World Beats: Music Around the Globe

By Samantha Scott
November 6, 2015

One of the most unifying things in the world is music. No matter where you travel, music is present. It’s a primal instinct to create music, and it connects people in a way no other art can.

Different forms of music often have a strong cultural connection, and one of the most rewarding activities on a guided trip is the opportunity to hear native songs performed, or watch an unfamiliar instrument being played. Also the experience of traditional music is often coupled with traditional dress and dance, giving a full picture of a culture's past.

Let Stride take you around the world in music:

1. United Kingdom

united kingdom

The forlorn wail of a bagpipe is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is instantly recognizable. And the skill involved cannot be denied. But there is much variation beyond the bagpipes in these regions.

The ancient languages of celtic and gaelic songs, or the joyful sound of an Irish fiddle. Even modern Irish punk and rock groups regularly play old folk songs as a part of their repertoire. If you're planning a trip to the UK, seeing an Irish band perform in a pub is one of the most quintessential cultural experiences.

Recommended listening: The Elders, The Dubliners, The Chieftans, Gaelic Storm, Sinead O'Connor

2. African Beats 


One of the best part of a tour in Africa is the opportunity to learn the nuances of the local culture and an exploration of their musical styles is a huge part of this. The ancient sounds of drum beats and the rhythmic pounding of feet produce a beautiful feeling of collective enjoyment.

Due to a long history of colonization, modern African music is informed by many different languages and styles. A fantastic example is Angelique Kidjo, an artist from French speaking Benin in West Africa, whose music incorporates many traditional beats with a modern twist.

Recommended listening: Angelique Kidjo, Chiwaniso, Umalali, Youssou N'Dour

3. American Country


Most American music derives from much more ancient sounds as, of course, we are a country of immigrants. But the distinctive twang of a country guitar is something we can truly claim as our own. One can practically smell a campfire as each song begins. And for a truly immersive local US experience, hearing country music at a rodeo or county fair is the essential environment. 

Recommended listening: Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynne, Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton

4. Argentinian Tango


How could one not be affected by the haunting sounds of a tango from Argentina? Mournful, sexy, intense, the rhythm of a tango can be slow, with a few heart-pulling building crescendos, or fast and breath-catching as one imagines an expertly swiveling heeled black shoe, deftly pounding on the beat, turning and dipping with extreme, dedicated precision.

Recommended listening: Astor Piazzolla, Isaac Albéniz, Ernesto Nazareth

5. Caribbean

Steel Drums

Chris Connelly via Flickr 

Eternally popularized by the reggae sounds of Bob Marley, and immortalized by Jimmy Buffet, Caribbean music is the perfect beach playlist. From Ska to Calypso, a "don’t worry be happy" mentality seeps out of every note and cadence. Barely a harsh tone, though that's not to say political or social commentary is never a part of the lyrics. But it is hard to feel anything but relaxed when one hears those steel drums.

Recommended listening: Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet, Rebelution, Derrick Morgan

6. Nostalgic France


From Edith Piaf to the CanCan to cabaret stylings, French music has a touch of nostalgia, infused with all the trimmings of a classic French vacation. That said, the country has produced a lot of interesting modern music, and has even been a leader in electronica. But for those seeking the “la vie en rose” experience, nothing beats hearing the strains of that tune floating up from a river boat drifting down the Seine.

Recommended listening: Edith Piaf, Paris Combo, Charles Trenet

7. Classical Vienna


This is the mecca for classical music fans. The beautiful city of Vienna has hosted the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, all of whom helped contribute to the classical music legacy in Vienna. Today the city takes great pride in this heritage, and to attend the symphony here is to time travel through the sound of some of classical music’s most quintessential pieces.

Recommended listening: Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Hayden, Strauss

8. Middle East


Classic Middle Eastern music is largely identifiable, as many similar instruments are used throughout the Middle Eastern countries. The most popular include two stringed instruments indigenous to the region, the “oud”, and the “qanun”.

There is a haunting, melodic sense to much Middle Eastern music, and the sounds are heavily inspired by religion. Among the younger generations in the Middle East, a surge in incorporating and interpreting Western musical stylings has begun - and many new and innovative bands are bursting onto the scene.

Recommended listening: Ensemble Kaboul, Kinan Azmeh, Kayhan Kalhor

9. Spain


Spain’s regions are incredibly distinct, from cultural influences to dialects, and music is no different. From bagpipes in the north (yes really!) to the Mediterranean influenced sounds in Valencia.

One of the the most popular styles from Spain is Flamenco, a dance and specific music tempo that is accompanied by dramatic fan work and heavy colorful dresses. Spanish classical guitar is another very popular sound born in the Renaissance and becoming increasingly used today.

Recommended listeningPaco de Lucía, Vicente Amigo

10. Scandinavia


Is it any wonder that some of the world’s most influential metal bands were born in the cold snowy, northern reaches of Europe? Heavily influenced by Nordic folklore and sometimes utilizing native instruments, metal bands and other stylings out of the Scandinavian region infuse much of their music with call outs to their culture and history.

In Iceland, the off beat sounds of Bjork helped propel Icelandic music, and the country itself into the limelight, and many popular bands, notably Of Monsters and Men have followed in her footsteps. And of course, who could forget ABBA, the pop group and early Eurovision winner, out of Sweden!

Recommended listening: Finntroll, Bjork, Of Monsters and Men, ABBA, Susanne Sundfør

There is infinite variety and infinite diversity in world music. What are some of your favorite musical styles?

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1728 Views    4 Comments
By Jared Alster
November 9, 2015 at 12:38 PM
Great post but I think Cuba and Brazil also belong here! The beats in Cuba are infectious and live music is literally everywhere. Every restaurant, bar, outdoor plaza has a live band playing rhumba or salsa.
Brazil has so many ethnically diverse groups of people that it draws on musical influences from South America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
By Samantha Scott
November 9, 2015 at 3:06 PM
Great point! Worth a whole separate post to expand on the Caribbean and South America :) .
By Barbara Coll
November 11, 2015 at 2:05 PM
And where do you fit New Orleans Jazz - it is a unique beast unto itself.
By Jared Alster
November 12, 2015 at 9:41 PM
Very true - Preservation Hall is a classic as is Rebirth Brass Band!

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