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Load up your iPod with local music before your trip
Yes, before television or the internet or even the written word, there has always been music. A country's music is an extremely important component of its culture, but it's often neglected by travelers, even those who wish to truly experience the place they're visiting.
Now, I'm not saying you should load up your iPod with two-hundred-year-old polkas and mazurkas and Gregorian chants. Those are neglected for good reason, in my opinion. (Sorry Mrs. Peters, my eighth-grade Music Appreciation teacher.) No, I'm referring to a country's popular music-- its rock bands, folk singers, indie artists, and even its bubblegum pop.
Sure, you'll probably hear more Bob Marley or Guns 'n Roses than anything else on your trip, depending on where you go, but most countries have scores of talented local artists. The trick is knowing where to find them. For my money, the folks over at Perceptive Travel have the best reviews and recommendations of world music that you'll ever come across. Head on over there to check out what they have to say about your next destination.
"Al Mu'allim" by Sami Yusuf (Iran, the UK)
"Tiger Phone Card" by Dengue Fever (Cambodia, United States)
Cambodia meets Los Angeles, literally, in the band Dengue Fever. Lead singer Chhom Nimol, straight out of the musical mecca that is Cambodia, combines her unique voice with LA's Zac Holtzman's on this song about love separated by a world but connected-- barely-- by a phone card.
- "A Postcard to Nina" by Jens Lekman (Sweden)
Slate's Stephen Metcalf calls Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman a "fully realized pop genius." His song "A Postcard to Nina" illustrates the typically quirky, funny, and often poignant Jens Lekman tune.
And be sure to check out Gadling's series Sounds of Travel for more great songs.