Ten musical destinations that will rock your world

Music has a way of taking you on a journey. Like any great trip, the songs that inspire us are filled with joyous highs and sobering lows, unexpected revelations and exotic uncertainties. It’s only natural then that each of us seeks out music during our travels. Whether it’s a CD stand in a bustling market in Morocco or a classically-trained violinist playing on a street corner in Paris, music offers travelers a visceral way to cut through the confusion of language and custom, revealing the true essence of a destination.

Wherever we go, melodies both familiar and exotic burst out of speakers, vibrate in concert halls, groove around city streets and drip off the walls in sweaty dance clubs. Yet it’s only in a few select spots around the world that the culture of music becomes a truly tangible attraction. These are the special places where a unique confluence of cultural cross-pollination, inherent creativity and a critical mass of kick-ass musicianship coalesces to create something truly special.

In the course of our journeys here at Gadling, we’ve uncovered some of the world’s most unique and memorable destinations for music. The following list is by no means the end-all-be-all of musical places to visit, but each of the ten spots we’ve chosen is without a doubt one-of-a-kind and a true musical hotspot. Did we choose any of your favorites? Click below for our picks…
Number 10 – Mali’s Festival in the Desert
At first glance, it would be easy to mistake Mali’s Festival in the Desert as a cruel mirage. Yet every year this wind-swept country in Northwestern Africa puts on one of the continent’s best musical events, featuring traditional Tuareg tunes as well as music from around the globe.

Number 9 – Pitch-perfect karaoke in Manila
Love it or hate it, Karaoke has spread its melodies around the world, from the drinking dens of Tokyo to the back streets of New York. But to truly experience Karaoke talent, head to Manila. Filipino cover bands are legendary for their pitch-perfect renditions of Western pop songs. In fact, if you closed your eyes, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference from the originals.

Number 8 – Concert hopping in Austin, TX
They like to say everything is bigger in Texas, and Austin’s annual South by Southwest music festival certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each March, over a thousand bands from around the world descend on the state’s capital for four days of drinking, dancing and music industry schmoozing. If you’re hoping to catch rock’s next great thing or simply looking for a good time, South by Southwest is definitely one of the USA’s best music events.

Number 7 – Tokyo Record Collecting
Tokyo, Japan is one of the world’s great cultural epicenters, consuming and re-creating pop culture trends at a furious pace. This intense consumption is particularly true of music, where the Japanese excel as the world’s consummate music collectors. If you need proof of Tokyo’s status as the crown jewel for record shopping, one need only stroll the back alleyways of Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district. Along the narrow side streets you’ll stumble upon hidden second floor record shops packed floor to ceiling with obscure vinyl and out-of-print rarities.

Number 6 – New Orleans gets Jazzed

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz music. It was the city’s unique mixture of French, Spanish and African traditions that allowed the city to develop this particularly unique musical heritage, one that is evident even today. One of the best ways to experience the Big Easy’s Jazz culture is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, perhaps the world’s best showcase of this distinctly southern-tinged style.

Number 5 – The London Remix
London has a reputation as a musical chameleon, a city that takes on the world’s constantly evolving musical styles, remixing and reinterpreting in a uniquely British way. Whether it’s Punk or Techno, Indie Rock or Dubstep, London has something to suit the tastes of about every music lover. Check out this list of London music venues, this rundown of record stores, or top-notch dance clubs like Fabric if you’re looking to jump along to the beat.

Number 4 – Kingston sound system parties
Jamaica holds an outsize reputation in the world’s musical lore, having birthed world-famous artists like Bob Marley along with hundreds of other equally talented Jamaican singers, producers and musicians. Though the laid-back vibe of Tuff Gong has long-since morphed into the raw sounds of Dancehall and Ragga, you can still experience Jamaican music at its finest at some of Kingston’s weekly sound system parties like Passa Passa and Weddy Weddy Wednesday. These rough and tumble affairs take over Kingston’s parks and streets with huge speakers, raucous dancing and plenty of fun.

Number 3 – All night techno in Berlin
Something happened when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. As a divided city was slowly mended together, music fans began to take over the city’s abandoned buildings and spaces for semi-legal dance parties. It was the beginning of Techno, a music scene that would soon sweep the capital and most of Europe. Berlin today is ground zero for electronic music fans, with some of the world’s best DJ’s playing parties that can last all night and into the next day and beyond. Check out the events list at Resident Advisor for a good listing of what’s happening.

Number 2 – Shake to the rhythm of Brazilian Carnival
Much like New Orleans and Jamaica, Brazil is the product of a unique confluence of cultures, bringing together Portuguese, African and indigenous influences. Nowhere does this unique cultural history make itself better felt than during Brazil’s annual Carnival festivities, when cities across the country like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador erupt in wild displays of samba dancing and furious drumming. Check out this Rio Carnival guide to get started.

Number 1 – Find what’s new in New York City
It’s hard to even describe how important New York has been to 20th Century musical innovation. Jazz. Punk. Disco. Hip hop. Whatever your preferred style of music, you can find it here…whether its an Indie Rock show at the Bowery Ballroom or killer night of Jazz over at Blue Note, New York’s got it all. Spend a day browsing through record stores like Other Music and A-1 Records before catching a show at Mercury Lounge, S.O.B.’s or Lincoln Center.

Did we pick your favorite musical destination? Think we forgot one of the best? Leave us a comment below to continue to the debate.

