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Folkways Radio and Playlists

Listen to the Smithsonian Folkways-curated radio station and thematic playlists from across the collection


Smithsonian Folkways Radio

Get a sense for the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian Folkways catalog while discovering recordings from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and nearly every location in between. Recordings are available for purchase on CD or digital download in MP3 or FLAC format, and the original liner notes are available as a free PDF download. Sit back, relax, and take a trip through the world of sound at Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit record label of the national museum of the United States.

Folkways Playlists

200 Years of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ from Smithsonian Folkways

Flag Day (June 14) commemorates the adoption of the Stars and Stripes banner as the flag of the United States. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s poem to the flag, which became ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ To celebrate both occasions, Smithsonian Folkways has compiled a playlist of American songs rooted in history—the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and even Watergate. Together they represent the diversity of American culture.

Music of Brazil from Smithsonian Folkways

This playlist features styles from Brazil’s five regions, including a hit bossa nova song from an award winning film, Brazilian protest music, numerous sambas, field recordings from Amazonia, and workers singing while digging for gemstones. "Brincando na Roda" exemplifies music for Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art developed by enslaved peoples in the Northeast; listen for the call and response of the Capoeira circle (roda) and the Berimbau, a single-stringed percussion instrument that drives the tempo of the Capoeira game. From folk roots to internationally renowned styles, this playlist samples the sounds, rhythms, and tempos of South America’s largest country.

Soccer Traditions: 32 Nations in Song from Smithsonian Folkways

Smithsonian Folkways presents a musical tour of the 32 countries participating in Brazil this summer. Bookended by a samba and a bossa nova, characteristic Brazilian dance rhythms, this playlist presents signature sounds from each nation, spanning six continents, forty instruments, and a dozen languages. Smithsonian Folkways strives to feature each country’s quintessential sound rather than crown a musical champion, presenting cultural identities in addition to athletic ones.

Music of Kenya from Smithsonian Folkways

As a cultural crossroads at the edge of the Indian Ocean, Kenya has taken musical influence from the Arabian Peninsula, other parts of Africa, Europe, and now the Americas. In conjunction with the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program Kenya: Mambo Poa, this playlist oscillates between tribal traditions in local dialects and Western pop-style music, concluding with a song about the African diaspora in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Music of China from Smithsonian Folkways

This playlist, created in collaboration with the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program China: Tradition and the Art of Living, emphasizes Chinese cultural diversity and the exuberance of public life. China is a country of many distinct musical communities—from Northern Chinese opera and Cantonese classical music to Northwestern Muslim songs and Pacific Coast vocal arts.

A Quarter Century of Smithsonian Folkways

Starting with the first Smithsonian Folkways release Musics of the Soviet Union in 1988, followed by a Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly collection a year later, Smithsonian Folkways has furthered Asch’s mission of presenting “the people’s music” from around the world. Celebrate a quarter century of Smithsonian Folkways and listen to this year-by-year playlist – one song each from 1988–2013 – from the collection of more than 3,000 albums (and growing!).

The Roots of Elizabeth Mitchell's The Sounding Joy from Smithsonian Folkways

Explore the inspirations behind Elizabeth Mitchell's Christmas album The Sounding Joy: Christmas Songs In and Out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger Songbook from Smithsonian Folkways

Hidden Gems from Smithsonian Folkways

"Hidden Gems" from Smithsonian Folkways features somewhat obscure recordings by well-known musicians and public figures. They often deviate from what listeners have come to expect from these individuals, adding new layers of complexity to their personas and bodies of work. Highlights include Leonard Cohen reading from his book of poetry, Allen Ginsberg singing songs on a harmonium, and country singer Marty Stuart as a flatpick guitar sideman in Red Allen's bluegrass band.

Songs of the Civil War by Smithsonian Folkways

Commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by delving into 18 songs and ballads from the Civil War era. These are tunes that marched soldiers to war, comforted them in longing, united them with families, or helped say a last goodbye. Contemplate the solitude of Logan English’s version of “Pretty Saro,” or remember classics such as “Just Before the Battle, Mother” and “Down by the Riverside.” Though more than a century old, these songs continue to be relevant through ongoing reinterpretation.

Sounds of the Civil Rights Movement

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with this playlist of 1960s civil rights material. Composed of seminal recordings, this playlist highlights the important role that music played in uniting, energizing, expressing, and sustaining momentum among participants in the African American civil rights movement.

Peace Songs of the 1960s

Throughout the 1960s, songs of peace registered civilian frustrations with armed conflict. In the early part of the decade, potential devastation from atomic weapons occupied the minds of songwriters. By the decade's end, Vietnam had become a battlefield for U.S. soldiers... Read more about this playlist in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine.

Sounds of the Cold War from Smithsonian Folkways

Lasting from the end of World War II to 1991, the Cold War divided the world along deep political and ideological lines. While some of its battles were military, others were waged through radio, podiums, and even ping-pong tables. Folk singers enlisted as well, protesting McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and the international arms race. "Sounds of the Cold War" samples speeches, songs, and broadcasts that shaped these decades of tension, including Broadside folk songs, Vietnam radio clips, and selections from Smithsonian Folkways’ 2008 release Nobel Voices for Disarmament: 1901-2001.

Will to Adorn from Smithsonian Folkways

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has curated a special playlist in honor of a program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, “Will to Adorn”, which celebrates African-American and African Diaspora Adornment practices. Based on an extensive archival search, the playlist features songs and poetry in which clothing, hair styles, jewelry, and other accessories or style ornaments become protagonists in the larger narrative.

