Tango in Argentinian dancehalls, Bornean drumming in its rainforest and Banghra beats in Bollywood: music can install a real sense of place. Our specialists have collated some of their top live music experiences to incorporate into your next trip.
The Rainforest World Music Festival, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Just above Kuching, a colonial city on Borneo’s northern coastline, lies Santubong National Park. This protected region includes the rainforest-covered slopes of Mount Santubong, thriving wetland ecosystems and Sarawak Cultural Village, an open-air museum of traditional wooden buildings, from Iban longhouses to thatched huts typical of the Penan ethnic community.
In mid-July, the museum becomes the stage for the Rainforest World Music Festival. Irish bodhran (drum) players, Bhutanese folk musicians and the Chilean National Dance Troupe are just some of the acts that perform in the traditional buildings or on stages to a backdrop of deep green rainforest.
Many of the region’s ethnic communities both perform and run workshops, including traditional dance classes and drum lessons. Local filmmakers run a series of films and there’s an extensive food bazaar showcasing delicacies from across Borneo — you can even have your cooking pots blessed in a traditional Malay ceremony.
Combines with: Kuching works well as a starting point for a trip across Malaysian Borneo, taking in the Kinabatangan River, orangutan spotting and an overnight stay with the Iban community.
Villa Rufolo, Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Standing amid the cliffside flower beds of Villa Rufolo, looking over the glittering sweep of the Mediterranean Sea, it’s easy to see why Wagner called this the ‘enchanted garden of Klingsor’. Indeed, the formal Italianate gardens inspired the composer’s set design for Parsifal.
Wagner’s music, in turn, inspired the Amalfi Coast village of Ravello to hold a music festival each July and August in the villa. Originally intended to celebrate Wagner’s music, the festival has expanded, and you might also see orchestras, chamber music quartets and even dance troupes.
These are world-class concerts but, to be honest, the real draw here is the setting. The stage perches at the very edge of the high cliff. Many performances are held against a backdrop of the sun setting over the deep blue water and the coastline snaking away to the south.
Combines with: Naples and Capri, for a full Amalfi Coast experience.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado, USA
An open-air stage cradled by angular, steep-sided chunks of rust-hued rock, Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre is set within Red Rocks Park, just west of Denver. A National Historic Landmark, its natural surroundings create ideal conditions for crisp, clear acoustics, whatever the genre of music.
Performances here are eclectic: your stay in the area might coincide with a classical music concert or a rock or pop gig. Perhaps you’ll find yourself listening to mellow reggae or soulful blues, or nodding along to invigorating rap.
It’s worth exploring the park’s hiking trails, too, where you’ll see plants, birds and animals adapted to both the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains ecosystems. You might even come across dinosaur fossils visible in the rocks.
Combines with: a self-drive trip through Colorado’s Rockies, taking in quiet mountain towns and wildlife such as moose and elk in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Canada
Held across ten days from late June to early July each year, Montréal’s jazz festival is a vibrant medley of live music, performed by scheduled artists on lit-up stages and by roaming bands in the Place des Arts. Spotlighting the city’s musical heritage and thriving jazz scene, the festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
You can plan a trip to next year’s festival, where you’ll soak up the sounds of big bands, upcoming jazz talent and long-established stars of the genre. Walking tours give you an insight into the history of jazz in Montréal, which stems back to the 1920s and the Prohibition years, when the city’s jazz clubs were the place to be. Or, you can pair music with wine tasting or cocktail making.
Children can learn about jazz by joining the festival’s Little School of Jazz or interacting with musical installations in the Musical Park. And, throughout the festival, you can choose from a wide range of street food vendors.
Combines with: a self-drive trip through Québec takes you beyond the city to explore the provincial countryside. Or, visit four of Canada’s eastern cities by train.
The milongas (dance halls) of Buenos Aires: the lifeblood of Argentine tango
Buenos Aires has several razzle-dazzle tango shows, but if you want the real deal, you need to stay up later and enter a milonga. Sometimes set in grand old buildings, these are where you’ll find local tangueros (tango dancers) come sundown. Their choreography may be less acrobatic than anything you’ll see on stage, but it’s tango as it exists today: a beloved leisure activity that thousands of ordinary Porteños (Buenos Aires residents), many in their 70s and 80s, enjoy.
The live band ― a guitarist, a singer, and sometimes a pianist — traditionally includes a bandonéon, a concertina. Its plangent tone gives tango music its soul-stirring note of melancholia.
On a guided milonga tour, you’ll hear about the politically charged history of tango and then learn some steps before taking to the floor yourself. Or, you can sit at a table and look on with a long drink. Either works.
Combines with: A trip focusing on the highlights of Argentina, from the icefields of Patagonia to the winelands of Mendoza: kick-start your journey from the capital.
Experiencing the Sydney Opera House — as a performer
Sydney’s waterfront concert hall cum multi-stage performance venue is one of Australia’s figureheads. If you’re not content with peering at its nest of giant opalescent ‘sails’ from the outside, we can arrange tickets to a production. Or, you can go one better and actually join the cast of an opera, for one night only.
You can already take backstage tours of the Opera House, which give you access to the green room. However, on this new tour, you’ll meet one of the costumiers of Opera Australia, who’ll measure you for your on-stage outfit. You’ll also meet with the assistant director, who talks you through what you’ll need to do on stage, your entrances and exits.
Two days later, you enter the Opera House (via the stage door this time). After some time in hair and make-up, you’ll stride onto the stage as part of a live show with a guest of your choice in the audience (the experience includes a free guest ticket).
Combines with: A leisurely stay in Sydney ― you’ll need to meet with the costumier two days prior to the performance.
Behind the scenes in Bollywood — Mumbai, India
Begin your day in a dance studio, where you’re taken through your paces and taught some classic Bollywood choreography (no previous experience required, just a heap of energy).
You’ll then move into a studio, where you watch a Bollywood production being filmed. It’s a bit hit and miss whether you’ll see a bonafide film ― you’re more likely to see a soap opera, which are in production year-round. Then, a car awaits to take you around Bandra, the well-heeled area of Mumbai where the biggest Bollywood stars have their mansions.
After lunch, you can get into the recording booth and have a go at a voiceover. The sound engineer shows you how they make their audial tweaks, and how your voice will actually sound in the film.
And if you’re hungry for more, our tip is to hang out at Leopold Cafe in south Mumbai: runners often pick Western extras from the café’s clientele.
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