Thanks to my parents, I began playing instruments at a very young age and quickly developed an undying love for music that is still deeply rooted within the person I am today. Besides traveling and being lucky enough to write about my passion for travel, music is my second greatest devotion.
Traveling itself allows us to dive into other cultures and get a taste of how others live, and some of my favorite things to learn about while in another country are its cuisine, religion, daily living routines, and people. But my most favorite aspect of traveling and learning about other cultures is discovering what kind of music they like, and how different sounds from across the globe shape or provide insight into a given society.
Music tells stories about history, and different rhythms, beats, and sounds are direct reflections of language and dialect. I think it sometimes goes unnoticed how much music can explain a people, and this is what I love most about discovering sounds from around the world.
So, the following 5 international artists are some I’ve been listening to for a while, and some I’ve encountered more recently. Regardless, I discovered all of them while I was traveling. You should definitely give these global artists a listen now.
1. Tash Sultana (Australia)
If any of my friends or family members are reading this right now, they’re likely rolling their eyes, and that’s because, in the past two years, I haven’t shut up about Tash Sultana. I’ve traveled over 700 miles to see Tash live in action three times in the past year, and it was worth every penny and every second of my time.
Though highly disputable, I personally think Tash Sultana is the greatest thing to happen to music since the Beatles, and they singlehandedly restored my faith in modern day music. (We say ‘they’ because Tash identifies as neither male nor female.)
Tash Sultana is a 23-year-old Melbourne native who, after coming out of a nine-month drug-induced psychosis, couldn’t find a “normal” job and began busking on the streets for a living.
Sultana began playing guitar at the age of three and is now a multi-instrumentalist who plays approximately 20 instruments fluently, including the bass, drums, piano, mandolin, harmonica, trumpet, and pan flute. What makes Sultana so special is their looping mastery, taking all of their musical genii and layering it on top of each other to create some of the most unique sounds, unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. And, oh, they also have the voice of an angel.
You probably won’t hear Sultana on the radio, though, because their talent is best seen live and on stage. Since they started touring just over a year ago, they’ve sold out nearly every show to date.
If you’re wondering where you can catch a live Tash show, click here.
2. Amadou and Mariam (Mali)
I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard Amadou and Mariam, and this is yet another thing I love about music: it transports us to a place in time that heightens our memory and induces feelings of nostalgia.
I was living in Cartagena, Spain when a friend of mine put on my now-favorite song by the vibrant Malian duo, “Je pense à toi,” featured in the video below.
Amadou and Mariam are a couple born in Bamako, Mali’s capital and largest city. Their album Welcome To Mali was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album, and their song “Sabali” was ranked #15 on Pitchfork‘s Top 100, becoming the most-played French single worldwide in 2009.
Known as “the blind couple from Mali,” Amadou lost his vision at the age of 16, and Mariam lost hers at the age of five as a consequence of untreated measles. Despite their visual impairment, this eccentric Malian duo makes some incredible music, mixing traditional African sounds with rock guitars, Syrian violins, Cuban trumpets, and Egyptian ney, a bona fide concoction of sounds from around the world.
If you’re visiting France in 2019, Amadou and Mariam have several live performances, and tickets can be found here.
3. Seu Jorge (Brazil)
If you’ve traveled to Brazil and haven’t heard of Seu Jorge, then I’m not really sure what you were doing while you were there. (Caught up in Carnaval extravaganzas, perhaps?)
Seu Jorge is unquestionably Brazil’s most renowned contemporary musician, a singer, songwriter, and actor who was raised in the city of Belford Roxo near Rio de Janeiro. At the age of 19, Jorge became homeless for more than three years. Despite his hardships, Jorge became known in Brazilian favelas, and his music has been acknowledged for reigniting Brazilian pop samba.
If you think the name Seu Jorge rings a bell, you might have seen him in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a film that features Seu Jorge covering Portuguese language versions of popular David Bowie songs, such as “Starman,” “Rebel Rebel,” and “Rock & Roll Suicide.” He is also recognized for playing Knockout Ned in the critically acclaimed film City of God.
If you watch the following video, it’ll be hard not to notice the excitement Jorge creates during his live shows, especially when performing in his home country. He is known for putting on epic live performances, like the one seen below.
4. Hindi Zahra (Morocco)
With comparisons being made to artists like Billie Holiday, Manu Chao, and Patti Smith, Hindi Zahra’s blend of sounds and languages makes her one of the most interesting global musicians on the list.
Moroccan-born and raised by her mother who was both a dancer and an actress, Zahra’s upbringing revolved around the arts and she quickly developed a talent for music, becoming a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and singer. Her unique sound combines traditional Berber music, Spanish guitar, soul, jazz, and blues.
Zahra’s been nominated for several awards over the years, and in 2011 she won the Victoires de la Musique award for “Best World Music Album.”
Though many of her songs are performed in English, she does in fact sing in Amazigh, a Berber language originating from indigenous ethnic groups of Northern Africa. You can hear some of this in her song “Imik Simik,” featured below.
5. Rodrigo y Gabriela
After becoming frustrated with the limited scope of Mexican rock music in their home country, classical guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela moved to Europe where they started playing live gigs and building their own repertoire.
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s influence derives from heavy metal, classical guitar, and nuevo flamenco, and their guitar skills will leave you utterly speechless.
The duo had their national American TV debut on Late Show with David Letterman in 2006 (featured in the video below). Gabriela y Rodrigo have exploded across the globe, and their music has been featured on Breaking Bad, Monday Night Football, and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. They’ve also been featured in and composed music for various films such as Puss in Boots and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Music is a universal language. We hope this piece inspires you to explore the sounds that move people all over the world. Happy trails!