Music from Hungary from Smithsonian Folkways

The music of Hungary is one of the country’s most important expressions of national identity, an identity which bears influence from both Western Europe and Central Asia. The Hungarian Heritage program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival seeks to convey this identity with a wide variety of music from the Carpathian Basin. More than fifty musicians are at the Festival to represent Hungarian heritage, including solo artists such as Bob Cohen and István “Dumnezeu” Jámbor, and bands such as Heveder, Parno Graszt, and Szalonna. This playlist, “Music of Hungary from Smithsonian Folkways”, highlights the diversity of modern, traditional, vocal, and instrumental music from Hungary.

Endangered Languages from Smithsonian Folkways

This playlist from the Smithsonian Folkways collection was created in collaboration with One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage, a program of the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival that highlights language diversity as a vital part of our human heritage. The songs on this playlist are performed by endangered language communities around the world who, to varying extents, have sustained their languages through music. From Tuvan throat singing and Hawaiian drum dance chants to Kichwa flute music and songs sung among the cicadas in Papua New Guinea, the ancestral tongues of these communities embody cultural knowledge, identity, values, technologies, and arts. Through these songs, we are reminded of the value of linguistic diversity and the necessity of preserving endangered languages for the benefit of their speakers and for the enrichment of the wider world.

The Great Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties from Smithsonian Folkways

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby depicts a dynamic post–World War I society—rich, jazzy, and brash. “The Great Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties from Smithsonian Folkways” features music from the era, including three songs directly referenced in the novel: “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” “The Sheik of Araby,” and “A Love Nest.” Put on your dancing shoes and two-step to these tunes and more with artists such as Zez Confrey, Lizzie Miles, and Emile Barnes.

Music of East Africa from Smithsonian Folkways

Eastern Africa is a culturally diverse and scenic region that includes the source of the Nile, Africa’s two highest mountains, and 20 territories stretching south and east from the Horn of Africa (according to the UN’s geographical scheme). Choral music and instruments such as the xylophone and karyenda drums are among the region’s musical traditions. “Music of East Africa from Smithsonian Folkways” features the choral harmonies of Ugandan coffee farmers, a Kenyan party song, and the Rhodesian (modern-day Zimbabwe) xylophone.

Tax Day from Smithsonian Folkways

The filing deadline for individual tax returns typically falls on April 15th. Up to the last minute, Americans are tabulating their income and deductions to determine their taxes. For some people, Tax Day creates refunds, which may be needed to pay for essential goods and services. For others, the tabulations result in payments due. “Tax Day from Smithsonian Folkways” addresses the spectrum of emotions associated with tax season. From joy to devastation, the playlist presents perspectives on money, government, and wealth by artists Elizabeth Cotten, Dave Van Ronk, and many others.

St. Patrick’s Day from Smithsonian Folkways

Though St. Patrick’s Day began as a Catholic holiday honoring the feast day of one of Ireland’s most prominent patron saints, it has become recognized as an occasion to celebrate all Irish culture and traditions. Smithsonian Folkways features musical documentation of these traditions in releases from the 1960 As I Roved Out (Field Trip-Ireland) up through the 2008 The Sligo Indians and the 2013 Classic Celtic Music from Smithsonian Folkways albums. In the spirit of the holiday, “St. Patrick’s Day from Smithsonian Folkways” draws from the collection to highlight noted artists and varied styles, including singers in both English and Irish Gaelic, the sounds of uilleann pipes, and music you can’t help but dance to.

Women and Folk from Smithsonian Folkways

The Smithsonian Folkways collection is rich with women’s recordings. Gender discrimination and segregation has often posed a considerable barrier for women musicians, but women have overcome these obstacles either via direct protest or by simply performing certain instruments or songs. Many women singers and songwriters interpret styles and songs traditionally associated with a male voice. In addition, the topic matter of the music has also been used to further women’s rights and other political and social causes. When women in the United States earned the right to vote in 1913, the lyrics of traditional hymns and patriotic anthems were changed to assert their demands for suffrage. Listen to a small sample of Smithsonian Folkways folk music created by and about these brave and daring women.

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? from Smithsonian Folkways

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Since 1985, many have enjoyed this edutainment computer game and public television game-show spinoff, but did you know the game, which blends abundant geography knowledge with an intriguing plot, also features international music from Smithsonian Folkways? This playlist is a complete collection of the music approved for use in the 1996 game release, tracing the sounds Carmen Sandiego encountered around the world, from New Orleans jazz to Icelandic folk songs, to thrilling Nigerian drum beats, Afghani teahouse music, Japanese Shinto processionals, folk dance songs of Argentina, and more.

Valentine’s Day from Smithsonian Folkways

The concept of love has inspired many artists to write songs, whether about new–found love or heartbreak. The Smithsonian Folkways collection features love–themed folk songs from around the world. “Happy Valentine’s Day from Smithsonian Folkways” samples a variety selected from the USA, Mexico, and Europe; among the performers are Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Carnaval from Smithsonian Folkways

A musical medley of rhythmic cacophonies, swinging melodies, and street festivities evokes the spirit of Carnaval worldwide. Sounds of brass bands, steel drums, and lively processions accentuate the spirited nature of this celebration. Festive idiosyncrasies from a widespread musical diaspora are highlighted from countries all over the world, ranging from the Peruvian highlands to the Netherlands. Follow a unique musical pilgrimage of an age–old tradition back to its roots in Italy.

