Thousands of radio DJs are employed around the globe to play Anglophone pop and rock. If there’s such a thing as “world music” to them, it’s REM and Queen.
But there are many more radio stations around the world that play music from their own cultures, past and present, mainstream and marginal. When it comes to virtual travel, music is arguably the easiest and most enjoyable way to transport your brain out of Covidland to places you’ve visited – or plan to – in person.
The net is pretty chaotic, with dozens of aggregators and formats. But here are 10 soundscapes to explore. Turn up the volume to Mexican cantina level.
Map the World
Launched on 1 April by the people behind Oslo World – the Norwegian capital’s annual music bash (scheduled for 27 October – 1 November) – this simple map is a virtual guide to festivals around the planet, with a playlist of 20 songs for each provided by the local programmers. As the producers of the map note: “Our entire ecosystem is threatened, our festival family, our venues as well as our collaborators and artists. We simply do not know what will happen and how long the lockdown will last.” Many of this year’s festivals will be postponed or cancelled, but tunes from Womad NZ, Palestine Music Expo, Panama’s Macro Fest and India’s Bass Camp help fill the gap in a small way. The playlists are also on Soundcloud.
Stripped of the dizzying visuals, Bollywood songs can be moving and tender. Retro Bollywood blasts the likes of Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt and Mukesh from Bangalore. Music from the golden age, between the mid-1950s and 80s, features soulful melodies, soaring strings and a fusion of western and Indian classical elements. Hits of Bollywood contains two livestreams – for new and vintage music – and dedicates shows to renowned lyricists and singers. More recent Bollywood music often has excellent production and richer orchestral arrangements.
This continent-sized country has around 15,000 radio stations, counting licensed and pirate channels. Many are dedicated to worrying over having Jair Bolsonaro as the boss, but music has always been a cornerstone of Brazilian culture. Bossa Nova Brazil mixes the mellow João Gilberto/Sérgio Mendes sort of tunes with livelier bossa beats by legends such as Wilson Simonal, sultry-voiced Nara Leão and jazz-inflected singer and guitarist Zé Renato. The city of Salvador in the north-eastern state of Bahia is a melting pot of Afro-Brazilian cultures and musics. The effervescent website The Matrix mixes up music and world culture and all kinds of psycho-geographical ruminations, but click on the “Bahia, Brazil” tag and you gain access to some great playlists. Big MPB (música popular brasileira) and Tropicália names like Jorge Ben and Maria Bethânia are there, but so are lesser-known virtuosos such as Raphael Rabello and the very cool Afro-Bahian sound of Tribo Nação Ijexá.
Mexican and border music
There are zillions of local radio stations in Mexico, and a lot mix up native sounds with foreign rock and pop – but the locutores, or presenters, do tend to talk a lot between heaps of ads for cheap chicken and chainsaws. These can be sort of atmospheric, if you speak the lingo, but Viva El Mariachi is a festive, chat-free celebration of upbeat rancheras and melodramatic boleros by sublime singers, living and dead, such as José Alfredo Jiménez, Demetrio González and Lucha Villa. Across the border, a reliable source of Latin pop, Tejano fusion and norteño tunes – without much interruption – is Radio Campesina. It operates FM stations in eight US cities; I found the Phoenix link the best.
Americana and country
Weirdly, Toronto is the place to go for a cool Americana livestream. American Roots hops smoothly from Alison Krauss to Mudcrutch to Glen Campbell. Unlike a lot of online radio stations, the playlist features full credits and also has handy click-back links so you can listen to anything you’ve missed. Nashville’s WSM AM radio station is a great place for a fix of Dolly, Kenny and Merle, as well as good gospel, classic bluegrass, Americana and soothing crossover country/MOR. Founded in 1925, the station is famous as the home of the Grand Ole Opry (a weekly concert thought to be the world’s longest running radio programme) and the website has links to an Opry stream foregrounding contemporary country music as well as podcasts. For a virtual immersion in Nashville’s music heritage, go to visitmusiccity.com
Find the remainder of the top 10 recommendations HERE.