Adventures in Ethnic Music

Sunday, October 2nd, 2005 @ 5:35 am | Music

I’ve been wanting to write about ethnic music for a while. By this I mean the indigenous varieties of world music that sound so much different than anything that Americans are used to, although international variations on uniquely American musical styles are quite interesting too. I’ve found myself listening to more international music in recent months, mainly because of the sheer variety, novelty and beauty of it.

The first thing I implore you to do is check out They’ve got the 50 free mp3s offer going on right now, and they have a great selection of independent and international music. For that matter, iTunes or any other good music download service can help you find good stuff.

I’d like to start in the early 20th century with Yazoo’s Secret Museum of Mankind series. This is a collection of early ethnic music taken from rare 78s, from a period just before technological progress began to displace indigenous cultures. Here are some mp3s from the series:

Yazoo also has other compilations of Irish, Polish, Bulgarian and Jewish klezmer music. Right now I’m listening to The Music of Madagascar, a collection of early Malagasy music. Malagasy music is strangely melodic and beautiful, with soaring harmonies. Here’s the first track from the compilation:

Sufi devotional music, or qawwali, is specifically designed to bring listeners into trance. The foremost exponent of qawwali was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who achieved worldwide reknown in the 1990s. Khan was known for his embrace of western musical styles (there are pop and techno versions of his songs) and he performed with musicians such as Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder. Khan’s qawwalis start out slow, but gradually increase to a fevered, ecstatic pitch, with a moderate degree of improvisation.

Abita Parveen is currently the most popular qawwali singer, and definitely the most popular female exponent of the style. Instead of the crescendos and improvisation of Khan’s music, Parveen sticks to the poetical forms of the kafi or ghazal. Once you get past the occasionally cheesy strings, Parveen’s music is quite beautiful indeed.

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