Super Sonic Inaugural Weekend: Sounds and Songs of the American Presidency

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings celebrates the 2013 presidential inauguration by offering listeners an aural journey through the diverse and intriguing world of presidential sounds. From presidential speech highlights and campaign songs, to satire, folk ballads and archival recordings, this Smithsonian Folkways stream offers a unique compilation of political representations. Featuring musical artists such as Pete Seeger, Joe Glazer, and The New Lost City Ramblers, as well as several American presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, this stream highlights a fascinating array of sounds relating to the American experience of the United States’ highest political office.
Click here to download the track list

Jewish Music from Smithsonian Folkways

Music has played an important role in Jewish worship and in secular life as well. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has a large collection of Jewish music from a variety of traditions and geographical areas, such as Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the USA. Performers featured on this playlist include Pete Seeger, Ugandan Abayudaya community, Klezmer groups such as Khevrisa, and more.

Feliz Navidad from Smithsonian Folkways

Christmas is a joyful time for family, friends, feasts, and contemplation. Following the Christmas spirit across oceans, deserts and mountains, “Feliz Navidad from Smithsonian Folkways” explores some of these themes throughout many corners of the Hispanic and Latino world. From South America to the Caribbean, Spain, and the United States, we explore various song forms, including villancicos, aguinaldos, bulerias, zambas, and arrullos, some region-specific, and others well-traveled. Likewise, instrumentation varies from solo voice to waltzing accordions, driving guitars to melancholic marimbas. Showcasing a diversity of musical heritage, these melodies and rhythms from Spanish, Amerindian and African origins often create stark contrasts. Still, the spirit of the season is always heard loud and clear. ¡Feliz Navidad!

Traditional European Christmas Music from Smithsonian Folkways

From a Polish state folk chorus to a classic French carol re-imagined by Pete Seeger, this playlist explores various forms of traditional European Christmas music. Compiled with the full breadth of Yuletide traditions in mind, it includes religious content drawn from European Christian beliefs as well as secular performances, such as traditional Irish reels recorded in the pubs of Cleveland. The contrasting moods reflected in the sounds of Christmas are also adequately represented, from the humble tone of reverent voices honoring the birth of Jesus to the joyous celebration of friends, family, and community.

Tradiciones: Latino Music from Smithsonian Folkways

The music of Latin America is as varied as its people, incorporating Amerindian, African, and European influences that combine to create genres unique to the region. The Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones⁄Traditions series highlights music from more than a dozen countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean, and spans more than 50 years of recordings. From Argentine folk classics by Suni Paz to Chicano rock originals by East LA’s Quetzal, this playlist demonstrates the diversity of Latino musical heritage across Latin America and within the United States.

Thanksgiving from Smithsonian Folkways

Thanksgiving celebrates the blessings that we all share. In this spirit, “Thanksgiving from Smithsonian Folkways” explores themes of thanks, homecoming, and food. David and Billie Ray Johnson's bluegrass rendition of “Kentucky Waltz” and Elizabeth Cotten's blues, “Vastopol,” convey the feeling of contentment and peace in Thanksgiving, while Jim Nollman's cover of “Froggy-Went-a-Courtin' (300 Turkeys)” and Don Bryant and Pete Kuykendall's version of “Turkey in the Straw” encapsulate the joy and fun of this time of year. The playlist features more, including Native American and Georgia church choirs, and Brian Mackness' contribution titled, fittingly, “Family.”

The Spirit of Halloween from Smithsonian Folkways

Halloween is a centuries-old tradition that marks the eve of All Hallows’ Day, a holiday that honors the “spirits” of the afterlife. It is celebrated with costumes, haunted houses, and jack-o’-lanterns. “The Spirit of Halloween from Smithsonian Folkways” combines stories and music from the Smithsonian Folkways collection to bring you a playlist that incorporates the spooky elements of Halloween such as ghosts, skeletons, witches, and monsters.

Afro-Latino Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

When Africans were enslaved and brought to the Americas, they contributed to and helped shape Latin America’s wide array of musical traditions. Africans brought musical traits such as collective participation in music-making, call-and-response singing, and dense rhythms played on drums. Today, these initial traditions have been altered by the conditions subsequent generations have encountered in the Americas. New social structures (distinctions between slaves and free people of African descent, symbolic festivals, labor relations), religions (Santería, Christianity, and Vodou), and dances (waltz, steel bands, samba, congo) are manifestations of the dynamic and ongoing mixture of old and new musical elements. From Puerto Rican to Uruguayan, the music here showcases and highlights this synergy of musical traditions.

Songs That Have Inspired Bob Dylan from Smithsonian Folkways

Bob Dylan, also known as Blind Boy Grunt, is one of the most important American musicians of our time, having written hundreds of powerful songs and progressed through a number of performance styles. As his 2004 autobiography Chronicles, Volume One reveals, Folkways has figured prominently in his story. Folkways released albums from many of the artists who had a profound impact on Dylan’s early career as a singer and songwriter - Dave Van Ronk, Peggy Seeger, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, The New Lost City Ramblers, Reverend Gary Davis, and - most of all - Woody Guthrie. The Smithsonian Folkways collection offers many of the Folkways artists and recordings Dylan cites in his book as an inspiration.

