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Created by Christian Vander
Date 1969
Setting and usage Lyrics for a musical group
Sources Based on elements of Slavic and Germanic languages and the scat-yodeling vocal style of Leon Thomas[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog None

Kobaïan is a lyrical language created by French drummer and composer Christian Vander for his progressive rock band Magma.[2][3][4] It is the language of Kobaïa, a fictional planet invented by Vander and the setting for a musical "space opera" sung in Kobaïan by Magma on ten concept albums.[1][5][6]


French drummer and composer Christian Vander formed progressive rock band Magma in late 1969 in an attempt to fill the void left by the death of American jazz musician and composer John Coltrane.[1] Magma's first album, Magma (later reissued as Kobaïa), told a story of refugees fleeing a future Earth and settling on a fictional planet called Kobaïa.[7] The lyrics were all in Kobaïan, a language Vander constructed for the album, some sung by soloists and others by "massive quasi-operatic choruses".[1] Over the next three decades Magma made a further nine albums that continued the mythology of Kobaïa, all sung in Kobaïan.[5]

Vander (his Kobaïan name is Zëbëhn Straïn dë Ğeuštaah) said in an interview that he invented Kobaïan for Magma because "French just wasn't expressive enough. Either for the story or for the sound of the music".[4][8] He said that the language developed in parallel with the music, that sounds appeared as he was composing on a piano.[9] Vander based Kobaïan in part on elements of Slavic and Germanic languages and in part on the scat-yodeling vocal style of American avant garde jazz singer Leon Thomas.[1] The subsequent expansion of the language became a group effort, and as Magma's personnel changed, so new ideas were incorporated into the language (and the music).[7]

British music critic Ian MacDonald said that Kobaïan is "phonetic, not semantic", and that it is based on "sonorities, not on applied meanings".[10] One of Magma's singers, Klaus Blasquiz, described Kobaïan as "a language of the heart" whose words are "inseparable from the music".[10] Magma expert Michael Draine said "the abstraction provided by the Kobaïan verse seems to inspire Magma's singers to heights of emotional abandon rarely permitted by conventional lyrics".[1]

The Kobaïan lyrics on Magma's albums were generally not translated (though both Kobaïan lyrics and an English translation were provided for the first UK release on A&M of Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh), but clues to the unfolding story of Kobaïa were given in French in the albums' liner notes. While the original intent of the language was to avoid over-scrutiny, unofficial Kobaïan online lexicons were created by Magma fans, and Vander himself has since translated many of the words.[5]


Christian Vander called Magma's music "Zeuhl" (Kobaïan for "celestial"),[11] and it influenced a number of other (mostly French) bands, including Zao (France), Art Zoyd (France) and Univers Zero (Belgium).[12] Zeuhl later became a music genre which was used to describe music similar to that of Magma.[13][14] Several Japanese Zeuhl bands also sprang up, including Ruins and Kōenji Hyakkei, whose lyrics are also sung in a constructed language similar to Kobaïan.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stump, Paul (July 1995). "Different Drummer: Magma - interview with Christian Vander, page 2". The Wire. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  2. ^ Buckley, p. 629.
  3. ^ Macan, p. 1976.
  4. ^ a b Culshaw, Peter (1 October 2009). "Magma interview for Celestial Mass". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Magma: Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  6. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Magma". AllMusic. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  7. ^ a b Thelen, Peter (1995). "Magma". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  8. ^ Stump, Paul (July 1995). "Different Drummer: Magma - interview with Christian Vander, page 4". The Wire. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  9. ^ Stern, Theresa. "Christian Vander interview". Drummer World. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  10. ^ a b MacDonald, Ian (1975). "An Irresistible Life Force". Ork Alarm!. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  11. ^ Stump, Paul (July 1995). "Different Drummer: Magma - interview with Christian Vander, page 3". The Wire. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  12. ^ Buckley, p. 630.
  13. ^ McLatchey, Mike. "A Guide to the Progressive Rock Genres". The Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  14. ^ "Christian Vander". Last.fm. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 

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