I love music, and I love discovering new music and artists as I travel the world. That’s why when my friend and fellow traveller Diane requested a playlist of travel music inspired by different destinations, I was up for the challenge. However, it took me a lot longer to write this post than I initially anticipated.
I knew from the outset I didn’t want to write a playlist of travel music from a Western perspective – I could have easily trotted out The Vapors “Turning Japanese” and Toto’s “Africa,” but I wanted to create a list of songs that truly represented – songs about locations that were composed or performed by artists from those places.
Don’t worry, there are definitely some recognizable hits in here, but there are also songs you’ve likely never heard. So stow your cabin baggage, fasten your seatbelt and ensure your tray table is in the upright position. Most importantly, enjoy this global journey, uncovering some new songs, artists and musical styles as you travel around the world by song.
If you’re looking for road trip music, we’ve got a mega list of popular road journey tunes here.
Around the world in song
Love Song to Canada
Ontario born Jason Collett sings his ode to the Great White North.
Born in the USA
As if in need of introduction, New Jersey native Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen is known for representing everyday life in America. In the case of “Born in the USA” he sang about the effects of US involvement in the Vietnam War.
México Lindo Y Querido
What would this list be without some Mariachi music from Mexico. Singer and actor Vicente Fernández sings this patriotic ranchera classic.
Celia Cruz was born in Havana and has been dubbed the “Queen of Salsa”. Here Cruz sings a patriotic Cuban tune popularized in the late 1920s by its composer Joseíto Fernández, with lyrics adapted from José Martí poetry. See lyrics in English here.
Jamaica’s most famous musician Bob Marley sings Smile Jamaica, about which in the book Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Album of the Century, he is quoted as saying:
“It name Smile Jamaica and it deal with what’s happening now – what should be happening now. Trench Town have to change. Long time, plenty people grown up there and it have fi change … the political thing. But me never see myself, I never really call myself, political. Me only want to talk about the truth.”
My favourite find of this musical exploration was down in Brazil where Rio de Janeiro born, Jorge Ben, penned País Tropical “Tropical Country.” You probably already know the much loved and covered Ben hit “Mas que nada.”
Mi Buenos Aires Querido
I was introduced to the music of Carlos Gardel while I was in the Buenos Aires suburb of La Boca. This instrumental version of his well-known tango Mi Buenos Aires Querido “my beloved Buenos Aires”, is a homage to performer Daniel Barenboim’s Argentinian birthplace and Gardel’s adopted home.
Song for Ireland
Irish folk artist Mary Black sings this emerald gem introduced to me by my tour guide around Ireland. The song was penned by British couple Phil and June Colclough who were inspired by a trip to Dingle Peninsula.
This post began with an Instagram post by my friend Diane, of a signature red London phone booth captioned: “Anyone else hear The Clash every time they see these phone booths or is that just me?” Though so far I’ve never made it beyond Heathrow Airport, I’m sure one day I will be singing this classic punk rock number all around the city in which The Clash was formed.
Sous le ciel de Paris
Zaz, also known as Isabelle Geffroy, sings an oft-covered ode to Paris originally written for a film of the same name. The French native is joined by a lineup of artists like Édith Paif and Yves Montand who have sung Sous le ciel de Paris “Under Paris Skies.”
Ta Pediá tou Pireá
Melina Mercouri was the first to sing “The Children of Piraeus” sometimes also known as “Never on Sunday” in the film of the same name. The Port of Piraeus has been a major Greek seaport since historically and today is the largest in the Mediterranean. See English translation of the song’s lyrics here.
Üskudara Gider Íken
Üsküdar is a suburb of Istanbul and this folk song has been performed by a diverse array of artists Turkish and foreign. Incesaz performs this unique version featuring vocals by band member Ezgi Köker.
B’Hebbak Ya Loubnan
Beloved Lebanese performer Fairouz sings in honour of her homeland. English translation here.
Jazz vocalist Youn Sun Nah performs a contemporary version of this Korean folk song. The tune has been interpreted many, many, times over its 600-year history and is included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List for both North and South Korea.
Bengawan Solo “Solo River” is a song about the longest river on the Indonesian island of Java. The tune was composed by Gesang in 1940 in the Kroncong style, about the river that passes by his hometown Surakarta.
Sounds of Then (This is Australia)
My word it was difficult to choose one song to represent my own homeland, Australia. I have always connected with Sounds of Then by Gang Gajang because like the song’s author, band member Mark Callaghan, I grew up in humid Queensland, near cane fields and observing the spectacular electrical storms of the subtropics.
Pata Pata, translating from the Xhosa language as “touch touch”, was inspired by a dance phenomenon that around Johannesburg, South Africa in the mid-1950s. Singer Miriam Makeba took inspiration from an instrumental known as “Phatha Phatha” by Shumi Ntutu and Isaac Nkosi for the melody. I’m warning you now, this song will get stuck in your head.
I was trying to steer away from songs about “Africa”, not wanting to reduce a very diverse continent down to a single tune. But if it’s ok by Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’Dour, then it’s ok by me.
I will probably change and add to the playlist over time, as I travel and listen to the world around me. So, make sure you check back from time to time and catch new aural destinations and travel music. Also, I would love any input from you about songs you think best represent your homeland. Please suggest songs in the comments below.
Finally, if you are a music-loving traveller, check out the itinerary for this Memphis to Nashville road trip, where to find THAT U2 Joshua Tree (hint: it’s not in Joshua Tree National Park), or how to visit the Woodstock music festival site.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,