Classical Music from Smithsonian Folkways

The origins of Western Classical music can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who laid down the foundation by establishing music notation and the basic concepts of music theory and terminology. While there is no all encompassing definition of classical music, since it embraces such a wide variety of styles and sounds, generally speaking it features written notation, is typically performed on instruments invented prior to the 19th century, and can require significant levels of technical mastery. Classical music can take many forms, including pieces ranging from just a few minutes to several hours in length, typically performed in formal settings by large orchestras, small groups, or soloists. The music has evolved through a variety of named “periods” which feature distinctive sounds and forms: Medieval (476-1400), Renaissance (1400-1600), Baroque (1600-1760), Classical (1760-1820), Romantic (1815-1910), Neo-Classical (1900-2000), and Contemporary Classical (1975-present). The Smithsonian Folkways collection includes many recordings of a variety of these styles - featured here are selections from the Baroque through Neo-Classical periods.

Conjunto Essentials from Smithsonian Folkways

Born in South Texas, a traditional conjunto quartet consists of bajo sexto, accordion, string bass, and a drumset coming together to create a good-time atmosphere perfect for dancing. Conjunto music has its roots in European and Mexican musical styles, drawing from Polish and Czech polkas, waltzes, and schottische, as well as Mexican rancheras, cumbia, and huapango. Including Tex-Mex icons such as Amadeo Flores as well as current innovators like Los Texmaniacs, this playlist offers a taste of conjunto classics alongside contemporary pieces that incorporate diverse rhythms from rock, R&B, and Western swing. Conjunto, popular among one of the largest Latino populations in the US, is a key part of the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones series.

English and Scottish Ballads Compiled by Francis J. Child from Smithsonian Folkways

Francis J. Child’s five volume collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898), consists of over 300 traditional folk ballads along with an exhaustive amount of research. Child focuses on the history of the words and themes rather than the music, tracing the stories from America back to European origins and finding other deeper connections. Because of this attention to detail, Child’s work is considered to be an essential canon of English and Scottish folk music. The songs are of a wide variety of styles: some uncouth, some sad and some silly. Listen to a sample of the songs featured in Child’s compilation as performed and recorded by a variety of musicians for Smithsonian Folkways.

Afro–Cuban Drum Music from Smithsonian Folkways

When Africans were taken to the Americas in the slave trade, they brought with them a wealth of musical traditions-particularly dense, complex, and polyrhythmic drum music-that was central to their daily lives. African drum music is anchored by a repeating pattern played by bells and/or rattles, while drums play designated call-and-response patterns. Call and response also occurs in vocal music; the leader sings and a chorus responds. These traditions carried over to Afro-Cuban music, particularly in sacred musical styles such as performed in Santería, which feature double-sided batá drums and rhythmic patterns for different deities. Listen here to explore the traditions of Afro-Cuban drum styles, including bembé, rumba, palo, and batá.

Fiddle Music from Smithsonian Folkways

Few musical instruments can claim to have impacted so many musical cultures in the world as the fiddle. The fiddle, with its origins in the Middle East, spread throughout the entire European continent on the backs of 17th century soldiers and peasants. After establishing itself in British and Dutch musical traditions, the fiddle traveled to North America with early European immigrants. Today living fiddle traditions flourish throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The Smithsonian Folkways collections contain a wealth of some of the most exciting fiddle playing from around the world.

Holiday Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

In this playlist, various cultures from around the world are represented through the songs and celebrations of the various winter holidays.

Indian Harmonium from Smithsonian Folkways

The harmonium is a hand-pumped instrument operated by one hand compressing bellows in back while the other plays a keyboard in the front. It is almost exclusively used to accompany for vocal music starting in the twentieth century. The early harmoniums in India were heavily criticized at first because of the lack of flexibility in the intonation, which is a hallmark for Indian music. But over time this has been essence because of the harmonium’s low dynamic level. It is used mostly in the Northern area of India as part of the Hindustani musical tradition. Listen to a small sample of this important instrument to Indian culture.

Japanese Music from Smithsonian Folkways

Inhabitants of the islands that make up current-day Japan have performed music since prehistoric times. Archaeological evidence as far back as the Paleolithic era demonstrates the use of several musical instruments that accompanied songs and dances in religious ceremonies and daily entertainment. Several distinct genres developed by the tenth century, including, gagaku (court music) and syômyô (shômyo- Buddhist chant). Shinto music, kagura, which was already established, was transmitted steadily during this period. The medieval period (1192-1573) was characterized by the coexistence of an imperial court and shogunates. In the pre-modern period (1573-1867), the genres that are now most popular were born: kabuki (highly stylized theatre), bunraku (puppet theatre); chamber music for syamisen or shamisen (a three-stringed plucked lute), kotô (drums), kokyu (a three- or four-stringed bowed lute), and ryuteki (a bamboo transverse flute). The medieval genres were also performed and continued to be transmitted. Listen to examples of these styles from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Lullabies from Smithsonian Folkways

A lullaby is a song sung to a child in order to ease them into sleep or soothe them, often featuring simple melodies and repeating lyrics. They can be found in almost every culture and have been used for centuries. Possibly the oldest surviving lullaby, Lalla, Lalla, Lalla, aut dormi, aut lacte, was written by Roman poet Persius, around the 1st century AD. The word “lullaby” may have come from a combination of “lulu”, a sound made to soothe the child, and the word “bye.” Another origin may be from the “Lillith”, a demon that was said to steal children in the night according to Jewish mythology. Parents put up amulets that said “Lillith-abi” or “Lillith Be gone” in Hebrew, to protect their children. Listen to lullabies from around the world from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Music from the Silk Road from Smithsonian Folkways

At the end of the 13th Century C.E., Marco Polo set out on a legendary journey from Europe to eastern Asia. Looking at rich musical traditions present along the Silk Road (the epic trade routes of Central Asia), music scholars beg the question, “What if Marco Polo had carried a tape recorder?” The central and westeran Asian music played here offers a glimpse of the rich musical life that an intrepid and curious traveler like Marco Polo might find in the lands of the Silk Road today. These tracks span from Xi’an (formerly Chang’an), the capital of ancient China, through central Asia to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and include sounds of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and other Central Eurasian nations and peoples.

