Think Buenos Aires and the strains of the tango accompany the images; memories of Cuba come with a breathless dash of rumba music and separating the sounds of West Africa from its people is nigh on impossible.
Music is the lifeblood of many countries, and catching a local performance is something that many people hope for during their travels.
At Peregrine, we love our music and we run trips to many different music festivals. Look out for forthcoming blogs on our favourite musical cities, performers and celebrations.
Here are a few unique instruments whose sounds conjure up images of magical places and vibrant people:
Tsabouna – Greece
The lyre probably plays more to popular images of Greece as a land of luxuriant classical myths, but the Tsabouna is generally the sound you’ll hear if you spend any time on the country’s islands.
A type of bagpipe with double chanters that are fingered at the same time, giving a simple and discordant sound, the Tsabouna is often played by shepherds and usually accompanied by the percussive beating of a toumbi.
Catching a live performance is a cultural highlight of a Cycladic visit, and another reminder that these islands offer a more varied and cultured world than merely dazzling beaches and clear blue waters.
Bandoneon – Argentina
The sound of the tango. This quintessentially Argentinian instrument actually originated in Germany, but the concertina’s sound is now synonymous with Buenos Aires and its iconic dance.
The big difference between the bandoneon and your common accordion is that this one doesn’t have piano keys, but buttons at both ends instead. It looks devilishly difficult to play – two sets of buttons and different notes depending on whether it is pushed or pulled. But its best not to worry about the technicalities.
Instead sit back (or dance) and take in the sweet pitch. In the hands of a master, the supple instrument’s breathing can swiftly vary from lively to a mournful lament.
It’s a versatile instrument, well suited to everything from baroque-classical to jazz, but if you want to get a flavour of the sound, start with Astor Piazzolla. He revolutionised the tango and elevated it from the dance hall into the classical arena.
Wave organ – Croatia
Difficult to top this one - it's an instrument that allows music to be composed solely by nature. Zadar, Croatia, is home to the world’s first musical pipe organ that is played by the sea.
Tubes located under the seafront walkway allow waves to rush in, creating harmonic sounds, varying in pitch according to the size of the cylinders.
Stand on the foreshore and watch the sun set over the Adriatic while being serenaded by the harmonies of the sea. Not a bad way to spend an hour or two!
Ekidongo – Uganda
Harps actually originated in Africa. It's odd to think that the continent which produced the vuvuzela also gave birth to the most melodious of instruments. The ekidongo, one example of an arched harp, is a Ugandan eight string instrument with a deep wooden body, animal hide and lacings.
The Nyoro people are the maestros of the instrument, and some of their playing can be incredibly virtuosic. Add to the dexterous playing some sweet singing – sometimes sorrowful and soft, then raucous and celebratory – and the ekidongo can usher in another memorable Ugandan night.
Shakuhachi flute – Japan
Catch a performance of Japan’s national instrument, the koto, and it may well come accompanied by the shakuhachi flute. This is a versatile instrument, hand-crafted from bamboo, with a simple and direct meditative sound.
Five finger-holes and tuned to a pentatonic scale, the flute’s sound and pitch varies with the number of holes covered, whether they’re covered partially and by embouchure. Its sound nowadays features in folk and jazz, zen music and, a little oddly, more than a few 1980s Western pop hits, but the sound is traditionally an expression of faith.
Buddhist monks of the Fuke sect would play the instrument in the practice of suizen (blowing meditation) as they travelled from place to place begging for alms. With the Meji Restoration, the Fuke sect was banned, and with it the shakuhachi went into decline. When playing was allowed once again, it was only as accompaniment to the koto – hence the duets of today that you might encounter on a visit to Japan.
Have you ever seen a performance where one of these instruments featured? Perhaps you even learned to play one! Leave a comment in the section below. Then head to Twitter or Facebook and tell us about your favourite instrument.
You can request a brochure for any of the destinations mentioned above. Simply select one (or more!) and we'll post you one for free.