Party Peasants in the House Tonight
February 22, 2023 1:20 PM   Subscribe

It's one or three or ten centuries ago. Somebody's ancestors gather around a fire and pretty soon, spontaneous music breaks out, a few people start dancing, everybody winds up happy and breathless. But what I need to know is, if the songs aren't from the US, Canada, the UK or Ireland, or from Western Europe, what does the music sound like? I'm making a YouTube Music playlist to write a fun cozy fantasy novel to and I need help finding instrumental music from different traditions.

I'm having trouble finding lively, upbeat music that sounds like a good time around the fire in a pub, or after a hunt, or during an informal festival. Part of that is because when I search for "xyz folk music", I mostly get "xyz traditional music" and a lot of that is quite formal, ceremonial stuff because that's what survived. And that's definitely not what I want.

Once we get past banjo-picking, jigs, and reels, the first thing that comes to mind is maybe...klezmer? After that, I have no clue.

Luckily I don't need historical authenticity here, so as long as the instruments sound acoustic, it doesn't matter to me if we know exactly how the music was used in the past. It's OK if the musical style actually dates to the 20th century, too, and nobody ever actually played it in Ye Olden Times. This is for a fantasy project, after all. However, I would really prefer no vocals if possible! Shouts and such are fine.

Basically I'm looking for pretty much any cheerful, non-vocal, folk music tracks from outside of Ireland/the UK/the US/etc. and Western Europe. Nothing ceremonial or sacred; I don't want to be gross.

Specific Youtube track or (instrumental) album links would be extra gratefully received, if you have them. Thank you!
posted by wintersweet to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
This might seem like a strange recommendation, but the game Crusader Kings 3 (and I believe its predecessors as well) feature a bunch of music from across the medieval world, including Africa, Asia, and the Middle East—not just Europe. I think you can find some of the music online without need to have the game. It's all instrumental, some of it cheery.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:45 PM on February 22, 2023 [2 favorites]

How strong is the non-vocal requirement? Because at least in the Eastern European settings I'm familiar with, most folk music is songs. You might have better luck with dances - for Poland a few off the top of my head would be mazurka, kujawiak and oberek, zbójnicki, Kashebian dances, something absolutely random from the Łowicze region... Mazowsze is the biggest folk song and dance troupe and they have a number of albums on Spotify.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:45 PM on February 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

Pungmul (Korean farmers music) and the more modernized/regularized samul nori that came out of it. It's not really an indoors kind of music though, it's LOUD.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:02 PM on February 22, 2023 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Dances are extremely fine! (see also: jigs, reels, hoedowns)
posted by wintersweet at 2:36 PM on February 22, 2023


I had no idea it was farmers’ music, spamandkimchi! My ex played in a group a long time ago - it was the JAM. (One of their collaborators, the incredibly talented Vong Pak, is still kicking ass and taking numbers in NYC. How happy-making.)

wintersweet, Smithsonian Folkways’ catalogue would be a great resource to browse through. I think I claim sanctuary is right that vocal music is a really key part of these kinds of traditions - people often sing because they’re doing things with their hands, and it’s the cheapest instrument to play.

Some folk styles that come to mind (with the caveat that I have no idea whether they stretch back to medieval times) include Tuvan throatsinging (Huynh Huur Tu is great), and Nepali folk music (in which the flute is the equivalent of an electric guitar - it SHREDS).
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:43 PM on February 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ooh my Background Music playlist was made for this!! How about:

The Procession of Celestial Beings by Joe Hisaishi (Japanese, written for a Studio Ghibli film meant to take place in ancient Japan)

Byggnan by Eric Sahlstrom (Swedish, not sure if that qualifies)

Cintec de Nunta by Gheorghe Zamfir (Romanian)

Ambuya Stella Chiweshe - Mbira Trip by Michele Longo (I don't know about this artist, but mbira/kalimba music is from Zimbabwe originally. Some of my favorites are not on YouTube, including Chenjedza by Chaka Chawasarira.)

Jala-Tarang by Master Vyas (I believe this is Indian - worth exploring the whole "Ethnic Music Classics" series of albums.)

Ongo ensemble: Music for dancing, gboyo (Central African Republic. Check out the whole playlist.)

Marimba Instrumental by "Colorado man in his forties" (Ecuador)

Beym Odaman by Krimm Tatar Orkiestra (not sure where this is from but the album is "Central Asia")

I have lots more with singing but those are some good random instrumentals. Will be taking recs from this thread too! Good luck on your novel :)
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 2:55 PM on February 22, 2023 [4 favorites]

I was all ready to tell you about traditional Ethiopian music, but the voice is one of the instruments used in what I've heard. Isn't this fun, though?
posted by bluedaisy at 4:00 PM on February 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band

Fife & drum blues. Otherworldly stuff.