Songs Featuring Idiophones from Smithsonian Folkways

Idiophones are defined as any instrument that creates sound by vibrating, without the use of strings or membranes. They are one of the oldest types of musical instruments, bone instruments have been found as early as the Paleothic Era, from about 2.5 million years ago to 12,000 B.P., but today, they are still performed in the percussion section of an orchestra or in a wide variety of small music ensembles. Idiophones are typically made of glass, metal, ceramics, or wood, and they are utilized all over the world including Africa, Europe, and Asia. Listen to recordings of Idiophones, including cymbals, xylophones, and Jew’s harp from the Smithsonian Folkways Collection.

Songs Featuring the Mbira from Smithsonian Folkways

The Mbira is a melodic instrument found throughout southern and eastern Africa that consists of thin metal strips of varying sizes fastened to a piece of wood or metal. Tones are produced by striking these metal “keys,” usually with the thumbs. The many types of mbira are distinguished from one another by their tuning, the number of notes available on the instrument, and the spatial arrangement of the keys. Of the following songs, all but one was recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey during the 1950s among various ethnic groups in parts of Zimbabwe and Zambia, formerly Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia. The assorted culture and language groups represented here use mbira with multiple tunings and structures, resulting in a great range of melodic possibilities.

Songs from Polynesia from Smithsonian Folkways

Polynesia is a region featuring over a thousand islands roughly grouped as a triangle with Hawaii at the northern most point Polynesian culture can be categorized into three distinct groups: West Polynesia, East Polynesia and Polynesian Outliers. Their ancestry can be traced back to Southeast Asia, when the maritime explorations moved throughout the area, eventually creating settlements in Polynesia. The traditional music of Polynesia is based on poetic texts that are metaphorical and filled with allusions. The sound is both melodic and rhythmic, featuring duple-meter and accelerated tempo changes. Songs often end in a downward trailing off of the instruments being played. Listen to a sample of Polynesian music from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Songs from West Africa from Smithsonian Folkways

The music of West Africa features a polyrhythmic, multi-layered sound. It includes musical traditions from many different cultural groups that share similarities but also have unique characteristics. For example, the drumming in Bata Drums (Nigeria) and Mende Talking Drums (Sierra Leone) is at rapid tempo with similar rhythms, but the drum sounds and voicings distinguish the two styles. The environment, varying from lush forest to grasslands to dry deserts, affects the history and culture of the area and its music. Listen to a selection of West African music from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Songs of Protestors from Smithsonian Folkways

The music of the modern Civil Rights Movement came from many sources. In southern black communities, everyone knew the spirituals that had been passed down from the enslaved generations. Young and old also knew the Protestant hymns sung in church. Labor activists and strikers contributed songs from previous workers’ struggles. When college students began to lead, they added tunes from the radio and popular music on records. People of different generations and perspectives adapted these melodies and improvised lyrics to create a body of new songs from a mixture of sources. In non-violent resistance training sessions at places such as the Highlander Folk Center (Tennessee), activists learned these new songs which they taught to others at demonstrations, sit–ins, and marches. Eventually, these songs became the anthems of the Freedom Movement throughout this nation and around the world. Sounds of America is in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Songs of Spain from Smithsonian Folkways

From the Sardana of Catalonia to the Folia of the Canary Islands, the diverse music of Spain highlights the country’s rich and distinctive regional identities. This playlist features a small sample of Spanish music as represented in the Smithsonian Folkways catalog, containing music from Aragon, Andalucia, Valencia, Catalonia, and the Canary Islands, and featuring artists Carlos Montoya, Domenico Zullo, Emilio Prados, and the Lutys de Luz Ensemble. Instrumental guitar solo and duet pieces display the vast array of percussive techniques unique to Spanish folk music, and lyrical songs are supported by the lively stomps, claps, and castanets of Flamenco’s signature song and dance styles.

Sounds from Appalachia from Smithsonian Folkways

Appalachia is the region of the eastern United States of America surrounding the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from northern Alabama and Mississippi to southern New York. Traditional Appalachian music shows its roots in a unique mixture of immigrant sounds, including Celtic ballads, Christian gospel tunes, and African American working songs. In recent years Appalachian music has been greatly transformed by the popularity of modern bluegrass and country-western, but traditional playing styles are still kept alive by folk musicians with respect for the centuries-old musical traditions and history of the region. These classic recordings come from archival Folkways Records and Smithsonian Folkways reissues.

Sounds from New Orleans from Smithsonian Folkways

The southeastern Louisiana city of New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in the United States and boasts a unique African American musical heritage. Born in the city’s pre-American and early American days, the music is a blending of European instruments with African rhythms. New Orleans was the only city to have allowed slaves to gather in public and play their own music, and it nurtured the development of jazz, brass bands, rhythm & blues, gospel, and Mardi Gras music. The music has continued to thrive even after the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The songs here include tracks from the Folkways Records five-album series Music of New Orleans released in 1958-1959.

