Songs From Around the Globe to Help Keep the Gloom at Bay

Music from Colombia, Japan, Brazil, Greenland, and more is just a click away.

Songs From Around the Globe to Help Keep the Gloom at Bay

Music from Colombia’s Herencia de Timbiqui will get you moving.

Photo by Alamy

With international travel all but off-limits and restaurants across the country shuttered, it feels like the cross-cultural interactions once taken for granted have been put on hold. But there’s a sliver of good news: Music from everywhere—and we mean everywhere—is still just a click away. Whether you need something to lift the spirits, clean out your ears after five hours of Kenny G–inspired hold music while trying to cancel a flight, or just something to encourage dancing like no one is watching (because chances are no one is), start here.

Herencia de Timbiqui - “I a Kelé Kandá” (Colombia)

Herencia de Timbiqui, an 11-strong ensemble, takes the traditional Afro Colombian sounds of the country’s Pacific region and throws them in a blender along with pop, R&B, salsa, and funk. The result is music that seems specifically designed to make you happy.

Magic System - “1er Gaou” (Ivory Coast)

A 20-year-old hit that inexplicably didn’t catch on beyond the African continent and France, this song is about saying “you snooze, you lose.” It tells the story of Magic System’s lead singer, Salif Traoré, and an ex-girlfriend who asked for him back once he found success. But honestly, who really cares what it’s about? Try not dancing to this.

Ulrich Schnauss - “. . . Passing By” (Germany)

Right now, it’s hard to do anything besides stare at Twitter and sink into existential dread. But it’s important to remember to let yourself daydream. This, from German electronic musician Ulrich Schnauss, is your soundtrack for staring out the window, reliving the places you’ve been, and planning for the places you’ll go (eventually).

Kiran Ahluwalia and Tinariwen - “Mustt Mustt” (India/Mali)

What happens when you combine South Asian vocal traditions with guitar rock from the Sahara? Whatever this magic is. It’s highly danceable, catchy, and, hey, if a bunch of Tuareg musicians from northern Mali can sing along in Urdu, you can, too.

Tim Maia - “O Caminho Do Bem” (Brazil)

Go on your once-daily walk around the block with confidence, thanks to this, from Brazilian icon Tim Maia. Just when you think it can’t get any funkier, the rolls on the cowbell hit and a guitar solo sets in.

Béla Fleck and D’Gary - “Kinetsa” (USA/Madagascar)

Part of a documentary project that brought American banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck to Africa in search of his instrument’s roots, this is one of many improvised jams featuring musicians from across the continent. It’s a testament to the power of music to dissolve the barriers between cultures, even as we face a world where we’re being forced to close ourselves off. It’s also a straight-up ripper of a song.

iLe - “Curandera” (Puerto Rico)

Puerto Rican musician iLe knows that sometimes simple is better. Take a single vocal line, throw a storm of drums under it, and bam: Your heart rate’s up and you don’t even notice your feet are shuffling to the beat while you chop onions in the kitchen. Then, inevitably, you hit “repeat.”

Happy End - “Kaze wo Atsumete” (Japan)

Unless you lived in Japan in the early 1970s, there’s no reason why this song should make you nostalgic, but somehow it does. It’s a warm nostalgia, like the fuzzy psychedelic edges to Happy End’s throwback rock sound, and when the chorus kicks in, it’s like being hugged by a loved one you haven’t seen in months.

Nive and the Deer Children - “Tulugaq” (Greenland)

All this time at home lends itself to ambitious planning for future trips. Why not get ready, mentally, for that Arctic expedition with this beautiful meditation by Greenlandic singer Nive Nielsen? The music video helps, too, as Nielsen and a group of children unconvincingly dressed as ravens frolick past colorful wooden houses along the shore of iceberg-laden fjords.

Sign Libra - “Sea of Islands” (Latvia)

A synthesizer, sporadic dancing, contorted facial expressions for no apparent reason: This music video is basically a “How to Self-Isolate” instructional tape. And the music is a pretty accurate encapsulation of the active-but-isolated mind, as Latvian producer Sign Libra weaves together kitschy pop melodies into something surprisingly profound.

Sheitan Brothers - “Gardien Volcan” (Réunion)

It didn’t take long for Zoom raves to become a thing. Here’s a cut if you are playing DJ and looking for something slightly less conventional than the usual build-to-a-drop fare. This takes maloya, a musical tradition with roots in the enslaved Africans on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and blasts it into the 21st century.

Sebastian Modak is a journalist based in New York. In the past, he’s toured the world as a drummer, spent a year in Botswana documenting the local hip-hop scene, and, in 2019, was the New York Times 52 Places Traveler.
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