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The Most Popular Music Across The World, Country By Country

Punk in Peru, rap in Korea? We reveal the types of music most revered on this planet.
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Lionel Leong

At a time when cynical politicians seem intent on making capital out of division and fear, it’s worth remembering what unites us. And when it comes to crossing cultural divides and creating connections across the globe, nothing is more unifying than music. Whether you’re from Siberia or Senegal, India or Romania, the UK or the Ukraine, a passion for rhythm, melody and dance is as intrinsic to us as the air we breathe. And in an age when technology means we can hear music in any genre or form no matter where we are in the world, this cross-pollination of sounds and styles throws up some wonderful surprises. Here’s a few of them.

Punk in Peru

You might think that the originators of punk rock were bands like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but how about Peruvian band Los Saicos (The Psychos)? Many argue that the Latin rockers got there a decade earlier, in 1964, with their single Demolicíon (Demoltion), and there’s even a plaque in Lima, Peru’s capital, declaring the global punk movement began here. While the moniker ‘punk’ had yet to be invented, there’s no doubt that Los Saicos’s brash, rebellious and deliberately unpretty musical style captured a mood that punk would express among the disaffected youth of Europe and the US in the 1970s. The band has recently found popularity again, and even reformed to perform for new audiences across the globe. It’s certainly a long way from the pan pipes…

China goes pop

Most of us might be familiar with traditional Chinese folk music, usually played on stringed instruments like the pipa and the guzheng, as well as the powerful synchronised drumming on the tanggu. But C-pop (like the more familiar J-pop in Japan and K-pop in Korea) is hugely popular in this vast country, with many sub-genres emerging like Cantopop, Mandopop and Minnan, depending on the region from which the music originates. Singers like Faye Wong, Jacky Cheung, Teresa Teng and Jay Chou have massive followings, not only in China but across Asia and much of the rest of the world. Their styles vary from traditional pop ballads, incorporating more traditional elements, to rock and hip-hop.

Korea gets hip to the hop

Although it was a genre of music that developed in the black communities of America’s inner cities in the 1970s and 80s, Koreans were quick to adopt the new musical form, and by the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was already a thriving movement in hip-hop and rap in South Korea. The country now boasts some of the best hip-hop and rap artists in the world, including Keith Ape, Zico, Epik High and CL, most of whom reside in Seoul and reflect the city’s neon-bleached futurism. Korea is also famous for K-pop, of course, including Psy’s world-smash Gangnam Style.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

South African legends

When it comes to indigenous South African music, look no further than the prolific genius of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They came to international prominence with their 1986 collaboration with Paul Simon on the album Graceland, although their first incarnation was over twenty years earlier in 1960. Ladysmith’s isicathamiya vocal style – known more commonly in the West as a cappella – encapsulates not only the spirit of their Zulu origins but also the struggle against apartheid, and like Nelson Mandela, they’ve become cultural icons for the entire nation. The band is still going – albeit with new performers – and they have over 50 albums under their belt and have won countless awards. South Africa has an incredibly rich heritage in all kinds of music, whether it be jazz, blues, disco or gospel. It’s even had popular punk, metal and Goth bands, making the Rainbow nation a country with one of the most colourful musical histories in the world.

Metallic Poles

Poland’s music scene is thriving, a fact attested to by the range and popularity of festivals like Orange Warsaw, Open’er, OFF and Sunrise, all of which attract major headline bands. One genre that’s always been popular, even back in the days when Poland was part of the Soviet Bloc, is metal – whether it’s prefixed by Heavy, Black, Goth, Thrash or Death. Among the most influential bands in the genre are Kat, formed way back in 1979, Vader and Acid Drinkers from the 1980s, Behemoth and Decapitated from the 1990s, and Pyorrhoea and Riverside from the 2000s. But given the breadth and range of metal sub-genres, there are plenty of Poles who will point to other bands as their favourites.

Brazil goes psychedelic

Everyone knows Brazil has a long and rich tradition in samba music, but less people will be aware that it also has a distinctly groovy tradition in psychedelic rock too, with bands like Os Mutantes back in the 1960s (whose A Minha Menina was famously covered by The Bees in 2002) creating a scene that has seen many revivals over the years. Artists like Tom Zé, Laranja Freak and Jupiter Maça have all helped keep the vibe far out. In fact, psychedelic rock extends all across the South American continent, with Chile and Argentina creating their own scenes throughout the 60s and 70s. Psyche bands are thriving even today – check out the brilliant contemporary Chilean band Föllakzoid.


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