Sounds of America from Smithsonian Folkways

The United States is made of people from all walks of life, resulting in an equally diverse variety of music. One does not have to be born American; one can become an American through residence and citizenship, and that is reflected in the many musical traditions that retain international influences while never standing still. In this playlist, Smithsonian Folkways presents music of African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, New Orleans Jazz, and many, many more traditions. Listen and enjoy this “mix” from the United States.

Sounds of the American Blues

In the 1890’s, a new musical genre began to become popular. Its name was “the blues”. This style emerged from African American communities in the southern part of the United States and began to spread to larger cities, finding a home in Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City. Usually sung in the first–person, the blues describes the ups and downs of daily life. The songs typically follow a ballad in form, with repeated versus without a defined chorus. The words were often derived from work songs, and the music is characterized by great melodic, timber, and rhythmic freedom and forceful delivery. They often follow the same format of one line of verse, repeated twice and a new third line that rhymes with the original. The blues form became a fundamental aspect of the development of both American Jazz and Rock & Roll music, among other styles. Listen to a small sampling of Smithsonian Folkways collection of the blues.

Texas Sounds from Smithsonian Folkways

Texas, which means “friends of allies” in Caddo (a language from the Native American tribe of the same name), is the second largest state in the United States. This state is largely know for its cattle industry, and more broadly cowboy culture and traditions, including its version of country music. Country is characterized by an emotive and highly ornamented singing style and instrumental accompaniment that relies heavily on small ensembles of stringed instruments, and a form that is related to the folk ballads that were brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants. Songs are typically about love and death. The three main instruments associated with country are the fiddle, the banjo, and the guitar. Texas is also known for the blues, which spread to Texas by the beginning of the twentieth century by African American workers at lumber camps, oil fields and other work areas. When the Great Depression hit, these musicians moved into the cities and created what is now known as the Texas Blues. Another significant music style in Texas is Tejano music, which fuses German Polka, Mexican rancheras, jazz, and other unique sounds. Listen to Smithsonian Folkways’ sample of Texas and its diverse music scene.

Calypso Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

Calypso is a form of Afro-Caribbean dance music that developed in Trinidad and other island nations in the early twentieth century. France colonized much of the Caribbean in the 19th century, and the music developed initially as a form of communication among the slaves. Calypso drew on both colonial French and West African traditions, and developed into a lively, rhythmic and, despite its seemingly light and fun-loving sound, intensely political style of music.

The Mickey Hart Collection Sampler

One of the few things we know about our universe is that everything in it is vibrating, is in motion, and has a rhythm. Rhythm is anything that repeats itself in time: the moon cycling around the earth, sap rising in the spring, the pulsing arteries of the body. Listen to complete tracks of Mickey Hart's favorite drumming on Folkways. Click here to read more .

Music of Colombia from Smithsonian Folkways

Listen to the variety of rhythms representing the regional diversity of Colombia. “Adiós, Berejú” features the marimba-led sound from the Pacific coastal regions, while “Sin Ti” and “Pedazo de Acordeón” are examples of the  accordion-driven vallenatos from the Caribbean coast. Also featured are the early cumbia sounds of Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, whose members are well known for their white shirts, red scarves, and wide-brimmed hats. Grupo Cimarrón provides even more contrast, representing the Orinoco plains region of Colombia and Venezuela by mixing masterful harp playing with nimble maracas and soaring vocals. In recent decades, Colombia has suffered waves of violence, and the lack of economic opportunities has displaced people from rural areas to the cities. But Colombia’s proud musical tradition continues through the efforts of the musicians and organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving these unique sounds. The Smithsonian Folkways collection features eight albums containing Colombian music.

The Sounds of Peace Corps Countries

Since 1961, the Peace Corps has promoted world peace and friendship in 139 countries. The Peace Corps provides American expertise to nations in need, and facilitates intercultural understanding between the United States and Peace Corps host countries. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival hosts performances, discussions and demonstrations by fifteen Peace Corps nations on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The groups and individual musicians featured on this playlist, while not scheduled to appear at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, are from Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, and represent the rich diversity of musical expression of the Festival participants. The selections here range from the unmistakable sound of the sitengena, or thumb piano, as played by a ¡Kung San musician from the northwestern Kalahari Desert in Botswana; to the distinctive tuning of ancient choral polyphony from the mountains of Georgia; to Kyrgyz music evocative of the hoof-beats of horses across the grasslands of Central Asia; to a classic protest song from American singer and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon; to a traditional Bambara jaliya song played by Malian musicians resident in New York City. The amazing range of musical sounds featured here also includes Kenyan afropop from Seattle, Guatemalan marimba, rural Jamaican calypso, and much more.

Rhythm & Blues from Smithsonian Folkways

In the mid-60s, Michael Asch, son of Folkways Records founder Moses Asch, received audition tapes from Lynn Productions of New Orleans that featured a compilation of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and doo-wop tracks. The recording sessions were led by Al White and the Hi-Liters, a prominent doo-wop group from the South who enlisted local bands and artists to showcase their sound for the records. What resulted were two records released by Folkways: Roots: Rhythm and Blues and Roots: The Rock and Roll Sound of Louisiana and Mississippi. While the names of the albums may assume the racial distinction between the two “genres,” the recording sessions featured both black and white musicians playing together on tracks of both genres.

