As someone who has a soundtrack playing through their mind at all times, I can attest that music, much like the pairing of a choice wine with a certain dish, can greatly enhance the ‘flavor’ of a destination. The right tune can deepen the impressions it leaves on one’s memory, and forever serve as a trigger to call those images of a distant locale back to mind in just a few notes. While I do have certain songs that I attach in my mind to specific locations due to having heard the song there, there are several songs that due to the lyrics or style inevitably draw me back to a particular country, a particular city or particular memory. If you have a trip on the horizon and would like to “pair” some music to go with your destination, please enjoy my traveler’s playlist for the world.
Ends of the Earth, by Lord Huron
Ready to fly off to the Ends of the Earth (or New Delhi as seen here)
This indie-rock ballad about a man bent on exploring the world while at the same time hoping for a companion, resonates quite deeply with me. The style I feel could best describe this piece is a mash-up where ‘world music meets the Old West’. There’s a pleasant combination of soulful strains as the lyrics play, which then switches over to faster-paced percussion during the instrumental parts. The lyrics are what truly hit home for me, especially a line toward the end of the song that goes:
“What good is livin’ a life you’ve been given, if all you do is stand in one place”
If that doesn’t sum up my philosophies on travel, I don’t know what else could. Powerful stuff.
Though no specific destination comes to mind when I hear it (though the American Southwest would fit nicely with the tone), my mind can’t help but wander toward the horizon from the shot of wanderlust this song instills.
The World At Large, by Modest Mouse
Float On towards the World At Large (or New Mexico, whichever’s closer)
This short, poignant song that literally flows into the more popular hit Float On sounds to me like the ramblings of a drifter with a taste for adventure whose restlessness takes him on a never-ending journey. It’s a soft, simple tune that in my mind combines a wistfulness to keep on exploring, and the inevitable sadness at the fact that moving on means leaving things behind. Once again, this is not a destination-specific piece, but the conflict between the desire to wander and the transitory nature of experiences when one is only ‘passing through’ both inspires me to keep traveling, while at the same time leaves me feeling the loss of people and places I’ve left behind.
Storms In Africa (1 & 2) by Enya
Storms or Not, Africa Is A Spectacle Worth Seeing – especially the Chobe River on the border of Botswana & Namibia
Africa, as anyone who’s been there can attest, leaves a mark. I think it’s because of the powerful contrasts; as home of some of the most failing and corrupt governments in the world, the African people have been left destitute, brutalized and left to fend for themselves. Yet in all my travels there, the people I’ve met have almost to a person been smiling, good-natured and open to connect with others. Despite the plunder of warlords and multinational corporations, the landscape is still refreshingly rural and dramatic, with wildlife and terrain who leave no doubt as to who’s really in charge. From the breathtaking sunsets to the majesty of seeing animals like lions, elephants and hippos in the wild, this beautiful melody set to a backdrop of quintessential African drumming takes me back to game drives in South Africa, smelling the wet vegetation and wondering what might appear just around the next bush. If you’re headed out to a safari, be sure to download these songs for the perfect soundtrack to your explorations.
The Postman, Soundtrack from Il Postino, by Luis Enriquez Bacalov
Postage Not Required on the Island of Ponza, Italy
If you’ve never seen this classic movie portraying the tale of a lonely postman (hence the title) on a remote Italian island who woos the girl of his dreams with the help of an exiled poet, then consider yourself as having plans this weekend. Spoiler alert, it does follow the tradition of other famous Italian movies such as Cinema Paradiso and Life Is Beautiful by simultaneously ripping your heart out while filling it with love by the time the movie ends. Though the story itself is great, the music is perfectly suited for the Italian island backdrop, and on my own travels to Italian islands – particularly the island of Ponza – the various iterations of the song The Postman are playing in my head anytime I look out at the craggy cliffs and boxy, whitewashed houses that hearken back to times gone by.
Latika’s Theme, by A.R. Rahman
The Softer Side of the Subcontinent, Agra, India
Speaking of bittersweet movies, this gem from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack was often playing in my head during my trip to India. The haunting female vocals and soft strains of the sitar conjure images of the subcontinent’s softer side, serving as a counterweight to the cacophony of beeping horns and bustling crowds that are the real soundtrack of India. Though fascinating, India is an all out assault on your eyes, nose and taste buds, so why not treat your ears to this soothing melodic sound of this lovely piece of music to block out the chaos, and focus on the stunning examples of artistry and architecture that are visible in nearly all directions.
Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley
Reggae = Caribbean, and especially Jamaica as pictured here
Really just about any Bob Marley song will do, but Three Little Birds is to me the primary example of how a music genre can define an entire region. When I hear the cheery notes of a steel drum pounding out the cadence that is so distinctly reggae, I can’t help but envision not only the tropical beauty of the island of Jamaica, but that of the greater Caribbean as well. Marley’s songs are the musical equivalent of the vibrant colors that distinguish the Caribbean’s markets and architecture, and one can’t help but feel “sunny” listening to it. Add the fact that there’s not a cruise ship in the region that doesn’t have at least one band playing Marley at any given time, and you can see why this popular tune mentally brings me back to swaying palms, turquoise water, and fruity drinks with little umbrellas.
Walzing Matilda, by Various Artists
Go Waltzing Matilda yourself in Australia’s Undara Lava Tubes National Park
While there may not be any one official recording of this classic folk song, only Waltzing Matilda could rightly be considered the unofficial national anthem of Australia. Telling the story of a fiercely independent squatter who would rather drown in a lake (a.k.a. billabong) than give himself over to the authorities, nothing is more quintessential Australian than this quirky ditty straight out of the Outback, complete with local phraseology that will require a few Google searches for non-Australians to comprehend. In my mind Waltzing Matilda is synonymous with anything Australian, and when I think of my travels there I can’t help but hum the tune (or vice versa).
Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert, by Pink Floyd
Set Your Sights on Obscurity in the Falkland Islands
From the wide appeal of Australia’s most famous ballad, we’ll now drastically zoom in to a very obscure tune, from an obscure album, that speaks of events in a very obscure location that most people would be hard pressed to find on a map. The location in question is the Falkland Islands, a rather barren, rocky archipelago deep in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. In fact, if you were to head south, the next stop would be Antarctica.
The song is a nod to the Falkland Conflict that took place in the early ’80’s between the U.K., who has ruled the islands since the 1800’s, and Argentina, whose ambitions to push them out resulted in nothing more than the senseless loss of hundreds of young soldiers and sailors. Following the title’s words being shouted out and subsequently obliterated by the sound of a mortar blast, a string quartet plays a few chords before the single stanza of lyrics are sung:
“Brezhnev took Afghanistan. (a reference to the then-recent Soviet invasion)
Begin took Beirut. (referencing the Israeli Prime Minister’s actions in Lebanon)
Galtieri took the Union Jack. (referring to the Argentinian invasion of the islands)
And Maggie, over lunch one day, (that is, British P.M. Margaret Thatcher)
Took a cruiser with all hands. (referencing the Argentine ship General Belgrano)
Apparently, to make him give it back”
Very few people make their way down to these islands, so once I knew it was on my itinerary I made sure that I had downloaded it to my device, and gave it a listen as we neared port. From that point on, anytime I’ve heard this short yet meaningful song (rarely), my thoughts immediately head out to the South Atlantic in contemplation of an eventual return (unlikely).
These are just a few songs that I feel encapsulate either the travel experience or the essence of a specific destination. I am quite aware that there are still lots of places to see and even more music to hear, so if you have a song that takes you back to someplace you’ve traveled, be sure to leave a comment below. Who knows – I may even add it to my future playlist.
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