World Music Guide to Seattle

This report was made by Patty-Lynne Herlevi with additional information provided by Gypsy Cruz.

Also known as the "Emerald City," Seattle remains an enigma to many folks. Originally the home of Chief Seattle and his people, this city with its view of the Puget Sound and the Cascade mountain range often seems to be under the siege of a transformation process. However, some things have stayed the same and various arts festivals that were planted in the 1970’s such as Bumbershoot and Northwest Folklife Festival have endured the usual upheaval process. A few smaller record stores have shut their doors in recent years, the grunge years faded into oblivion while local jazz, folk and traditional artists have been moving into the forefront. The public radio station, KBCS (broadcast out of Bellevue Community College) has also grown in popularity with its solid public affairs programming mixed with traditional, jazz, folk, blues and other down to earth music programming.

Seattle boasts an array of traditional music performers that represent such diverse countries as Iran, Ireland, England, Sweden, Finland, Eastern Europe, Japan, China, India and various African nations. And traditional American music including blues, jazz, bluegrass, Cajun and Native American can also be found in this rainy city. If one knows where to look they can attend events featuring flamenco, folk dancing, fiddling, drumming as well as, blues, bluegrass and folk. And the best place to see these performers in action is over the Memorial Day weekend at the NW Folklife Festival.

International artists also make tour stops in Seattle, performing for other festivals including, Bumbershoot (Labor Day weekend), the Seattle International Children’s Festival, the UW World Music Series and the Earshot Jazz Festival. The major label acts often perform at the larger venues such as Paramount Theatre and Moore Theatre. Acts with a medium size following have performed at Century Ballroom, EMP, Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on the University of Washington campus and Town Hall. And lesser-known acts often show up at the Triple Door, the Tractor Tavern and various churches around town.

While it is getting more difficult to find obscure world music recordings or recordings distributed on smaller labels, Tower Records still carries a solid selection of world music titles. Smaller record stores such as Landing Records and Discs in the Roosevelt Neighborhood or Wall of Sound on Capitol Hill are worth checking out, for purchasing new and used world music recordings. The city also boasts a variety of musical instructors representing vast musical traditions as well as, an option to obtain a degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Washington.

For those who just wish to tune into a decent traditional music show, tune into KEXP’s Best Ambiance (music from the African continent) and WO’ Pop (electronic, pop and traditional world music). And also Daily Planet, Lunch with Folks and other traditional music shows on KBCS. One can find plenty of live world music performed by national, international and local artists that are usually listed on KEXP or KBCS web sites or the City Search site for Seattle. And for those folks that prefer deejays to live music, Seattle boasts a prominent dance club scene as well.

Booking Agents:

Alison Loerke, LLC represents world music artists. 12501 11th Avenue NW. Phone: +1 (206) 525-2425. E-mail:

Festivals & Events:

As far as I am concerned, the best festival or event that was produced in the Seattle area was WOMAD USA. The inaugural festival took place in 1998 and featured such diverse acts as Ravi Shankar, Lo’Jo, Billy Bragg and Yungchen Lhamo. The festival returned in 1999, 2000 and 2001. And over this brief period, a variety of stellar world music acts performed on the four stages that appeared in Redmond’s Marymoor Park. Sadly 2001 marked the last WOMAD festival produced in Seattle and the US due to the poor economy and draconian immigration policies. WOMAD USA is sorely missed and desperately needed during a time when people grapple with spreading peace in a nation bent on wartime politics.

However, other Seattle area annual festivals such as Bumbershoot, NW Folklife Festival, Seattle International Children’s Festival and Earshot Jazz as well as, the UW World Music Series have weathered a withering economy and paranoid US government policies. All of these festivals have managed to bring world music acts to Seattle audiences, although in some cases, the producers and programmers of these festivals have pulled of fetes that are nothing short of miraculous.