This playlist features takes from these albums, as well as other notable R&B tracks from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Boogie Woogie Piano from Smithsonian Folkways

Coming from early blues traditions though featured prominently in honky-tonks, juke joints, and barrelhouses, the boogie groove is at the heart of the American R&B and rock and roll traditions. The combination of the driving rhythm from the left hand and the stylized and syncopated bluesy improvisations from the right create a dynamic style which is percussive in force. Adapted for guitar, bass, horns, and other instruments, the boogie-woogie sound has become one of the most distinct idioms in the American blues repertoire.

This playlist of tracks is compiled from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

The Roots of Rhythm & Blues from Smithsonian Folkways

The songs, spirituals, spoken word, and poetics presented in this playlist reflect the mosaic of voices, styles, genres, and cultural influences that have contributed to the popular post-war urban music explosion known as rhythm and blues (R&B). Historically R&B can be traced to the northward migration of southern populations and the movement of rural people to the city around the late 1920s; the unique musical traditions they brought with them merge at a crucial juncture of civil unrest, increasing secularization, and the development of electric instrumentation. Boogie piano music, with its driving rhythm, is energetic and youthful, while the character of lyrical styles derived from field and work songs is secular and playful. Gospel choirs serve a social function by creating community and teaching songs to youth attending church, while protest songs elicit the same sense of liberation and redemption found in sacred settings. The development of spoken word with jazz speaks to the urban experience and the progressive nature of the music.

The growth and evolution of R&B—especially contemporary R&B—has been popular and commercial in nature; nevertheless, the process by which these musical forms have been disseminated and recontextualized by new generations of musicians and audiences represents an essential element of folk expression.

This playlist of tracks is compiled from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Civil War Songs and Sounds

Speaking of the impact music had on his troops, Confederate General Robert E. Lee said, “Without music you cannot have an army.” With this in mind, the music collected here is not so much an account of what came to be known as America’s most violent war as it is the culmination of the anxieties, politics, and the racial divide that started the war in the first place. Certainly the origins of the Civil War are present in its music: the abolitionist’s cry for freedom in songs such as “The Ballad of Frederick Douglass” and “John Brown’s Body”; the irrevocable violence and censure laced into America’s founding in “Cumberland Gap”; and the bureaucratic irony of warfare in “All Quiet Along the Potomac.” But many of the era’s songs also convey intense personal longing, and struggle (see: “Just Before Battle, Mother” and “Go Down, Moses”). Frederick Douglass (through the voice of actor/activist Ossie Davis) speaks of this struggle in the playlist’s final track when he says: “A man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others.”

Sounds of Haiti from Smithsonian Folkways

Some say that Haiti has been in perpetual revolution for 200 years. If so, then that revolution has a soundtrack: one that began with the rattle of the Taino caciques; that invokes healing and fighting spirits with the drums and chants of rada and petwo in Vodou; and that continues to express the appetite for freedom through the sly double meanings (betiz) in the songs of Carnival and rara, the cathartic dance rhythms of konpa and the compelling global edge of mizik rasin (roots music). The music of Haiti is a synthesis of Taino, African, and European music created out of often violent encounters, but has come to reflect great pride in their independent nation.

Bluegrass

Bluegrass music is characterized by its high energy, fast tempo sound and a high-pitched singing style called the "high, lonesome sound." The genre combines American southern string band music, blues, English, Irish, and Scottish traditions, and sacred and country music. Bluegrass music became popular after World War II, but its roots date back to the 1930s. Named after Bill Monroe's legendary band The Blue Grass Boys, its songs often reflect issues important to everyday people. Religion is frequently a prominent theme, and gospel music has influenced the development of the bluegrass sound. The typical bluegrass band includes 5-string banjo, flat-top guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and bass. The instruments are traditionally acoustic with the guitar and bass carrying the downbeat and providing the rhythmic foundation. The Folkways collection contains some of the most influential early American bluegrass recordings and features such giants as Red Allen and Frank Wakefield, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, the Stanley Brothers, and The Country Gentlemen. Listen here to these influential artists and experience this dynamic American roots tradition.

Music of Indonesia

Indonesia's music is as culturally diverse as its people. Best known abroad are the Javanese and Balinese orchestras generally called gamelans, which consist of gongs and other struck metal instruments. But gamelans are only one aspect of a much larger musical universe in Indonesia. Solo and group singing and solo instrumental music (typically played on the flute, shawm, plucked lute, bowed lute, plucked zither, or xylophone) are found everywhere, as are ensembles of mixed instruments, and ensembles dominated by instruments of a single type—especially flutes, drums, xylophones, zithers, or gongs. The music here is from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings' Music of Indonesia series, a 20-CD set compiled by Indonesian scholar Philip Yampolsky and released from 1991-2000.

"White House Blues": Music of the Political Process

The American political process has been intertwined with music as long as there has been a United States of America. From "Follow Washington," one of many songs written in praise of George Washington, to the popular theme songs used by present-day candidates, every election cycle has had its accompanying soundtrack. Before mass media made it possible for candidates to spread the message across the nation simultaneously, campaign songs, often set to other popular melodies, were used to reach broad populations, especially those that could not read newspapers. Natural accompaniments to political campaign songs are political satire and protest songs, and both categories are represented here by folk singer Joe Glazer and civil rights leader Hollis Watkins. Glazer, Oscar Brand, and Peter Janovsky each recorded albums of presidential campaign songs that, along with the other songs presented here, are part of the catalog of Smithsonian Folkways.

