Readers recommend playlist: songs about Asian cities

This week a reader takes us for a bustling tour of Asian towns through music from Eartha Kitt, Robyn, Cornershop and Ryuichi Sakamoto

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of suggestions on last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

The continent of Asia is where cities began, ancient settlements such as Jericho, Ur and Çatal Hüyük were the first places people got together to moan about the traffic, their neighbours and housing prices. Let’s take a journey to visit a few of the modern cities of Asia – as seen through the music you’ve recommended.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

We start of just over the Bosphorus from central Istanbul, in the suburb of Üsküdar (or Uska Dara, as the song title has it). Eartha Kitt’s version of a traditional Turkish folk song kicks us off in a suitable manner, but rather overstates the exoticism of what is now a low-key suburb of the metropolis.

Dirty Sanchez, an electroclash band from LA, cover a multitude of Asian cliches in Youth in Asia, from Hello Kitty to Kabuki, celebrating hip subcultures such as “The kids in Siagon / The punks in Tiawan / Goths in Kyoto”, and various others.

Next Rachid Taha takes us to Saudi Arabia, specifically Medina, rich with contemporary Arabic sounds and fabulous drumming. This reminds me of Algerian rai music in it’s use of traditional sounds coupled with modern technology.

We don’t get many Azerbaijani tunes in this series, so let’s give it up for Ya Tosiba’s Baku Hipster, a dance tune with a nice feel to it. Most Asian countries have their own unique music scenes well worth investigating.

Robyn bids us a hearty hello as she raps blithely about things Asiatic, promising to “bust” our eardrums among other things: “I’m ‘a kick ass all the way to Hong Kong / Konichiwa Bitches from Beijing to Siagon”.

One of the great voices of Indian cinema next, as Mohammed Rafi takes us to Mumbai with Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan. Rafi is a one-man music factory who fully deserves a place in our list.

Cornershop wake us up early in northern India with 6am Jullandar Shere, which sounds older than it is.

Back home in Blighty, Sandie Shaw is fretting about what her lover is getting up to and hoping they hurry home from the many temptations of Tonight in Tokyo. A nice 60s pop number, even if the lyrics are a bit “of their time”.

Not many British or American bands visited east Asia in the 60s, which led to a development of lively local music scenes in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and many other places. The Reynettes sprang from Hong Kong’s “English pop” scene and sing of their home in Kowloon. This fine beat ballad incorporates parts of another hit, The Ding Dong Song, and a traditional Chinese New Year greeting for good measure.

Back to Tokyo, but with an artist hailing from the Ryukyu islands of Japan, we have an odd little number that seems to utilise an old Carter Family tune. Tsutomu Nakamoto & the Shakari Orchestra’s Tokyo Ballad shows how these islands were open to influences from all over the world, particularly America, after the second world war.

Also from Japan’s southernmost island chain comes the tune for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Okinawa Song. The unusual scale, the sound of the sanshin and unique vocal tone that features on much of the area’s music are very much part of its distinctive folklore.

Last, to Hanoi, in which La Grande Sophie finds the inspiration for a relaxed and laid-back little French pop number, perhaps appropriate given the city’s history.

Not all songs appear on the Spotify list as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 14 December. You have until 11pm on Monday 18 December to submit nominations.

Here is a reminder of some of the guidelines for readers recommend:


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