More than a snapshot or a forkful of food, traditional local music provokes an authentic “sense of place” at travel destinations. It’s a mariachi band that gives life to a margarita in Mexico; and in the Caribbean, it’s the sound of a steel drum set that scores the seafront setting. Beer goes best with an “oom-pah-pah” beat at Oktoberfest; and there was a time no one went to Honolulu without seeing Do Ho sing in a Hawaiian shirt.
“Some of the most romantic music in the world comes from France,” said Andy Buelow, Executive Director of the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra. Hearing an accordionist squeeze out “La Vie En Rose” while walking the Champs Elysess is a quintessentially French moment, but travelers can do better when visiting Paris by catching an intimate, evening cabaret performance at Lapin Agile, a place of intriguing entertainment in the Montmartre district since 1860 and made initially famous by a Picasso painting. Do not visit the City of Light without popping in for a set or two and a glass of sherry.
“Even without knowing a lick of French, it’s an experience you cannot get anywhere else,” said Benji Mazin, a University of Michigan, from Spain, student studying in Paris.
An evening of hearing live, Fado music over dinner in Lisbon Portugal has also been a must since the early 19th century. Custom tour adviser Virginia Irurita, of MadeForSpainAndPortugalcom, suggested A Tasca do Chico, on Rua do Diaro de Noticas 39, because it offered a tiny, warm, authentic setting open until 3 a.m. Frederico Ayala physically pointed out the entertainment area boasting many Fado joints, such as Faia, from the scenic, ninth-floor, Sky Bar of the popular Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Hotel. While peering down at Lisbon’s panoramic skyline from the hotel’s roof, he warned, “Fado music is very soulful but please understand the songs can be very sad. They’re about the lifelong consequences of fate and loss.”
Buelow saluted the traditional Fado genre. “Longing is one of those emotions which is very close to joy,” he insisted. “There is a lot of longing in music.”
An Irish music session is very similarly melancholy, especially “sean nos:” solo singing which is unaccompanied and unamplified, and in the ancient Irish language. Benner’s Hotel, in scenic Dingle, Country Kerry, like the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade in Lisbon, is right in the heart of the entertainment each night. From the old world charm of the hotel’s Mrs. Benner’s Bar, guests can virtually stumble (and after a few pints of Guinness often do) into the charming Irish fishing village’s many nightly live music sessions performed by roving musicians in weathered pubs such as O’Flaherty’s, John Benny’s, Dick Mack’s and An Droichead Beag (The Small Bridge.)
Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be heard weekday mornings on 92.1 FM. His latest book is “I Call Him Mr. President – Stories of Fishing, Golf and Life with my Friend George H.W. Bush”