Wodaabe Fula people of Niger. It’s similar to a beauty pageant, but instead of lecherous old men ogling teenage girls, it’s the males who preen around in order to win over marriageable young women.

With headdresses and clay-painted faces, the men sing and perform ritual dances to mark the end of the rainy season. Ostrich plumes and pompoms are used to emphasise height, while black eyeliner fashioned from charred egret bones creates a highlighted aesthetic. The aim of the dance is to attract a lover, even if it’s someone else’s wife.

Main image: gift-wrapped pig (Dreamstime)

New African music you must listen to in 2015

1. Touri Idjé Bibi – Samba Touré

Born out of conflict, but imbued with resilience and joy, Samba Touré’s latest album, Gandadiko, is a musical snapshot of contemporary Mali. Uptempo and eminently danceable, but with tension and darkness never far away.

2. Juguya – Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band

Booming out of Burkina Faso, the super funky basslines and psyched-out guitars of Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band hark back to the glory days of West African music. Afrofunk and afrobeat from the source.

3. Mardi Gras – Pierre Kwenders

Born in Kinshasa, but currently based in Quebec, Pierre Kwenders offers up a unique blend of Congolese rumba (soukous) and contemporary beatwork that is as irresistible as it is atmospheric. Brilliant.

4. Sex Verve – Verckys et l´Orchestre Vévé

James Brown dubbed him “Mr Dynamite” when he caught his show in Kinshasa in 1974. Georges Mateta “Verckys” Kiamuangana revolutionised Congolese music by combining the funk and soul sounds coming out of America with Congolese Merengue, Rumba and Soukous. Another first class release from the ever reliable Analog Africa label.

5. Eye of the Sun – Fantasma

The latest project of South African music pioneer Spoek Mathambo, Fantasma is a five-man collective which weaves together electronica, hip-hop, traditional Zulu maskandi music, shangaan electro, South African house, psych-rock and punk. Pulling inspiration from all corners of the rainbow nation, it is the sound of modern South Africa – from the townships and the cities to the rural countryside as well

6. Terry Riley’s in C Mali – Africa Express

Terry Riley’s In C Mali by Africa Express is the first ever recording of Riley’s minimalist work by an African ensemble. Recorded at the Maison des Jeunes youth club in Bamako, Mali in 2013, it features the cream of new artists from Bamako as well as Africa Express stalwarts, Damon Albarn and Brian Eno.

7. Al Hassidi Terei – Songhoy Blues

Vibrant desert R&B from northern Mali from a band determined to make music in the face of pressure from Islamists. Songhoy and the blues, blended beautifully and seamlessly.

8. I Have No Everything Here – Zomba Prison Project

In the summer of 2013, Grammy-winning producer, Ian Brennan, and his wife, Italian photographer and filmmaker, Marilena Delli, travelled to the border of Malawi and Mozambique specifically to document and record the music of prisoners at the maximum security prison in Zomba. The result is equally uplifting and heartbreaking,

9. Tzenni – Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali’s deeply emotive and technically brilliant voice blends seamlessly with traditional Mauritania instruments, mixed with electric guitars, drums and modern production, to create a truly unique and contemporary record.

5 instruments you’ve (probably) never heard of and one you have

1. Funky beats on the Cape Verdean ferrinho

Three musical styles dominate the islands of Cape Verde, of which, the funaná is the most upbeat and dynamic. It originates from Santiago island and is driven by the rhythms of an instrument called a ferrinho. Usually it’s accompanied melodically by an accordion called a gaita. A simple iron scraper, or idiophone, the ferrinho traditionally defines the pace and aesthetic of funaná but is often replaced by other percussion by modern musicians.

Below is a recording of Cape Verdean musician Mayra Andrade performing her song ‘Tunuka’ with Brazilian singer Mariana Aydar. The pair accompany themselves with the ferrinho and a triangle.

2. The haunting sound of the Japanese shakuhachi

Originating in ancient China, but now primarily associated with Japan and Zen Buddhism, the shakuhachi flute is a traditionally made from a length of bamboo. Sound is created by blowing across the top of the pipe and is thought to be quite meditative.

A popular component of traditional Japanese music, the shakuhachi has also been used in jazz, folk and film music.

3. One man and his biram in Niger

The biram is a five-stringed harp native to the Boudouma tribe of fishing nomads living by Lake Tchad in Niger. It is a holy instrument and can only be played by initiated masters. It has fallen out of favour with the youth and only one master remains: Malam Mamane Barka. Barka is honouring the wishes of his late teacher who asked him to talk about the biram wherever he could, spreading its music around the world. Catch Barka on one of his visits to the UK or hear the biram in action here.

4. Perfection on the Perisan tar

The Persian tar is a type of fretted lute typical of Persian classical music. The word ‘tar’ originates from the Sanskrit word ‘tarah’ and is thought to be the root of names for other instruments like the guitar and Indian sitar. With a double-bowl shaped resonator carved out of wood and covered with stretched lambskin, the tar is plucked like many other lutes the world over.

In its present form, the Persian tar has been around since the 18th century and is now the choice instrument of Persian classical music masters.

5. The crazy American calliope

The calliope is traditionally a steam-run whistling instrument that was developed in 1855 by Joshua Stoddard. He intended it to be used as a church instrument but it was taken on by the circus and steam boats of the paddle-wheel era on the Lower Mississippi River. By no means a subtle instrument, the calliope cannot vary its volume and is controlled mechanically or via a keyboard. The calliope made a guest appearance in The Beatles’ song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’, so next time you’re listing to the legendary band, listen out for this instrument.

6. Nimble on the West African kora

The kora originated in The Gambia and has become popular all over West Africa, but is now best known for its Malian musical exponents. It is a 21-stringed harp traditionally played by griots, members of a hereditary caste of praise-singers and historians. The instrument is constructed from half a calabash gourd covered in stretched skin. The strings sit in two parallel rows reaching up the vertical neck.

Traditionally the harp was tuned using leather tuning rings that can be moved up and down; however, in recent years koras with guitar machine heads have become more popular because they are easier to tune.

Kora maistro Toumani Diabate comes from Mali and has seen success the world over with his virtuosic kora playing. Here he’s playing ‘Cantalowes’ from the album The Mandé Variations.

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