The 5 best things to do in Java, Indonesia
21 February 2024
As well as chasing adventure, embracing the unknown and letting the stresses of routine fall away, travel is about culture-seeking. Acquainting yourself with the arts of a destination – trying the food, learning the history, admiring the art and the architecture – can often be one of the biggest pleasures of going on a trip.
Getting to know the local music is of no exception. A country’s sound can depict its history; tell stories of celebration and independence, fusion and influence. A recognisable style goes hand in hand with national identity, such as reggae with Jamaica, salsa with Spain, and bhangra with India. Finally, when you’ve returned home, music can transport you back to a destination with nothing but a few opening bars.
Below, we describe five great cities around the world to create those vivid, sound-tracked memories for yourself.
The effect of African, Portuguese and Spanish influence throughout history has produced in Latin America a culture of dance, passion and celebration. In Argentina, it’s all about the tango, and its vivacious rhythm seeps from every milonga in Buenos Aires. The tango is more than just a dance for Argentinians, it’s a way of life – and witnessing a sea of couples flaunt these impassioned moves with a live band is an unforgettable experience. From the outdoor plaza demonstrations to more tourist oriented shows such as Tango Porteno, tango is everywhere in the city. For a truly local hangout, try Milonga Parakultural, or Maldita Milonga; where live music plays all night long, and the red wine flows aplenty.
Blending Spanish guitars, indigenous flutes and the drum structure of the country’s African diaspora, Colombia has born multiple strains of dance-worthy, homegrown sounds. Its most famous style is the cumbia – originally a courtship dance for African populations on the Caribbean coast. Today, cumbia forms the inspiration for plenty of modern artists in Bogota trying to break the national music scene; while flirtatious salsa, jaunty, folk-inspired vallenato and Latin pop music pulse through Bogota’s live venues. For a tightly-packed but truly local evening of Colombian sounds, head to Gaira Cafe to dance to an 11-piece band.
The sheer amount of music, dance and performance art to come out of India is comparable to its geographical size. Music and dance is a big deal here; the pairing of movement and melody is seen as a nod to legend, an act of gratitude to spirits and gods. Arguably its holiest, oldest and most cultural centre, Varanasi has a deep musical heritage, earning it ‘City of Music’ status from UNESCO. Sitar, tabla, tanpura and flute blend in an exotic sound that is quintessentially Indian, emanating from guesthouses, restaurant concerts, music schools and annual festivals. The 43 day Sur Ganga is one of its newest, while Drupad Festival celebrates Hindustani classical music every March or April.
Perhaps not the first place you’d consider a musical hub, but Armenia’s religious mountain heritage, as well as its Soviet history, has produced a distinctive musical identity steeped in acapella and folk. The national instrument, the duduk, is a low-pitched wooden flute which produces a lonely, haunting sound – and live demonstrations are common in Yerevan restaurants. As the first country to embrace Christianity, Armenia’s holy music carries a sense of ceremony that is ethereal to witness in an ancient setting. Try to catch the female acapella choir in a sacred singing performance at Geghard; a 1700 year old monastery with superb acoustics, just north of Yerevan.
Anyone who has been to Senegal will laud its upbeat, thumping streets as one of their first impressions – along with the bright clothing, melodic chatter and lust for life of its residents. Senegal reigns as one of the musical leaders of Africa – but the soundtrack to Dakar is its trademark style, Mbalax. Derived from the Wolof word for ‘rhythm’, this defiant, drum-heavy sound combines Latin and Cuban influence with traditional Senegalese samar. Along with hip hop, reggae and rap, it hangs on the air; streaming from shopfronts and car windows; while at night, Dakar’s packed bars and nightclubs bounce with energy.
Follow the melody to your favourite musical destination by clicking on the country links above, where you can also send an enquiry to our local operators. To talk to someone in the TravelLocal office, call 0117 325 7898.
Join our newsletter for more inspiration, local expertise, and updates on how we’re making travel a force for good.