His granddaughter Shardé Thomas is keeping the band going, but usually adds vocals, so less of a match.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:51 PM on February 22, 2023


posted by ovvl at 5:54 PM on February 22, 2023

Maybe check out Gnawa Music of Marrakesh. Here’s Mimoun Mamrba, but there’s more where that came from.
posted by kittydelsol at 6:32 PM on February 22, 2023

Check out Latcho Drom if you've never seen it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:39 PM on February 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

I personally am fond of this "hardcore party mix," heavy on the sackbut
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:19 PM on February 22, 2023

but if you're looking for vocals, there's lots of good polyphonic vocal music from various Slavic traditions, whether you're looking at more traditional stuff like the Voix Bulgares, or DakhaBrakha; this song from subsaharan africa, women gathering mushrooms
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Altai throat singing (definitely danceable)

Mongolian/Tuvan throat singing with the Huun-Huur-Tu band

Mongolian throat singing plus an entire orchestra's worth of feral Latvian drummers: Hunnu Guren. Jig, hell, you can start a mosh pit to this one.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:33 PM on February 22, 2023

probably a touch too somber for what you're asking, but your question reminded me of
posted by adekllny at 5:55 AM on February 23, 2023

How about some horn music from Africa? Shaolin Afronauts are awesome.

Also how about some nice Latine horns? Check out Los Diplomaticos, for a start.
posted by acridrabbit at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2023

A lot of the music from my region (like the gamelan that's been linked) that fits your request is necessary part of court culture or ritual practices because the instruments required. But the troupes can be itinerant and the laypeople versions of an evening would have the gamelan like above or the nobat (also court music). Nobat is more on the northern side of this cultural sphere though and you can find it at laypeople level via performances like the mak yong. But you can see there's a strong spiritual healing element. To generalize, dance was a common medical treatment. Other examples, if you forgive the tangent, would be main peteri or the kuda kepang (both of these literally requires someone being inhabited by a royal from the elven lands, as we're asking for assistance). You can also see roughly there's two general cultural spheres in the Malay world via those two forms.

Otherwise, a night chilling would probably be a lot more singing. In the Malay-speaking side of maritime Southeast Asia it's more like rap battles where we trade quatrains (pantun; the french took it home and called theirs pantoum) with each other. dondang sayang is the Malacca version of the art or dikir barat which is from the peninsula east coast. (Ok now I'm trying not to get into a dikir barat rabbithole because personally a good dikir barat battle is absolutely a good time; ETA: ok ok one more, because it fits your ask - an impromptu dikir barat at a football match because the Kelantan fans were hyping up their team.)

You will notice, unlike the nobat music, more of the current art forms don't have any small lyre or stringed instruments since there's sunnah against them so most Muslims then moved into small hand drums in a big way for rhythm. For comparison, the Straits Chinese, their dondang sayang would have at least a violin (though this is a nicer version but you don't see the instruments). Oh that reminds me, Bengawan Solo is none of the other things I've mentioned so far, except its stylings (keroncong music) is similar to dondang sayang and i thought I should mention it because for a few generations that was a monster regional hit with lots of covers from everywhere (and talk about random, I heard it in a historical fiction movie from China). To my ears, I can totally imagine someone strumming a few chords from it on a chill night out.

Talking about drums, another east coast tradition is the shadow puppet/wayang kulit (definitely something you gather around the fire at night), and this would be their accompanying music.

Otherwise a lot of Middle East culture eventually made its way here, such as our berzanji or marhaban music or the zapin.
posted by cendawanita at 7:47 PM on February 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you're not too social media averse, Dust To Digital's Instagram page is a great way to find a lot of this stuff (their reader submissions are A++++)

Here's one I found there --Trio Madili "Khakuri" --that's stayed with me for years.
posted by thivaia at 6:34 AM on February 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

I was recently introduced by a friend at work to Radiooooo. You don't need to subscribe to listen in basic mode. It is basically a way of listening to what might have played on the radio in a particular decade in any contemporary country on earth. It isn't exactly what you are asking for, but it is very good.
posted by thaths at 7:32 PM on March 4, 2023

Response by poster: Here's the playlist so far (it's very much still in progress). Even if your specific song isn't on there, there's a good chance that looking it up helped me find one that is. Thanks everyone!
posted by wintersweet at 6:58 PM on March 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

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