Currently produced by One Reel, the Bumbershoot (arts & culture) Festival started in 1971 by a group of unconventional artists. One Reel took over the stewardship role of the festival in the 1980’s and the festival went national with paid admission. It also lost its unconventional edge. The festival went global during the 1990’s and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1995. If you can afford it and crowds do not bother you, the festival does offer premiere world music performances that take place at Seattle Center over the Labor Day weekend. Address: Bumbershoot, PO Box 9750, 98109. Phone: +1 (206) 682-4386.

Earshot Jazz & Earshot Jazz Festival. Formed in 1984 and considered Seattle’s premiere jazz music festival, the organization also produces a monthly newsmagazine, provides educational programs as well as, special jazz-related projects. The organization presents nearly 100 concerts per year, including performances that take place at the annual festival. The 2003 festival featured Brazilian vocalist Virginia Rodrigues and 2004 Grammy Nominee Ghazal among an array of jazz performers.

The Northwest Folklife Festival is Seattle’s unofficial leap into summer, with four days of jam-packed excitement. Artists from the Pacific Northwest along with special guests from throughout the world create an ethnic extravaganza embracing music and dance performances, visual arts and folklore exhibits, hands-on ethnic children’s activities, symposia, dance and music workshops, crafts, food, imported goods, demonstrations of traditional arts, and more! (NW Folklife web site). Started in 1972, NW Folklife has been attracting diverse audiences and loyal volunteers ever since the festival’s inception into Seattle life. The festival is held at Seattle Center over the course of the Memorial Day weekend. Northwest Folklife Festival, 305 Harrison, 98109. Phone: +1 (206) 684-7300.

Seattle International Children’s Festival. It seems that every major city in the world produces children’s festivals and the one in Seattle will be presenting its 18th annual festival in 2004. While the festival mostly focuses on school groups, it presents a lineup of artists that appeal to children of all ages and backgrounds (including adults). The festival features world music acts along with circus and theatrical troupes, often bringing artists to Seattle (or the US) for the first time, as in the case with the Naxi Ancient Music Association, (2002). However, there is a downside to this festival. The bleachers (used for seating) are uncomfortable and take away from enjoyment of the diverse performances.

UW World Music Series. Presented at Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on the University of Washington campus, the UW World Music series began in 1989. Since that time the presenters have brought a variety of world music performers including, Yungchen Lhamo, Ensemble Tartit, Susana Baca, Throat Singers of Tuva, Cubanismo, Angelique Kidjo, Emil Zrihan and Burhan Ocal to their stage. Each year five world musical acts are brought to Seattle and some present workshops in local schools. Other series presented each year include President’s Piano, International Chamber Music and World Dance.

Musical instruments:

Bischofberger Violins, LTD. The violinmakers they carry are rare, old and modern violins, violas and cellos. Capital Hill, Phone: +1 (206) 324-3119.

Drum Exchange/Ed Hartman. This store carries a wide array of percussion instruments, some CDs and other necessities for drummers and percussionists. Ed Hartman offers drum lessons for aspiring musicians. Call the Drum Exchange for more information. 4501 Interlake N Suite 7, 98103. Phone: +1 (206) 545-3564.

Dusty Strings (Acoustic Music Shop). Located near the waterfront in the Fremont District, near cafes and bookstores is the infamous Dusty Strings. It’s easy to find with bluegrass music emanating from the store and spilling out onto the sidewalk. And once you head inside the store, you will find a vast array of guitars, mandolins, violins, banjos, harps, dulcimers, wind instruments and other goodies. The store also hosts workshops taught by local and touring musicians. 3406 Fremont Ave N, 98109. Phone: +1 (206) 634-1662.

The Folk Store, 5210 Roosevelt Way NE, 98105. Phone: +1 (206) 524-1110.

Fremont Drum Shop, 900 N 34th Street, 98103. Phone: +1 (206) 632-1096.

Guitar Emporium. Seattle’s Acoustic Marketplac. This store offers instruction, repairs and trades. And carries various lines of acoustic guitars, along with mandolins, banjos and acoustic upright basses. 5349 Ballard Avenue NW. Phone: +1 (206) 783-7607.

