San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rican artistes were prominent in the New-York based creation of salsa in the 1970s, when the pan-Latin mix was given a rock flavouring and again began to appeal to a crossover audience. The island itself is a crucial stop on the salsa trail, with Nuyorican Cafe in Old San Juan probably the most famous nightspot.
Cuba is beyond question the most important source of music in Latin America. This is the island that has given the world the habanera, rumba, the mambo, the danzón, the chachachá – dance music that has travelled all over the world, and gone back to its roots in Africa. One of the best places to hear live music in the Cuban capital is at a Casa de la Trova – which might be a grand old colonial building or a small impromptu performing space with a few chairs off the street.
Head out of New Orleans a couple of hours along Highway 10 to Lafayette – a mess of gas stations and advertising hoardings – and you find yourself in the heart of Cajun and Zydeco country. The music tends to be sold with images of alligators, swamps and spreading cypress trees draped with Spanish moss, but its home is not so much the bayous as the flat Louisiana prairies where farmers grow rice and cotton and farm crawfish.
Dublin has a flourishing live music scene, with the best traditional Irish music sessions packing out pubs in and around Temple Bar with locals and tourists. There are also a number of open-air events during the summer, including one-off gigs by major acts at places such as Croke Park and Marlay Park in Rathfarnham.
The shimmering sounds of the gamelan have fascinated and delighted Western visitors to Indonesia for half a millennium. A gamelan is essentially an ensemble of tuned percussion, consisting mainly of gongs, metallophones (similar to xylophones, but with metal instead of wooden bars) and drums; it may also include singers, bamboo flutes and spike-fiddle.
Country music is generally reckoned to have resulted from the interaction of British and Irish folk music, as brought by Tennessee’s first Anglo settlers, with other ethnic musics, including the spirituals and gospel hymns sung by African-American slaves and their descendants. Today, Music City entertains audiences 365 days a year in its world famous honky-tonk bars along Broadway.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beautiful, Baroque hometown of Salzburg is the most glorious place to hear his music today. Luxurious candlelit dinner concerts are regularly held in the hall of the Stifskeller St Peter restaurant in St Peter Monastery, or you might see a concert in the mighty medieval fortress above the city.
From the outside on a weekend night juke joints might look abandoned, but open the door after 10pm, and you’ll find one of the most influential musical genres of the twentieth century in full swing, with a hard drinking, hard partying crowd grooving and shaking to some of the Delta’s finest bluesmen. Red’s, on the outskirts of Clarksdale, and Po’Monkey’s, located in a field a few miles from Merigold, are patronized by an eclectic mixture of predominantly local characters.
Ibiza, Balearic Islands
Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters.
UNESCO’s City of Music 2008 has an enthusiastic, vociferous and utterly magnetic contemporary gig scene, which stretches from gritty pubs to arty student haunts, marvellous church halls to cavernous arenas. Glasgow has an alternative rock pedigree that few can match. Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Simple Minds, Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian have all sprung from a city that Time magazine has described as Europe’s “secret capital” of rock music.
Spanish Flamenco is most effective in the raw, on stage, as hands and heels thwack in virile syncopation, a guitar bleeds unfathomable flurries of notes and the dancer flaunts her disdain with a flourish of ruffled silk. Seek out Los Gallos, one of the oldest tablaos, scour the cobbled backstreets for La Carbonería, a former coal merchants where free flamenco pulls in a volubly appreciative scrum of locals and tourists, or head to the old gyspy quarter of Triana where barrio hangouts like Casa Anselma exult in Seville’s home-grown form, the “Sevillana”.
In a country rich in musical culture, mariachis – those extravagantly passionate bands with their sly rhythms, natty hats and silver buttons – are the sound of Mexico. On feast days and for weddings and birthdays, the colonial city of Guadalajara reverberates to traditional mariachi tunes played on vihuelas and guitarrons.
Male voice choirs are a Welsh institution, part of the lives of thousands of working men from Snowdonia to the Rhondda. Among the finest are the Morriston Orpheus Choir and Treorchy Male Voice Choir – visitors are made welcome during rehearsals and it is an intimate and moving experience to listen as the voices swell in four-part harmonies, as rich and complex as an orchestra.
Teatro Alla Scala is a stunning opera house founded in Milan in 1778. One of the most revered opera venues in the world, visitors flock here for the outstanding acoustics, opulent surroundings and world-class performances of great operas by Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti and Bellini.
The professional theatre scene in London’s West End is world famous and musicals are fundamental to the success of Theatreland. The area around Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square attracts the best in the business and Olivier award winning musicals dazzle audiences from around the world night after night.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
It has been said that Argentina has two national anthems – the official anthem and tango. Forget the well-mannered ballroom, tango is a real roots music: sometimes sleazy, sometimes elegant, but always sensuous, rhythmic and passionate – “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire”.
In a city renowned for the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, it’s no surprise to find a vibrant local jazz scene with some of North America’s hottest jazz venues. All year round, the city’s restaurants, bars and clubs showcase musicians jamming live on stage.
The dance scene in Berlin is unlike anywhere else; all nationalities, ages and sexualities are represented in Germany’s capital city. Techno and electronica is taken seriously by DJs, promoters and clubbers alike and the party goes on all night whether the venue is an evocative abandoned building or a stunning state of the art super club.
Wedding season is for five or six months over the winter and the barat, or wedding procession, through the streets is a spectacular sight. The band starts outside the groom’s house and leads the procession to the home of the bride, where presents are given and a feast is held. The groom often rides a magnificent white horse, preceded by a band of perhaps a dozen musicians on trumpets, large baritone horns, tubas, saxophones and a couple of side drums.
This North African seaport has a laidback musical rhythm all its own. Known for its array of music festivals, visit outside these times and you can still find traditional musicians playing bass drums, reed pipes and qaraqebs, metal chimes which are clacked together in the fingers. The Gnawas (or in French, Gnaouas) were originally transported from West Africa as slaves. Their hypnotic music, a blend of sub-Saharan, Berber and Arab influences, is key to their rituals.