We love music. It’s a big part of our lives here at home, and while away we kept our ears open, always ready to find something new and different.
Music is something universal; in every city, town, and village in every country we visited we heard rhythms spilling out of restaurants, cafes, and bars; being played by buskers on streetcorners, from passing cars and in bus stations. And yet everywhere it’s a little different. Sure, we heard lots of Black Eyed Peas and Jennifer Lopez (in our unscientific analysis, her On The Floor is the most popular song in the world), but when we found the opportunity to get away from this type of generic and mass-marketed music, we were rewarded with some unique, regional sounds that we would never have been exposed to otherwise.
As much as we love all the photos we took while abroad, and cherish the few small souvenirs we brought back with us, our favorite music from the trip is undoubtedly better at bringing us right back to the time and place where we heard it. So here are our seven favorite songs that we discovered on our trip, along with a memory attached to each:
(Note that if you’re reading this in an email, you probably won’t be able to listen to the songs. Read the post on the blog for the full experience.)
Cosmic Sidewalks by Les Mentettes
While we were pretending to be locals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we decided that a natural thing to do would be to search out some live music, like we would at home. We scoured the local arts papers and blogs, put together a list of interesting-sounding acts, researched them, and ended up seeing a fantastic concert by Les Mentettes (also, listen / download / buy more of their music from the Les Mentettes bandcamp). We loved the dynamic performance by the 30-person pop-soul orchestra enough to buy a cd, which ended up providing a soundtrack for our South African road trip.
Nyandolo by Ayub Ogada
One of the most serene and relaxing locations we visited introduced us to one of the prettiest and most serene songs we heard all year. Sitting around in Shane’s candlelit living room at Terra Khaya in the Amathole Mountains of South Africa, reading or playing cards, and listening to soft sounds emanating from an iPod dock running off a solar-charged battery, we were struck by this song’s beauty and sparsity.
Mfan’ Omncane by Dorothy Masuka
While we slowed down our pace and spent a few days feeling at home with our lovely hosts on the wild coast of South Africa, we heard lots of music local to the Transkei, local to South Africa, and from the rest of Africa. My favorite was this gem of African jazz by a Zimbabwean-born singer who emigrated to South Africa and sang many songs–including this one–in a Kwazulu dialect. If you listen closely, you can hear her making the several different types of clicks present in Kwazulu and Xhosa words.
Tonight You Belong To Me by Eddie Vedder
We walked into a small store selling local crafts on a sidestreet in Blantyre, Malawi. While we were browsing through the paintings, clothes, gifts, and other wares, a stereo played softly. At one point a song came on with a duet sung softly over what I thought was a kalimba (the omnipresent African thumb piano). I was struck by the duo’s honest and playful delivery, and asked the clerk for the name of the artist, expecting some local singer, only to learn it was a cut off Eddie Vedder’s album of ukelele songs.
I credit the experience for letting me hear the song without any prejudgment of what to expect; I probably would never have given the offbeat concept album a chance otherwise.
Hene Hene by ???
In India, the two-hour jeep ride from the train station at Siliguri up into the mountains to the hill station of Darjeeling wasn’t all roses: our driver got into an accident before leaving the parking lot, then proceeded to get in a fight with the driver of the car he hit, and to drive way too fast and make incredibly aggressive passes on the tiny winding roads with sheer cliffs below us. I vomited from motion sickness before the end of it.
But something good did come out of it: we shared the back of the jeep with Vince and Dida from Oregon, traveling like we were. We spent a lot of time with them over the few days we spent in Darjeeling, walking through the hills and tea plantations, and slurping up delicious Tibetan soups. In one conversation, Dida told us that she was a Polynesian dancer and was a bit distraught because she had lost to the depths of her iPod the hula music she practiced with while traveling. I agreed to take a look at it, and was able to save the songs, and in the process of copying them back to her device, ended up with a copy of them on our computer.
Listening to these songs–that I’ve labelled Hula for Dida–brings me right back to those frigid mornings and piping hot cups of delicious tea.
Yehjo Halka Saroor Hae by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Here’s another case of hearing music taken out of context: I’ve been aware of Pakistan’s most famous musician (and Jeff Buckley’s “Elvis”) for a while, but never much appreciated him until we stumbled upon what may be India’s warmest and cosiest hotel, in Varanasi. We spent a lot of time in our hotel’s top-floor cafe, resting, gobbling up delicious Korean comfort food, and listening to consistently great, varied, and relaxing music.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s powerful voice and hypnotic instrumentals made a great backdrop to an afternoon of bibimbap and blogging.
I Love Rock and Roll Music by Koreana Hong
Finally, this song came on while we were eating Korean barbecue with my dad in Kathmandu, and we all instantly loved it. In my dad’s words, “If Kill Bill had taken place in Seoul instead of Japan, this is the song the band would have been playing in the restaurant scene.”
I couldn’t find the full song online anywhere without speaking Korean, so this one-minute sample will have to do.