A world music tour of my CD rack

Burn This! (courtesy Crystl at Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Burn This! (courtesy Crystl at Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Please spare me the exhortations about going with an iPod/mp3-based music collection. I’m with you, really, it’s just that my daughter is the only one in the house with an iPod. She saved up for it, while I have to save up for, I dunno, suspension work on the car.

Our iTunes collection on the computer is getting bigger (there are killer Christmas tunes and lots of jazz/blues/rockabilly/roots stuff that we used to burn the soundtrack to our American South Road Trip) but I’m simply awash in CDs, cassette tapes and vinyl, so forgive me for talking Old School.

Whenever I travel, I look for good local music to buy that is evocative of my destination. There’s no grand shopping plan; I just wander into what we used to call a “record store” and ask for recommendations.

Sometimes I hear something and have to buy it, like that chilly night in Venice when I heard a beautiful harpsichord piece as I strolled around the city, trying not to explode from too much tiramisu and cappuccino. The streets and walkways were almost deserted, with just a few other people laughing and scurrying past, as the Baldassare Galuppi sonata bounced off of the stone walls around me.

I had to have it. I still have it, and nothing says Venezia like it.

It was my family that bought the tapes in Bali. They had already been in Denpasar and Ubud for a week or so when I met them there, and my daughter insisted that her Dad take her every night to see the dance and music performances at Ubud Palace. She was only 5 or 6, but the charm of the lively, colorful productions had her enthralled. It’s a very visual experience, so just playing “The Gong Orchestra Plays the Story of the Ramayana” (a two-tape set) in the living room doesn’t quite cut it, but I’ll never throw them out (or the bamboo tingklik that I also lugged home.)

A street performer/busker staple around the world is the pan flute group, and why not? Sure, they all play Simon and Garfunkel’s version of the Peruvian song El Condor Pasa (from the album Bridge Over Troubled Water) but it’s lovely, contemplative music. In Guatemala I visited the colonial city of Antigua and, even better, the spectacular Mayan ruins at Tikal. What an Indiana Jones moment — hot, humid, overgrown, screeching monkeys. Fabulous. So is my oddball gaggle of “Mayan music” tapes,with a lot of pan flute action: something from “Casa K’ojom” called Musica Indigena de Guatemala, one called Marimba Folklorica Cakchiqual Vol II (they must have been sold out of Vol I) and a pretty hokey Temple of the Dream Jaguar that I bought in Antigua but found was actually recorded by Talking Taco Records in San Antonio, TX.

Although I’ve never been to Africa, I have plenty of music from the guy they call the “South African Bruce Springsteen.” I read about him in a magazine, I think, as apartheid was ending in South Africa, and then I saw Johnny Clegg and his band Savuka live in concert, in Chicago. You know who opened for him? Tracy Chapman.

A short trip to the Caribbean gave me the albums Gazoline — Zouk Obsession and Planet Zouk — The World of Antilles Music. No, I do not want to hear any version of “Hot, Hot, Hot.”

Hands-down stupidest CD bought in Hong Kong: Chung King Christmas. I never would have bought it, except that over the cheesy 70’s holiday fortune cookie picture on the front was a shrink-wrapped cover that actually looked rather interesting and classy, and I’m a sucker for unique holiday tunes. The good-looking cover did NOT say “Chung King Christmas,” so the joke was on me when I unwrapped it back at home. The music is god-awful but is a useful reminder to always caveat emptor, whatever the hell that is in Chinese.

I live in Texas and went to college in Austin, so I love me some Tex-Mex, Shiner Bock, Blue Bell ice cream and norteño music. If you just want good old authentic mariachi, though, pick up anything by the group Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlan, and don’t miss their live show if they come to your town. For a rocker edge try anything by pan-Latin supergroup Los Super Seven. Pay tribute with them to over-the-border pirate radio, saluted on their CD Heard it on the X.

Where do I get my musical wanderlust? Why, from my parents, who were a young couple in the 1960s when the bossa nova craze hit the US, thanks in part to the soundtrack from Black Orpheus, with music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa. A few decades later, Paul Simon gave Brazilian music another commercial jump start with one of my favorite albums, The Rhythm of the Saints. The rousing drums on “The Obvious Child” were recorded live at Pelourinho Square, Salvador, Bahia in Brazil, and I’m still trying to figure out how to scrape up money to buy a ticket and fly there because of that song. The circle is being squared with the current success of smoothie songstress Bebel Gilberto, daughter of 60’s Brazilian superstar João Gilberto.

So the next time you travel, poke around and find some music to take home. Give your ears some wanderlust.

Update 31 March 2007:  The good folks at Gadling bring us a cool link for more world music info.

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