Every continent, nation, and locale has its own musical traditions – some thousands of years old. One of the best ways to learn about a culture is to study its music, as music is a universal form of communication and cultural exchange. From Spain to Japan, here are five fabulous music traditions from around the world.
One of Spain's richest musical traditions, flamenco consists of several musical components from singing to guitar. Boasting its own unique dance tradition, flamenco is hallmarked musically by the presence of the flamenco mode (essentially a modern Phrygian mode), a short melodic range, and microtones. Flamenco style also involves a great deal of improvisation, and in addition to its fiery and emotive nature, this makes it incredibly interesting – and moving – to listen to.
Originating from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Apala is an entirely percussion-based tradition of music developed in the 1930s. It was used, traditionally, during the holy month of Ramadan in Islam to wake fasters from their sleep. The tradition has evolved extensively since its inception, with increasingly complex percussion rhythms being developed with the traditional instruments involved in apala.
The American folk tradition draws its inspiration from a number of other musical forms – all African-American. Utilizing the vocal styles and instrumentation of African-American spirituals, jazz, and bluegrass, American folk is what is known as a pastoral style – a style of music of the land-working proletariat. American folk has given rise to a number of other musical styles, including modern country.
A musical style originating in the Indian Hindustani and Carnatic classical styles, Indian raga music consists of set individual pieces that reflect a variety of moods or themes, such as seasons or emotions. Each raga can be improvised upon by the performer dependent on their taste, and each consists of at least five notes, ascending or descending. Every raga is highly melodic, and most are hallmarked by the traditional sliding or “scooping” heard in the Hindustani tradition of singing, even in instrumentation.
The majority of China's population is Han, and Han traditional music is heard all over China. Han traditional music features a single melodic line within each piece, and performers play variations on this melodic line exclusively throughout a single piece. While most Han music is instrumental, singing is still frequently heard, and in almost all cases performers slide up or down to the next note in the melodic line, creating a smooth and sonorous sound. Much of China's traditional music is played with a mixture of percussion, pipa, zheng, and voice.
Each of these musical traditions has something different to offer. Whether you listen to flamenco to get you in the mood for a night out or Han traditional music for your morning meditations, each is worth exploring – and experimenting with.