A unique theory on combating the blandness of globalization: psychedelic music. With an added playlist for your listening pleasure.
This article is not a narrative or a journalistic inquiry: rather, it’s based around an idea.
I think we can all agree that the Italians have done very well with pasta since the Arabs introduced it a millennium ago. I’m also a big fan of what the predecessors to the Thais did with a random jungle bird 8,000 years back: these days there’s hardly a culture on earth without traditional recipes based on the domesticated chicken. As for the concept of global human rights? The idea is still catching on, but if it manages to stick around it’s bound to do great things.
The point I’m trying to make here is that I love globalization. It’s done a lot of good things for the world and overall I’d say it’s been beneficial for most. So the concept of international intermingling is definitely a plus for me. On the other hand, there is a different but related idea that I absolutely loathe.
If I look inwardly, down to the very root of why I started traveling, much of it has to do with growing up on the east coast of the United States. There are outposts of culture here and there: a few cities large enough to have distinct identities, plus the backwoods and back-road areas that still manage to do their own thing. These places excluded, it always seemed to me that the east coast is doing its best to become one solid generic mass. There’s a giant strip mall that runs from the southern tip of Florida all the way to up to Maine’s Canadian border.
My complaints, adolescent as they may seem, undoubtedly have some validity. There’s something horrifying about thousands of cities that all have the same shops, the same street names, the same bland architecture and the same chain restaurants in which today’s soup, regardless of content, is always foggy and beige. In short, my enemy is homogenization, generica.
And so we travel for variety and the excitement of what’s different. I know I’m not alone in the urge to go digging around in places I don’t belong, rooting around for anything just to give some new kind of stimulation. It drives from inside and there’s not much that slows this beast but to feed it.
So we go. We follow the path, wherever it leads — disregarding the lunacy of ever trying to sate the desire of something new. “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” as Dr. Gonzo himself once said. Travel is music: no matter how much you know, there’s always something more, somewhere.
But regardless of what you do, there’s no escaping homogenization. Every day someone’s favorite cafe is gutted and turned into another Starbucks. Every night some bar is swapping out the hometown brew for Heineken and the local music for the drudgery of placeless, rootless electronic music. These things happen and will continue to happen. Still, it’s not always this way.
I’ve been thinking about psychedelic music a lot recently. The music was in full swing just a bit before our time. It spread worldwide and was modified, changed and improved with every new place, yet we also grew up with it slipping into the backgrounds of our normal lives. Simultaneously this music rides the line between the familiar and the exotic: in short, it’s ideal travel music.
The spread of psychedelic music is globalization done right. Take a look at these tunes below and you’ll grasp how flexible people were in interpreting the genre. Maybe there is hope after all. In the end, generica may have to fight a lot harder if it wants to kill culture.
Peru – El Polen, “Mi Cueva”
Low-key psychedelic rock mixed with Andean folk.
Suited for: Gorgeous mountain vistas, altitude sickness and eating your way through the 3000 varieties of Peruvian potatoes.
Brazil – Os Mutantes, “A Minha Menina”
This song comes from the Tropicália music and art movement, featuring a mix of Brazilian style with avant-garde influences.
Suited for: Impromptu beach parties, drop-top convertibles and painful body waxing.
Nigeria – Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestroes, “Ekassa 1”
West African beats with distinctly psychedelic guitar and keyboard riffs running right through the core of the tune.
Suited for: Boogieing in front of open-air dive bars, making thirty new friends in ten minutes and repeating the same 5 dance moves over and over until you manage to pick up some new ones.
Benin – Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou, “Pardon”
Psychedelic Afrobeat music. If you’ve never heard Afrobeat, get ready to dance.
Suited for: Nearly everything. Particularly good for long journeys on public transportation — you’ll be the only one smiling and actually enjoying the bus ride.
India – Asha Bhosle & Kishore Kumar, “Lekar Ham Diwaana Dil”
Old-school Bollywood meets early 70s aggressive psychedelic rock.
Suited for: Chasing or being chased through ancient marketplaces. Shoulder-sitting macaque sidekick and orientalist stereotyping optional.
Turkey – Erkin Koray, “Seni Her Gördüğümde”
A gentle tune by the Turkish equivalent to Jimi Hendrix. One of the founding fathers of Anatolian rock, his influence on music in the region is tremendous. Unlike Hendrix, he’s still alive and kicking — in fact, he’s playing gigs this month.
Suited for: Melancholic romances by the Bosphorus. Relaxing and spending quality time with the porcelain goddess after your tenth kebab this week.
Iran – Tigers, “Koori Shin Baba”
Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran had a thriving psychedelic rock scene. Listen carefully and your ear will pick out semitones in the vocals that aren’t found in Western music. A damned shame that Ayatollah Khomeini banned the “devil’s music” — there’s no telling where rock would be these days if Iranians had been given half a chance.
Suited for: Hiking at sunset in the Zagros Mountains. Enjoying a water pipe with three guys named Ahmad and five named Ali.
Turkish/Arab/Greek (based in New York), Devil’s Anvil – “Kley”
A chilled out garage psychedelic tune by an unfortunately short-lived band. Their album dropped the moment the bombing started in the Arab-Israeli war of ’67, so radio stations wouldn’t touch them. Timing is everything, it seems.
Suited for: Regaining your composure after being startled awake by the early morning call to prayer. Lavish breakfasts of rose petal jam, orange marmalade and unleavened bread perfumed with the stale cigarette smoke of former guests.
Cambodia – Ros Sereysothea, “Chnam Oun 16”
Heavily fuzzed guitars and soaring keyboards mix with her high, clear voice to make an absolutely haunting sound. This ethereal music was apparently too much for Pol Pot, as Sereysothea didn’t survive the Cambodian genocide. Her memory lives on through her recordings.
Suited for: The sweltering nights of Southeast Asia, the scent of tuk-tuk exhaust and going all Apocalypse Now on the local mosquito population.
South Korea – Shin Joong Hyun & Kim Jung Mi, “The Sun”
Absolutely beautiful and relaxing. My favorite song on the list, so I hope you read this far and get the chance to listen. Much of Joong Hyun and Jung Mi’s work is nature themed, which comes through in the music.
Suited for: Quiet terraced rice paddies in springtime. Walking on the deserted streets of Seoul at 7:00 AM on Saturday to finally understand why Korea is the “Land of the Morning Calm.”
If you want to listen to these tunes back-to-back, the full playlist is here.