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Building a Place-Based Playlist

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National Geographic Magazine Editorial Researcher Brad Scriber took a recent trip to Barcelona and filled us in on how he chose his trip soundtrack.

About the only time my music collection grows is when I travel. Now, I’d love to say that’s because I spend my vacation nights in low-lit, smoky clubs discovering emerging talent in cities across the globe. Nope, I just hit the web shortly before I head to the airport.

A child of the 1980s, part of my brain is still wired for making mix tapes, those painstakingly crafted personal soundtracks of years gone by. Twenty years later, instead of spending hours combing through a ransacked pile of cassettes, CDs, and liner notes, I rummage through digital inventories with my keyboard.

In addition to the authentic local samplings that experts on world music can provide, I like a mix that includes a few puns, allusions, or inside jokes. The beauty of search engines on iTunes or Rhapsody is that wordplay can lead to new music and a great vacation playlist — just plug in some destination related language and pick through the results.

Take the selections from my recent trip to Barcelona, for example:

This Catalonian city has stirred many a visitor’s musical heart. Its name turns up in hundreds of options, from the punkish “Barcelona” by the Plasticines, to the more melodic lilt of “It’s About Time” by the band Barcelona. It also led me to the jubilant Swedish troupe I’m From Barcelona, who are as persistent in promoting their adopted hometown as they are in promoting a little hop in the step of their listeners. Unable to decide between “Barcelona Loves You” and “We’re from Barcelona,” I nabbed them both, plus a relentlessly joyful homage to well-used passports, “Collection of Stamps.”

A few more geographical searches gave me the whiny but still enjoyable “Lady in Spain” by Ingrid Michaelson and “Kingdom of Spain” from the Decembrists, plus “La Costa Brava” by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, great driving music for a visit to the eponymous region to the north. Three Dog Night’s cover of Hoyt Axton‘s “Never Been to Spain” is a classic rock ode to virtual travel through music.

To round things out, I tried a few artistic allusions, turning up “Picasso’s Last Words,” penned by Paul McCartney

(some guidebook research had tipped me off that Picasso’s first studio was in Barcelona). And even though Don Quixote jousted with imaginary giants in central Spain, I permitted myself a little regional transgression by adding some songs inspired by the knight errant: “Windmills” from Toad the Wet Sprocket‘s album “Dulcinea,” named for Quixote’s lady-in-waiting, and “Be My Dulcinea” from Mike Federali.

Long after the suitcase is unpacked and I’m back at work, the tunes fold into my general collection. When the little shuffle gremlin throws one of these new selections into the mix, it’s like a musical postcard from my vacation self.

Looking to expand your world music collection? Check out DePedro by Madrid-native Jairo Zavala, the first full-length release for the newly minted Nat Geo Music label.

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