12 Global Songs For Your Travel Playlist, As Chosen By Ambassadors

If you could get to know a country in one song, what would it be? Ambassadors from around the world share their top musical picks with us.
Happy girl dancing down cobblestone street

To travel isn’t merely to see the world. It’s also about hearing the world — and okay, tasting it too, because food is kind of half the point. No matter how you like it served, though, cultural immersion is a key part of experiencing another country. What better way to understand the rhythms of a new cultural context than with a travel playlist? The one advantage music has over other forms of media is that it’s universal — meaning you can “get” a song without understanding any of the lyrics. Hence why we’ve put together this travel playlist of quintessential songs from 12 different countries.

We asked ambassadors to the United States, hailing from the following countries, to pick the song they felt visitors to their homeland should listen to prior to their arrival. Here is the travel playlist they came up with, along with their take on what these songs mean to them and their countries.

A Travel Playlist For Rocking Out Around The World

Austria — “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco

Recommended by Wolfgang Waldner, Ambassador of Austria to the United States of America

“Falco is an Austrian icon whose music has influenced our nation’s pop culture since the 1980s. ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ was a number one hit on both sides of the Atlantic and blends virtuoso Viennese rap with international pop,” said Waldner. “Despite his untimely, James-Dean-like death, Falco’s bigger-than-life persona is still celebrated all across Austria.”

Belgium — “Alors On Danse” by Stromae

Recommended by Dirk Wouters, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to the United States of America

“Paul Van Haver, better known as Stromae, is one of Belgium’s best-selling artists, born in Brussels and representing some of the best that Belgium has to offer,” said Wouters. “His music is influenced by Belgian New Beat music, as well as the timeless music of Jacques Brel, that other great Belgian musician.”

“Also, Belgian jazz, including two of Belgium’s most celebrated musicians: Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, who was Belgian and invented the saxophone in the 1840s, and Toots Thielemans, the Belgian jazz musician famous for playing his harmonica, as well as appearing with musicians such as Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Werner, Pat Metheny and many others (a song you could refer to: Bluesette).”

Bulgaria — “Izlel e Delyo Haydutin” by Valia Balkanska

Recommended by Tihomir Stoytchev, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States of America

“Bulgarian folk music is by far the most extensive traditional art,” said Stoytchev. “The music has a distinctive sound and uses a wide range of traditional instruments. One of those instruments is the bagpipe. One of the most famous Bulgarian folk music singers is Valya Balkanska. She is from the Rhodope Mountains and is known [not only] locally for her wide repertoire of Balkan folk songs, but [also] in the world, mainly for singing the song ‘Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin.’ The song is part of the Voyager Golden Record selection of music [involved in the launch of the] two Voyager spacecraft in 1977 as a musical message to the other unknown life forms in the Universe.”

Costa Rica — “Patriótica Costarricense” by Manuel María Gutiérrez Flores

Recommended by Fernando Llorca Castro, Ambassador of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United States of America

“The music is from Costa Rican composer Manuel María Gutiérrez Flores,” said Castro. “For many years, the lyrics were considered anonymous, but a recent investigation showed that they are an adaptation of a poem by Cuban writer Pedro Santacilia. It was performed for the first time in 1862, and since then has become the most cherished song for Costa Ricans. This song represents the best of Costa Rica and its people because it’s a song about liberty, joy, sacrifice and humility, but mainly about love for our homeland. Every child in Costa Rica grows up listening to it and learning to love our country through the images that its music and lyrics create.”

Estonia — “Eesti muld ja Eesti süda” (“Estonian Soil and Estonian Heart”) by Lydia Koidula and Rein Rannap

Recommended by Jonatan Vseviov, Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States of America

“This is a 19th-century poem made into a song by a 20th-century composer,” said Vseviov. “Immortalized by the band Ruja, it is an Estonian pop classic that has made its way to people’s hearts, and has become a part of Estonia’s biggest music event: the traditional Song Festival (which is included in the UNESCO list of cultural treasures). Listen to the original or its modern remakes to understand why, for the Estonians, the soil and heart are inseparable.”

Iceland — “Ísland er land þitt” (“Iceland is your country”) by Magnus Thor Sigmundsson and Margret Jonsdottir

Recommended by Geir Haarde, Ambassador of Iceland to the United States of America

Jamaica — “One Love” by Bob Marley

Recommended by Audrey Marks, Ambassador of Jamaica to the United States of America

“Bob Marley’s iconic message in songs such as ‘One Love,’ which was designated “Song of the Millennium” by BBC in 1999, and ‘Redemption Song’ are widely known and acknowledged as global anthems of peace and love,” said Marks. “‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ by one of Jamaica’s musical treasures, Jimmy Cliff, reflects a similar ethos to ‘One Love,’ with its appeal for people across the world to live together in love and harmony. These songs are poignant demonstrations of Jamaica’s global impact, which belies our small size.”

Nicaragua — “Nicaragua Nicaraguita” by Carlos Mejía Godoy

Recommended by Francisco Obadiah Campbell Hooker, Ambassador of the Republic of Nicaragua to the United States of America

Norway — “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg; “Take On Me” by a-ha; and the music of Kygo

Recommended by Kåre R. Aas, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to the United States of America

“[I recommend] Edvard Grieg’s ‘I Dovregubbens Hall’ (‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’), with its connection to Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt and the Norwegian ‘trolls’ which, according to lore, live in the mountains,” said Aas. “[I also recommend] all the music of the performer Kygo: it’s modern, it has reached a large international audience and [has] made a star out of a young man from Bergen: Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll. [And finally], ‘Take on Me’, a classic from the 1980s by the band a-ha — probably the first time a Norwegian band achieved this level of international attention. People are still humming it.”

Portugal — “A Canção do Mar” by Amália Rodrigues

Recommended by Domingos Fezas Vital, Ambassador of Portuguese Republic to the United States of America

Slovenia — “Na Golici” (or “Trompeten-Echo”) by Slavko Avsenik

Recommended by Stanislav Vidovich, Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to the United States of America

“This song is a Slovenian polka composed by Slavko Avsenik in 1954,” said Vidovich. “It takes its name from a beautiful Slovenian mountain in the Western Karawanks, on the border with Austria. It is known mainly for its fields of wild white narcissi (daffodils), swaths of which cover Golica and surrounding pastures in late April and early May. It is considered one of the most played instrumental tunes in the world, and has to date over 600 different cover recordings, including with a cappella choir Perpetuum Jazzille (ironically, as the song is instrumental).”

Sweden — “Sommartider” by Gyllene Tider

Recommended by Karin Olofsdotter, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden to the United States of America

“Prior to forming Roxette with Marie Fredriksson, Per Gessle was very successful with his band Gyllene Tider (Golden Times),” said Olofsdotter. “‘Sommartider’ (Summer Time) is one of the group’s most famous songs and an anthem of summer for a large number of Swedes. I also have a very personal reason for liking the song. Of course it reminds me of summer, but also the area where I grew up — it reminds me of home. Like Per Gessle, I am from the city Halmstad in southern Sweden.”

Now, learn to decipher the lyrics on your own.
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