Lark in the Morning Musique Shoppe. Rare and unusual instruments of the world including, early music, antiques, and instruments from many cultures including, Ireland, China, India, Scandinavia, Scotland, Frances, Andes, Turkey and Mexico. Venturing into this shop is a fun excursion even if you do not play a musical instrument. 1411 First Avenue (next to Pike’s Place Market), 98101. Phone: +1 (206) 623-3440.

Petosa Music could be called accordion central since that is the store’s specialty. They are located on the edge of the University District and the store has been offering quality and service since 1922. 313 NE 45th Street. Phone: +1 (206) 632-2700.

Violinmaker/Armin Barnett, 619 N 35th Street, #102, 98103.


Early Music Guild of Seattle
2366 Eastlake E, Phone: +1 (206) 325-7066

Ethnic Heritage Foundation
305 Harrison, Suite #326, Seattle, WA 98109. Phone: +1 (206) 443-1410

Ragamala seeks to foster the understanding and appreciation of the performing arts of South Asia including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. Ragamala does this through arranging concerts, lectures in Washington State.

Seattle Chinese Art & Music Association
3613 13th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98144.

Seattle Folklore Society
P O Box 30141, Seattle, WA 98103, Phone: +1 (206) 528-8546.

Seattle NW Zydeco Association
5311 Wallingford Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103.

Skandia Folkdance Society
Phone: +1 (206) 784-7470.

Skandia Music Foundation
G. E. Tracie Music Library
C/O Nordic Heritage Museum, 3014 NW 67, Seattle, WA 98117. Phone: +1 (206) 789-5708.


One Reel are the producers of Bumbershoot, Summer Nights at the Pier, Teatro Zinzanni and LODO Music Festival. 1725 Westlake Avenue N, Suite #202, 98109. Contact: Reenie Duff.



Seattle Experience Music Project
2901 3rd Avenue, #400, 98121. Contact: Senior Curator, Jim Fricke. Phone: +1 (206) 262-3122. E-mail:

Radio Stations:

While the airwaves are cluttered with corporate owned radio stations, community radio flourishes in Seattle. I used to be a loyal listener of KEXP 90.3 FM (formerly KCMU) until I heard that billionaire Paul Allen is affiliated with the station due to a deal he made with the University of Washington. (See I have since switched to KBCS. When I listened to KEXP, alternative rock, lounge, no depression country, hip-hop and electronica were in rotation with a few world music artists thrown in during their daily schedule. Specialty shows Wo’ Pop and Best Ambiance feature world music.

KBCS 91.3 FM features a nice balance of public affairs programming and traditional music, jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass and other genres. I am especially fond of an afternoon show called the Daily Planet (formerly Roots & Branches) which features music from around the world as well as, features interviews with local musicians and touring acts. The station boasts creative volunteer deejays that dish up innovative programming on a daily basis.

Both KEXP and KBCS can be streamed online.

Record Labels:

Imagina Records is a small independent label that is committed to supporting quality music from different traditions, cultures and regions from around the globe, with an emphasis on music from Russia and Central Asia. 2545 Warren Avenue N, 98109.

Record Stores:

Some of the larger record stores such as Tower Records and Borders Books, Music & Café carry some of the popular world music titles. While some of the smaller stores, carry a smaller selection of world music titles that include releases from smaller labels and used CDs. Other types of specialty music from India, other parts of Asia, Africa and Mexico can be found at specialty folk stores, cash & carry stores and in Seattle’s International District. Most Seattle neighborhoods have at least one record store and usually ones that cater to the tastes of their particular district. I am only listing a handful of stores here that I know carry world music titles.

Borders Books, Music & Café
1501 4th Avenue (downtown), Phone: +1 (206) 622-6799

Landing Records Discs & Tapes
6319 Roosevelt Way NE (Roosevelt neighborhood), Phone: +1 (206) 524-5747

(Carries new and used titles).

