I’m spinning around the globe. More accurately, I’m moving my cursor across a screen-size image of Earth, clicking on various green dots that represent radio stations around the world. Clicking on the neon green circles, I’m soon listening to EDM in Colombia, classical choirs in Cyprus, Kurdish pop in Baghdad, Tibetan Buddhist radio in China, and a cringe-inducing amount of heavily compressed pop everywhere.
I’ve listened to a lot of Internet radio, but hop-skipping between international stations like this is a more curious experience. There’s nothing but static in Somalia and several points across Mexico and Africa — which feels all too appropriate, given the roiling state of international relations. Surrealism has become our daily reality. Out of stubborn habit, I search for music to connect me to something recognizably and warmly human.
First I catch a couple bars of the Rolling Stones from here in Los Angeles; pass over R&B and Christian pop stations from South Jersey beach towns; then recognize George Strait’s twang from Conch Country in Key West. An upward stroke of my keypad, and I’m on Praia da Vitória, a vulnerable mid-Atlantic speck in the Azores, listening to Danish popster Lukas Graham; then in Brest, France, where Sade’s smooth as ever. Hip-hop’s busting out of Inverness, Scotland; Def Leppard’s rocking Kilkenny, Ireland; and somewhere between I encounter a Gaelic talk show where the only word I understand is “Trump.”
Another touch of the keypad and I’m in Dakar, Senegal; some of its melodramatic pop shows come in more clearly than terrestrial stations I can drive to on the other side of LA. I nod my head to West African pan pipe. In Damascus, traditional oud-and-violin balladry cuts to a Syrian reggae-rock hybrid. It’s good music; wish I understood the lyrics. Tunisia’s dialed into Ace of Base; Adam Levine’s singing “Locked Away” with R. City in Oman; Journey and Yes are rocking Saudi Arabia.
A Pakistani station broadcasts Union J’s “Tonight (We Live Forever)”; last night it was airing heavy metal, which for some reason surprised me. But how much do I really understand about life there? I expect heavy metal from Botswana’s healthy metal scene, but no signal’s discernible on that section of the map. I could swear gospel singers in Zimbabwe are calling out “Say cheese” until they break into “Jesus, I love you.” I linger over Karachi to savor Sufi qawwali, some of the most affecting devotional singing on the planet.
The most hopeful sounds I find are Alicia Keys’ “No One” (Jamaica), the Beatles’ “Let It Be” (France), and Persian classical music that filled the room with melodic beauty last night. Searching for that station again as I scroll across this digital globe, I initially find nothing — not even static. I try again later and voices bubble out of the laptop speaker, but if I want bickering I can listen to domestic news. I click on another Iranian station and there it is: the distinctive tone of a solo ney, aka Middle Eastern flute. Wonder how it would sound in dialogue with an all-American Dobro?