Undiscovered New York: Unique NYC shopping

New Yorkers, you might be surprised to discover, like to shop. Whether it’s for sky-high stilettos or a jar of saffron, a copy of Candide or specialty cameras, you can be sure that if it can be purchased they probably sell it somewhere in New York City’s Five Boroughs.

Under normal circumstances New York is a city where conspicuous consumption rules and money is no object. But as many Americans can attest, the current economic climate has hit retailers and consumers hard, and everyone is cutting back and feeling the pinch. Yet all the bad news has had a curiously positive effect on the New York retailing scene. For all the talk of excess, New York remains a surprisingly affordable and remarkably diverse place to shop if you know where to look. A place where consumers value quality, craftsmanship and creativity and a good bargain above all else.

So instead of dwelling on New York’s gilded streets of consumption like SoHo and Fifth Avenue, we’d like to take you inside some of the city’s quirkier and more interesting retail establishments. Looking to “shop like a local” and pick some highly original New York bargains along the way? Welcome inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to unique city shopping…
The types of goods sold in New York are literally endless. To pretend to create any kind of comprehensive list would be both fruitless and foolish. Instead, we’re going to be listing of some of our favorite retailers from across the city in gender-neutral categories such as books, travel, music and food. Men’s and women’s clothing could make an entire post of its own and won’t be covered here – if you’re looking for more fashion info, definitely check out New York Magazine.

Travel Stores: As befitting a travel blog, it’s only fair we mention a few New York retailers who specialize in travel accessories and products. Our favorites include:

  • Kiosk (95 Spring Street, Manhattan) – The globally-savvy owners of New York’s Kiosk have carved out an interesting retail niche. Rather than concentrate one specific type of product, they’ve unearthed a variety of small inexpensive curiosities from around the world, ranging from the practical to the whimsical. The collection of items, which includes everything from Finnish bottle openers to pitting spoons from California, is highly diverse and constantly changing.
  • Flight 001 (Multiple Locations) – Flight 001 is a retailer that specializes in a highly curated collection of great travel products, spanning the gamut from travel luggage and guidebooks to packing aids and pill bottles. New York happens to be blessed with three of the chain’s seven U.S. stores, two which can be found in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. Stop by and pick up some carry-on bags, a travel wallet and some shampoo sheets for your next trip.

Books: Reading comes as naturally to New Yorkers as breathing. As a global center of the publishing industry and home to a highly literate citizenry, this is a city that takes its books seriously, whether it’s the latest Dean Koontz paperback or a store that sells antique books from the 19th Century.

  • The Strand (828 Broadway, Manhattan) – Boasting its status as the “Home of 18 Miles of New, Used, Rare and Out of Print Books,” The Strand Bookstore is the undisputed champion of bookselling in New York. Be prepared to walk in and get lost in aisle after aisle of books covering every possible subject matter. The prices are pretty good too, frequently below retail.
  • St. Mark’s Bookshop (31 Third Ave, Manhattan) – what St. Mark’s bookshop lacks in size compared to The Strand, it more than makes up for in its meticulous collection of quirky and eclectic book offerings, including everything from progressive political manifestos to international magazines and large-size art books.
  • powerHouse Books (37 Main St, Brooklyn) – half art gallery, half bookstore, the cavernous retail space for DUMBO-based book retailer powerHouse never fails to delight. The store has a particularly good collection of coffee table-size photography books.

Food: New Yorkers seem to have a nose for sniffing out the most diverse and delicious food from around the world, and the city’s specialty food retailers are no exception. Here’s a few of our favorites:

  • Despaña (408 Broome St, Manhattan) – if you’ve ever visited Spain, you know how crave-worthy the food can be. That’s why Spanish-specialty store Despaña has become a New York foodie’s best-kept secret. The store’s deli country can slice up specialty Spanish meats like Jamon Serrano and regional canned delicacies like white beans and clams.
  • Sahadi’s (187 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn) – if Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue is the cultural epicenter of the city’s Middle Eastern food scene, Sahadi’s is most certainly its bullseye. The gourmet grocer stocks all manner of specialty olive oils, nuts and imported delicacies from far flung locales like Turkey and Lebanon.

Music: Similar to their zeal for the written word, New Yorkers are avid consumers of music. The city offers an awe-inspiring diversity of music shops, whether you’re hoping to go digging through crates of used vinyl or just pick up the latest CD by that teen-pop sensation.

  • Other Music (15 E. 4th St, Manhattan) – nobody has their finger on the beat of New York’s fickle music consumers better than Other Music. Their highly-knowledgeable staff is great at picking out those hidden gems and introducing you to new genres and up-and-coming artists. In addition to new music, the store also stocks vinyl, used CD’s and sells tickets to many of the city’s best upcoming concerts.
  • Halcyon (57 Pearl St, Brooklyn) – New York DJ’s, vinyl-lovers and beat junkies head to Halycon to get the latest and greatest sounds destined for the dance floors and turntables of New York. In addition to being one of the best places in the city to get your hands on electronic music, Halcyon also stocks a nice collection of books, clothing, artwork and quirky toys.
  • A-1 Records (439 E. 6th St, Manhattan) – frequently described as a “crate-digger’s paradise,” A-1 Records upholds the legacy of a once-thriving music scene in New York’s East Village. If you’re looking for more obscure finds, this is a great place to look. Vinyl only.

Wow, that’s a lot of stores! As you’re beginning to see, New York is home to some of the country’s best independent retailers, specializing in everything from Lebanese olive oils to vintage books. But maybe there’s an independent New York store that we didn’t cover? Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us your favorites.