Tower Records (I have only checked out the Mercer Store’s selection of world music)
500 Mercer, Phone: +1 (206) 283-4456

4518 University Way NE, Phone: +1 (206) 632-1187

University Bookstore
4326 University Way NE, (Near the University of Washington main campus), Phone: +1 (206) 634-3400

Wall of Sound
315 E Pike Street, Phone: +1 (206) 441-9880


Cornish College of the Arts. The Music Department curriculum leads to a Bachelor of Music degree in three focus areas: Composition, Instrumental Performance, and Vocal Performance, with six areas of concentration: Jazz Studies, Classical Music Performance, Performance-Composition, World Music, Opera-Music Theater, and Electro-Acoustic Music/New Media. 1000 Lenora Street, Phone: +1 (206) 323-1400, 1-800-726-ARTS.

The School of Music at the University of Washington is a comprehensive professional school offering both performance and research-oriented degree programs. There are over 500 music majors pursuing the following degrees: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, the concurrent Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Music, Master of Arts, Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy. In addition, many students who are not majors take private instruction or participate in an ensemble for their own enjoyment. University of Washington School of Music, Box 353450, Seattle, WA 98195. Phone: +1 (206) 543-1201.

University of Washington Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology programs at the University of Washington feature an integrated interdisciplinary approach to the study of music and culture. Our faculty are members of both the School of Music and the Anthropology Department; and our students are able to combine studies in both departments with options selected from other disciplines and area studies programs in the university. The B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs combine academic coursework in these disciplines with firsthand musical experience in individual lessons and ensembles, taught by leading performers from the world’s musical traditions who join us each year as artists in residence. UW School of Music.

Ti Ti Tábor is an annual Hungarian Music and Dance Camp that takes place on Raft Island. They have been featuring the band Duvo for the past six or seven years. Ti Ti Tábor, c/o Karl Pelkan, 6021 – 37th Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98126-3015.


No smoking venues *

Century Ballroom *

This elegant ballroom features a 2000 square dance floor, chandeliers and is located in the historic Odd Fellows Hall on Capitol Hill. A variety of touring groups including Lo’Jo, Susana Baca, Paris Combo, Les Yeux Noirs and numerous acts have performed in this no smoking venue. The Century Ballroom has also hosts live deejay talent, salsa dancing and other music-related events. 915 E Pine Street, 2nd Floor. Phone: +1 (206) 324-7263.

Meany Hall for the Performing Arts*

This venue hosts the UW World Music Series and other performing arts events (see festivals and events). University of Washington campus.

The Moore Theatre*

Bigger name world music acts have performed in this historical theatre. The acoustics are reasonable, but parking in this part of downtown Seattle can be a real hassle. 1932 2nd Avenue (near the infamous Pike’s Place Market). Phone: +1 (206) 467-5510

The Paramount Theatre*

This historic theatre mostly host Broadway musicals, dance performances and some of the better-known world music acts. Tickets to events at this venue can be a bit pricey. 911 Pine Street. Phone: +1 (206) 467-5510

The Showbox

This is mostly an alternative rock venue, but occasionally a world music act performs at the venue. However, it’s situated in one of the worse street corners in downtown Seattle and near strip clubs and other unsavory business dealings. First & Pike (near Pike’s Place Market). Phone: +1 (206) 628-3151.

Town Hall*

This is a community venue and it hosts both public forums and music events. A variety of world music and traditional acts have performed at this historic venue, situated on the edge of downtown and Capitol Hill. Corner of 8th and Seneca. Phone: +1 (206) 652-4255

The Tractor Tavern. This tavern is in downtown Ballard, a funky area that is just northwest of Seattle’s downtown district. A variety of local musicians and touring musicians representing a variety of genres perform at this venue. 5213 Ballard Avenue NW. Phone: +1 (206) 789-3599.

Triple Door. Located in Seattle’s Financial District, downtown, this tavern features a variety of music acts. However, I have never visited the tavern (I prefer non-smoking venues) so I can comment no further on the Triple Door. 216 Union Street. Phone: +1 (206) 838-4333.

Kolbeh Persian Restaurant sometimes presents Persian music performances. Kolbeh Persian Restaurant, 1956 1st Avenue S, Seattle, WA 98134-1406. Phone: (206) 224-9999.

Author: cranky crow