Archive Spotlight: ILAM

Founded in 1954 by Hugh Tracey, the International Library of African Music (ILAM) is the greatest repository of African music in the world. A research institution devoted to the study of music and oral arts in Africa, it preserves thousands of historical recordings dating back to 1929 and supports contemporary fieldwork. Smithsonian Folkways presents over a thousand tracks of music from ILAM, many available digitally for the first time. Most tracks are accompanied by extensive notes and images. Listen here to a sampling of musical treasures from this incredible archive.

Throat Singing

Tuva is a predominately rural region of Russia located northwest of Mongolia. It is home to one of the world's oldest forms of music. In Xöömei, or "throat-singing," a single vocalist simultaneously produces two distinct pitches-a fundamental note and, high above it, a series of articulated harmonies that are sequenced into melodies. The Tuvan herder/hunter lifestyle with its great reliance on the natural world and deeply-felt connection to the landscape is reflected in the Tuvan vocal tradition. With throat-singing Tuvans recreate the sounds of their natural surroundings—animals, mountains, streams, and the harsh winds of the steppe. Examples of this unique and moving vocal tradition are featured here.

Music of Hawai'i

Music has always been an important part of native Hawaiian culture. In early Hawai'i, mele (chant) paid homage to gods and remembered the actions of powerful people with drums and dancing. The small string of islands in the Pacific Ocean has also attracted sailors, explorers, and migrant workers, who all left their marks. Following the arrival of Europeans, Christian hymns and string instruments influenced native music and contributed to the development of new forms. In the mid 20th century, immigrants from Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico, and Japan brought their own styles of music and singing. Both contemporary and traditional musical styles still thrive in Hawai'i.

Sounds of Africa from Smithsonian Folkways

Listen here to the sounds of a continent rich with creativity, power, and enchantment. Radio Africa offers hours of tracks including field recordings from remote villages, voices of political protest, and songs from emerging Afro-pop artists. The music spans the continent, as well as the world, as African immigrants continue the traditions of their homeland in new communities. Radio Africa is a collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the premier museum dedicated to the arts of Africa.

Sounds of Asia from Smithsonian Folkways

Listen here to the authentic musical traditions of the planet's largest continent. From the nomadic and bardic cultures of the steppes to the classical court traditions of the cities, Radio Asia offers hours of music including field recordings from remote villages and performances by classically trained virtuosos. Radio Asia is collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the Smithsonian Freer and Arthur M. Sackler Galleries, home to one of the strongest collections of Asian art in the world.

Sounds of Latin America from Smithsonian Folkways

Radio Latino draws from the Latino audio holdings of the Folkways Collections-old and new-creating a cultural pastiche of sounds, styles, and cultures that hint at the vast cornucopia of music and cultural expression in the Latino world. It is produced with the Smithsonian Latino Center, which is dedicated to celebrating Latino culture, spirit, and achievement in America. In 2001, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings joined the Smithsonian Latino Center in a collaboration to bring grassroots Latino musicians and music to the fore of Smithsonian programming and American life.

African American Gospel Music from Smithsonian Folkways

African American gospel music is a twentieth-century sacred music evolved from the African American repertoire and song style of the nineteenth century, which included spirituals, hymns, and shape-note singing. It is an urban music born of a people who began to move from the rural South to cities across the USA at the turn of the century. While gospel music has enjoyed much commercial success, the music starts in and remains tied to local churches and communities. Listen here to the uplifting sounds of gospel from field recordings in small churches, to legends such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Mahalia Jackson, and modern interpreters like Sweet Honey in the Rock.

American Indian Flute Music from Smithsonian Folkways

The flute, blown either from an end or from the side, is one of the few indigenous instruments that has survived in American Indian traditional music. As American Indian musicians adapted more and more European influences into their music, including the violin, the snare drum, and even beer can rattles, the flute faded to the background. However, the 1970s brought a revival in flute music, due in part to Doc Tate Nevaquaya. He played traditional songs but also wrote his own compositions and expanded the flute’s repertoire and playing technique. The flute has since then become a symbol of indigenous music and is an important sound in American Indian musics throughout the Americas.

Ancient Strings from Smithsonian Folkways

The use of chordophones (commonly known as stringed instruments) can be traced back to at least 13000–11000 B.C., when cave drawings in Ariege, France depicted a hunter playing a musical bow to magically entrance the animals. The Ancient Greeks used the lyre, which spread across Europe as well. Other significant instruments in Europe, which would later spread to the Americas, include the violin, various zithers and lutes. Native Americans had traditional music that went along with their rituals but it usually did not include stringed instruments until after the Colonial Period African music focuses on both percussion as well as a wide variety of strings including harp lutes, fiddles and bowed lutes. Smithsonian Folkways Records features a large selection of these developments in the chordophone – here is a small sampling.

Ballad Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

The original definition of a ballad is a form of verse, often narrative, set to music. In modern musical context, it’s known as a slow form of a song, frequently about love or love lost. Originating in France in the 1300s, ballads have been also found as lullabies, laments, or children’s games. They were particularly influential among the lower and middle class from 1300–1500 across Europe. After dwindling in prominence in pop culture, ballads became popular once again after World War II, sparked by the folk revival. Ballads have now become a common of music in both the United States and Europe. Here are samples of ballads and their developments within the United States.

Sounds of American Freedom from Smithsonian Folkways

The African American song tradition provided the soundtrack to the march to freedom during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The freedom songs from the movement, such as the ones played here, used the same musical building blocks as traditional African American spirituals and gospel songs with the addition of topical concerns and overt political demands. Martin Luther King, Jr. testified to the integral role of these songs saying, “In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement...They are adaptations of the songs the slave sang: the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns, and the anthem of our movement.”