A Traveler’s 10 Best Musical Discoveries

Tom Swick: Contemplating and celebrating the world of travel

03.02.09 | 10:35 AM ET

1. Sezen Aksu

The young owner of my budget hotel in Selcuk was giving me a lift to Ephesus one morning and playing the most beguiling music. “Who’s singing?” I asked. “Sezen Aksu,” he said. After two weeks in Turkey I recognized the name, and immediately fell in love with the music, which, even at its most exuberant, carried a faint, seductive sadness.

2. Khánh Ly

In Saigon in 1994 I met the great songwriter Trinh Cong Son (described by the woman who had given me his number as “the Bob Dylan of Vietnam”). A few days later in Hue, sitting at a café on the Perfume River, I heard a captivating female voice—filled with a kind of brash melancholy—drift from speakers. This was Khánh Ly, I was told, interpreting the songs of Trinh Cong Son. The next week, at a street market in Hanoi, I came across one of her CDs. Music that had accompanied me the length of the country now followed me home.

3. Bulat Okudzhava

Discovered not in Moscow but in Philadelphia (thanks to my friend Agnieszka). The lyrics of the singer-songwriter-poet are lost on me, but not the sage, unadorned, resolute voice, which now runs through my head every time I set foot in Russia.

4. Márta Sebestyén

At a summer concert in Szeged—piercing Hungarian folk songs under the stars—I instantly recognized the voice from “The English Patient.”


5. Ewa Demarczyk

I taught English in Poland in the early ‘80s and whenever I want to relive that time I listen to her proud, defiant, occasionally wistful songs.

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Tom Swick

Tom Swick is the author of two books: a travel memoir, Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland, and a collection of travel stories, A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler. He was the travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 19 years, and his work has been included in "The Best American Travel Writing" 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

6 Comments for A Traveler’s 10 Best Musical Discoveries

Jim Benning 03.02.09 | 11:56 AM ET

Thanks for this, Tom.

I love Madredeus and Beny Moré, but I hadn’t heard of many of the others. I’ll be exploring the artists on this list for a long time.

Julia Ross 03.02.09 | 12:27 PM ET

I’d never heard of her, but love the Nana Caymmi clip. Sounds like the Sarah Vaughan of Brazil.

airfare sales 03.04.09 | 8:51 AM ET

Bulat Okudzhava belongs to my favourite comsitors and poets :-) thanks for posting - i have never heart about Khánh Ly e.g.

Karen 03.09.09 | 7:53 AM ET

You can see many of these artists’ videos in the US on LinkTV’s World Music programs, or on http://www.linktv.com . I’ve discovered many beautiful sounds that way.

Nik 03.10.09 | 7:59 AM ET

Thanks for this inspiration Tom! Saw this yesterday and gave me the idea to come up with my own list, but slightly different :)

@Karen: excellent discovery! Thanks!

Kirsten 03.31.09 | 8:25 AM ET

Karen, excellent discovery and I also have to say that these are really great pieces of musical. Best regards Kirsten

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