London’s world music scene is overflowing with local and international talent. There’s music from just about every corner of the world in this massive city.
This post is your guide to finding world music gigs in London.
Whenever I visit London, I spend a lot of my nights going to gigs. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the best venues to find global music.
Being a huge cosmopolitan hub, it’s not surprising that London has an amazing world music scene. There are plenty of gigs every night of the week, regular and occasional jam sessions and festivals throughout the year.
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African music is very popular on this scene, as is Balkan music and you’ll easily find music from Asia, the Middle East, South and Central America and other places. The choice is endless.
Side note: I’m aware that the term “world music” is not really relevant these days, but it’s still being widely used to describe the styles of music I’m writing about in this post, so I use it here simply for convenience.
If you’re visiting London and want to enjoy all that talent, check the events at the venues on the following list:
A new venue opened in 2017 with a great promise to be a home for music lovers.
I happened to be in London just in time for the 3-day opening fest, that included a very nice mix of musical styles – Balkan, Klezmer, African, Reggae, Italian, Nepalese and even Blues…
The location is in North East London, and is quite easy to reach as it’s a short walk from both Seven Sisters Underground station and South Tottenham Overground station.
Located in Camden Town, this intimate space is one of London’s most popular folk music venues. It’s been around since 2005 and has maintained a loyal following and a reputation for hosting excellent musical acts.
There’s music every night of the week covering all types of folk music from around the world, as well as traditional English folk, jazz and fusion.
Tickets are generally around £10 and they often sell out quickly, so book ahead.
This music club above a cinema is a cool space with a dance floor, a bar and a lovely balcony.
It hosts live music shows and DJ nights in a large range of styles – African, Gypsy, Brazilian, Reggae, Blues and lots more. Almost any style is catered for.
Many of the events are free to enter or very affordable.
If you’re in London on the first Wednesday of the month, head there for Gypsy Nights – a quality blend of music from different parts of the world plus jazz fusion.
A wonderful venue hosting an interesting variety of cultural events. This is the place to find Middle Eastern music, all sorts of African music, Jazz fusion, music from Latin America, Flamenco and so much more. They also host festivals dedicated to music from different regions of the world.
This is more of a high end venue with a lot of international artists, so and ticket prices can be high, though there are occasional free events too.
The location is in East London, a couple of minutes from Shoreditch High Street station.
A pub near Kings Cross Station that hosts regular jam sessions and music shows.
I first discovered it through the Eastern European jam session that takes place every second Thursday of the month. You can bring your instrument and join the musicians, or find a table and watch.
The Harrison also hosts a Klezmer, Irish music and Bluegrass jam sessions on a regular basis. Music shows range in style with a lot of representation for English and American folk.
School of Oriental and African Studies
This school, better known as SOAS, is part of the University of London. It has a large music department, including an ethnomusicology degree, which makes it a rather unique place to explore musical traditions. Here are some of them:
SOAS Rebetiko Band – Performing mostly Greek music in London and in Greece.
SOAS Kurdish Band – Playing Kurdish music concerts around London. If you’re in London in summer, check out the London Festival of Kurdish music at SOAS.
SOAS Iranian band – Playing music from Iran and neighbouring countries.
The Jewish Music Institute – Organising a range of events throughout the year related to Jewish musical traditions. One of these is Klezmer in the Park, an annual one-day festival with a general Klezmer theme and some interesting world music fusion.
Another annual event is Klezfest, a Klezmer festival, with master classes, seminars, jam sessions and concerts that are often sold out.
A large pub in Brixton with a big beer garden, hosting live shows and parties.
They have music shows most nights of the week. The musical styles are pretty diverse – Latin, Jamaican, Balkan, African and some rock-fusion too.
If you’re into dancing, this is a great place to go for high energy parties at the weekend with live bands and DJs.
A friendly pub in Clapton, East London, hosting regular live music nights and jam sessions.
Musical styles vary, with a monthly global folk open mic to look out for, plus jazz, blues, indie, singer-songwriters and lots more.
The Magic Garden
You can find a wide selection on international music here, from Celtic sessions to Gypsy music, plus Blues, Ska, Swing, open mic nights and more.
Gigs are free on some weekdays and inexpensive at weekends.
The location is in Battersea, South West London.
Babel Art House
This Turkish owned restaurant in Stoke Newington in East London hosts music events some nights of the week. The atmosphere is very friendly and informal, and there’s some space to dance if you like.
Jam in a Jar
A cool restaurant and bar in North East London that hosts live music gigs and jam sessions.
Music genres are diverse and include Balkan, Latin, African, Flamenco, Turkish, fusion folk and many more.
Events are free and the place gets full quite quickly, so you want to get there early and find a table close to the stage.
The location is a short walk from Turpike Lane Underground station.
You are likely to find music from just about anywhere in the world at this brilliant cultural centre. Look out for the festivals that feature specific styles, countries or regions of the world, such as Nordic music, music from China or Indian classical music. Southbank Centre also has its own Javanese percussion orchestra (gamelan).
Many of the events are free. If there’s a show you really don’t want to miss, arrive as early as you can and take your place close to the stage. Some free shows are extremely popular.
The location is near Waterloo Underground station and next to the London Eye.
More World Music in London in Changing Locations
Woodburner: A very popular series of concerts that’s well worth following if you’re about to visit London. The locations vary from time to time and can be big party venues or small intimate ones. The artists also vary from unknown acts to more established ones. There’s a good mix of musical genres, with folk music from many different countries represented.
Sofrito: If you’re into tropical rhythms, this collective runs great parties plus live shows in different locations.
Soundcrash: Though they focus more on quality electronic music, Soundcrash also run world music events from time to time that are worth checking out.
Arts Canteen: For lovers of Arabic music, Arts Canteen runs music events featuring artists from the Arab world at different locations around London and the UK.
Passing Clouds Forever: A series of events run by the team behind what used to be one of the best venues in London, Passing Clouds. Sadly, the venue shut down as its building had been sold, but the team are still organising events at various locations, some of which are secret shows for members only.
Where to Find More Listings
“A World In London” is a weekly radio show hosted twice weekly by DJ Ritu. It’s broadcast live on Weds, 4.00-5.00pm on SOAS Radio and the second show goes out 6.30 – 7.30 on Resonance Radio . Different live music guests are on each show and there’s always a listings guide to upcoming music events.
Songlines – A music magazine with a gig guide on its site with listings of shows around the UK.
World Music in London – A Facebook page that shares world music events in London.
Rhythm Passport – The magazine’s website has a What’s On section searchable by genre location, artist and venue.
Hope you find this information useful! Though the list is quite long, it isn’t comprehensive. It mostly features my personal favourites. I will be updating it from time to time, so feel free to tweet me @brightnomad with your recommendations.
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