Live music is not only a great way to capture the history and essence of a city, but it’s also a great excuse to travel for. Gayatri Bhaumik lists her top choices for live music experiences.
While most cities will have a music scene of their own, there are only a select few where music seems to be ingrained into its very DNA. These are the kinds of cities where you hear music in every restaurant and on every street; where big names in the business first cut their musical teeth; and where you’ll find a good gig any night of the week.
If you’ve been in Havana more than five minutes and haven’t heard any live music, you’re doing it wrong. The Cuban capital runs on music, from talented street performers setting up shop in the city’s squares to the house bands that seem to play in every restaurant and bar. Thanks to a history of migration, Havana is home to a diverse music scene that blends African rhythms and percussion with Spanish guitars, so you’ll hear everything from mambo and Cuban jazz to son Cubano and cha-cha-cha. Try venues like El Gato Tuerto and La Casa de la Musica or wander the neighbourhoods of Old Havana and Miramar until you find a café that catches your ear.
This is the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” and for good reason. Each night, hundreds of venues offer up live renditions of everything from funk and jazz to country, blues, and punk. Historic 6th Street is the city’s entertainment centre, and you’re sure to find a venue at which to catch some tunes. Be sure to check out The Continental Club Gallery and the Victory Grill, where greats like Etta James and B.B. King have played. If that don’t get you no aural satisfaction, Austin also holds a host of major music festivals like South By Southwest and Austin City Limits.
Live music? In Japan? Yes, really – and Tokyo is the modern home of the Japanese jazz scene. The city is the site of any number of jazz clubs and cafes, but start your immersion at the city’s two big-hitters, Blue Note – which was founded in 1998 – and the swanky Cotton Club. Once you’ve got your musical feet wet, head to districts like Koenji, Yoyogi and Shimokitazawa where smaller venues regularly hold live jazz performances, along with punk, rock and hip-hop concerts.
If you’re into country music – hey, no judgement here – there’s nowhere better than Nashville. Watch a live broadcast of the famous eponymous radio show at the Grand Ole Opry, or catch big acts at the equally legendary Ryman Auditorium, where everyone from Chris Stapleton to the Foo Fighters
The Irish are known for their love of good craic or fun, and you can bet that any rollicking good time in Ireland involves music. Drop in at one of the country’s quaint local pubs and you’re sure to hear live music, either from a band performing on the venue’s stage or from local punters having a sing-a-long over their pints. Folky, traditional music is the standard fare here, though you’ll definitely hear “Galway Girl” more than a few times at any bar where tourists might be expected. If you’re in Dublin, head for The Cobblestone or O’Donoghues – you might even find yourself staging an impromptu performance of your own.
It should be pretty obvious that the city known as Australia’s cultural capital boats a great live music scene. Melbourne is home to a number of great concert venues where you’ll catch smaller local acts and big international bands – try the Espy or the Palace. If you’re after something more casual – and why not? – head for the neighbourhoods of Fitzroy and Brunswick where you’ll find small pubs, clubs, and bars with live bands any night of the week – popular spots include The Night Cat, The Workers Club, and the Evelyn.
The Girl from Ipanema may have been written in Rio, but if you’re after the best of Brazil’s live music scene, you’ll want to head to Sao Paulo, where the city’s Vila Madalena district brings together all types of music. Brazilian styles like samba are, of course, the most popular, but you’ll also find bands playing everything from punk and rock to reggae and jazz – and, surprisingly, hip-hop, which is gaining popularity.
Any lover of music will need to spend time trawling through London’s live music scene, where you’ll find everything from small neighbourhood bands playing at corner pubs and clubs to huge international acts taking over big stadiums like the 02 Arena. You’ll want to plan a city crawl to hit all the most musical districts, which span from the centrally-located Soho to southside’s Brixton and the eastern hotspot of Shoreditch. See what bands are playing at smaller venues like Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, the Camden Roundhouse and Wilton’s Music Hall.
Berlin may be best known for the behemoth clubs that are temples to electronica, but the city’s seeing a resurgence of its penchant for live music, which includes jazz, punk, and indie. After all, Berlin was once a recording destination for artists like David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Head for districts like Kreuzberg and Mitte and venues like SO36 and Lido and you’ll soon see why Berlin’s music scene is so much more more than its big techno clubs.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Yokohama has a long tradition of musical excellence. The city’s relationship with jazz began in the 1920s – the same time when it was popular in the US and the UK – thanks to passenger liners that would come from around the world and dock in Yokohama’s port. While the city’s jazz scene still has very western roots, it has developed its own unique Japanese jazz stylings. Give it a listen
For more Alpha Men Asia Travel stories click here.