Virtual Vacation: Travel The World At Your Desk

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ongap/iStockphoto
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ongap/iStockphoto

The great advantage of virtual travel is that you can get to places a standard vacation probably wouldn't allow: Lagos, Nigeria, Tehran and the desert of northern Mali probably don't show up on many wish lists for leisure travel. But if you did make it to any of these places, you'd find great music that could have been created nowhere else. Here's a musical swing through some destinations well off the beaten path.

We start with music from two rowdy, rural outposts of Latin America, then move on to Africa — its remote northern desert and one of its most overpopulated cities — and wind up in Tehran, a surprising outpost of contemplative Sufi music, as well as blessed relief at the end of an arduous journey. When it's over, you'll still be at your desk. But at least you'll feel like you've gone somewhere.

Virtual Vacation: Travel The World At Your Desk

La India Canela art 200

Con el Gusto Adentro (With the Flavor Inside)

  • Artist: La India Canela
  • Album: Merengue Tipico from the Dominican Republic
  • Song: Con el Gusto Adentro (With the Flavor Inside)

El Cibao, the northern province of the Dominican Republic, is mostly a land of steep mountains and fertile river valleys. It's the country's breadbasket, but it's mostly off the tourist track, far from the fabulous beaches and bustling capital city (Santo Domingo) in the south. But El Cibao is home to the rural cousin of the country's most popular music: merengue. Merengue tipico is bracing fare, strong coffee (or perhaps moonshine) in the world of party music. Note the African drums, the breakneck tempos and the fleet accordion work of Lidia Maria Hernandez Lopez, a.k.a. La India Canela.

'Merengue Tipico' is available for purchase at Smithsonian Folkways.

Yamandu Costa art 200

Lalao

  • Artist: Yamandu Costa
  • Album: Mafua
  • Song: Lalao

In the south of Brazil and the north of Argentina, the land opens up into wide vistas. It's the pampas -- the fertile, lowland plains where the local gauchos work and party hard. Yamandu Costa hails from this region and takes his most fundamental inspiration from it, but he's since gone on to become one of Brazil's most talked-about virtuoso guitarists. Behind the blinding chops and flawless technique, the playful rhythms and giddy impulsiveness of the pampas cowboy remain.

Terakaft art 200

Bismilla

  • Artist: Terakaft
  • Album: Bismilla, the Bko Sessions
  • Song: Bismilla

There's nothing quite like the feeling of mounting a camel at the edge of the Sahara Desert and heading out into the expanse of white sand, a thin blue turban shielding you from the sun and wind. Such is the life of the nomadic Tuareg people of Mali, Niger, Libya and Algeria. After days or weeks, you come upon a camp or village, and perhaps a few musicians with guitars and hand drums sing songs of resistance and survival. Terakaft is the latest Tuareg desert folk-rock band to come to light, and its sound is raw and palpably evocative of its members’ challenging desert existence.

Lagos Stori Penti art 200

I Am a Nigerian

  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Album: Lagos Stori Plenti: Urban Sounds from Nigeria
  • Song: I Am a Nigerian

Lagos is one of the toughest cities in Africa, marked by heavy traffic, crime, corruption, poverty and overpopulation. But as the city's young rappers are proving today, Lagos is also a place of spirit, good humor and creativity. Terry the Rapman's style owes more to American hip-hop than to the greats of Nigerian music, but his words go to the heart of the Lagos experience.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
I Am a Nigerian
Album
Lagos Stori Plenti: Urban Sounds from Nigeria
Artist
Various Artists
Label
Out Here Rec
Released
2006

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Ensemble Dastan art 200

Sham'-E Djan [Candle of the Soul]

  • Artist: Salar Aghili/Ensemble Dastan
  • Album: Endless Ocean
  • Song: Sham'-E Djan [Candle of the Soul]

The Ayatollah Khomeini was once an appreciator of Sufi arts, the mystical and musical expressions of Islamic faith. So he banned only Western music. Ensemble Dastan, formed in Tehran in 1991, merges the instrumentation of Persian classical music -- bowed, strummed and plucked lutes with hand percussion -- with the vocal passion and ecstatic yearnings of Sufism. This song evokes both the glorious antiquities of Persia and the hidden inner life of an outwardly curtailed culture. The first line translates, "I am submerged in a sea whose end I cannot see."

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Sham'-E Djan [Candle of the Soul]
Album
Endless Ocean
Artist
Salar Aghili/Ensemble Dastan
Label
Network Germany
Released
2008

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Banning Eyre is senior editor at Afropop Worldwide.

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