One of the most frequent questions I got after starting this blog is how do I travel with music. Do I look for people to jam with when I travel? Do I just listen to music when I travel? I know, “Travel with music” could sound pretty vague, but it’s simpler than you think because all it requires is paying a little extra attention to the right places when you travel. While playing or listening to music or keeping yourself entertained on the road is most likely the first idea that comes to your mind, my idea of “travel with music” focus on making connections to people, cultures, and histories.
Here are my 5 reasons why you should explore local music when you travel, and how I did it:
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#1. Music connects people.
I took a travel guitar with me on my first long-term backpacking trip, and it always triggered great conversations with people I first met. Showing your interests in music is an awesome way to bond with new friends and bring you new experiences. I had many amazing experiences with strangers because of music. You don’t even need to know how to play an instrument to connect with others. Talking about the kind of music you love with people you meet in other countries is already a gateway to get to know someone. I learned about Hungary’s popular music with a local I met in the yard of my hostel in Budapest. The conversation not only brought me a new friend but also opened up my ears to new music.
#2. Music helps you to learn about the history of another country.
Pay attention to the music you hear on the streets while you are in a new country, and you would be able to hear history in the melodies. For example, in central Vietnam, the traditional music has the traits of the rhythm in Indian music because, for ten centuries, the region used to be a part of the Champa Dynasty when Hinduism was a major religion. I had no idea about this part of Vietnamese history, but I found the historical connection in music. At first, it could take some time before you can immediately recognise different world music genres, but everything comes with practice! (And no information can’t be found on the internet.)
You can find more of my Vietnamese traditional music discovery on my YouTube channel!
#3. Music Deepens your understanding with an unfamiliar culture.
Music evolves and develops based on the characteristics of people, religion, even climates and politics. One of my favourite examples is Flamenco. Flamenco is a type of music and dance performance originated from Andalusia, Extremadura and Murcia in Southern Spain. The music style has lots of varieties and elements of Moorish, Jewish, Gipsy and Gregorian influences, and the ethnicities together made up the regions.
Although the commercialised version of Flamenco we often see does not represent authentic Flamenco, the common idea of Andalusia is often full of colour, romance, and passion. The sound, spontaneous and seductive rhythm of flamenco guitar portraits Andalusia’s atmosphere. Flamenco is just one of many examples. In brief, the regional music style often tells a lot about a culture. It’s a part of people’s lives.
P.s. I’m not an expert in the culture and music in southern Spain, but I’d really love to explore and spend some time there!
#4. Knowing the local and traditional music helps you to get into the “vibe” sooner.
Getting to know local and traditional music helps you to dive into the pace of a new place sooner. For example, the blasting Latino music on the streets in upper Manhattan always sets me into the uptown mood immediately. (That’s also when you learn the community is composed of immigrants from the Caribbean.) In New Orleans, you need to listen to some jazz to learn the groove of the city. Another cliché example is listening to classical music in Vienna, the music capital, where many classical music giants made their careers. Find a venue to hear concerts, especially if the city/town is famous for its music scenes. It will bring your travel experience to another level.
(And you might want to make sure you packed these into your bag before you go concert hunting around the world!)
#5. Music is a way to learn a new language.
Remember all the children songs you sang when you were a kid? Perhaps that was how you learn to speak in your mother tongue? Singing is one of the most effective ways to learn a foreign language. Many songs are composed based on how the language is spoken. Aside from the traditional music, local popular music often reflects the current events of a country. Through the lyrics, you will learn about the mindset of a culture on various topics.
Music takes us out the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
An old friend always said his favourite music was the music he hasn’t heard, and I thought it was brilliant. (And in fact, I stole this quote several times.) Step outside of the box and listen to something you aren’t familiar with will add new flavours to your travel. Exploring music when you are on the road will transcend your journey into something more – An experience that becomes unique, private and personal.