The beats of the globe

For many people, world music is only as old as Paul Simon's 1986 album, Graceland, but it has always been out there. In recent years, those fed up of seeing this year's latest fad at expensive UK festivals have started heading overseas in search of alternative, authentic musical culture.

"World music" is a hotly disputed term, but at its best it's music rooted deeply in ethnic or local culture. Far from being a niche sub-genre, it encompasses all manner of rocking fusions. While it's relatively easy to travel independently to some countries and to major music festivals around the globe, joining a guided tour means you can go to small provincial festivals, forget the logistics and focus on the music. And, if you can't time your trip to coincide with a festival, you can always hop down to Lisbon for a fado-themed weekend, to Santiago in Cuba to get an insight on the son-music scene or InterRail your way around the Gypsy music scenes in the Balkans.

Riffs at the Riff

In September or October Jodhpur's Marwar full-moon harvest festival incorporates a series of free concerts. Running in tandem is the acclaimed Rajasthan International Folk Festival (Riff), which this year runs from 26-30 October (jodhpurfolkfestival.org). It features everything from traditional folk performances to club nights. Original Travel (020-7978 7333; originaltravel.co.uk) combines the festival with a 10-day luxury group tour of Rajasthan, including Agra, from £3,250 per person including flights, accommodation and festival pass. Departs 20 October.

World travel with the specialists

The launch of Songlines Music Travel in 2008raised the bar for music-themed trips in the range of destinations offered and the level of expertise. Numbers are limited to a maximum of 20 per group and specialist writers lead them. This year, the company has trips to Serbia, Lisbon, Cuba, Mali and Senegal, among others, and has just announced a new Jamaican 10-day Caribbean Vibrations tour, departing 2 January 2013. It includes the Maroon Festival in Accompong and visits to Kingston's reggae landmarks. The price of £1,375 per person includes all accommodation but not flights (020-8505 2582; songlines.co.uk/music-travel).

Foreign music at home

You don't have to fly half-way around the world to hear great music. The UK has a superb folk scene and is one of the global hubs for world music. Larmer Tree (larmertreefestival.co.uk, 11-15 July) near Salisbury has six stages for around 70 artists including Amadou and Mariam and Fatoumata Diawara (one-day pass from £36). Big Tent (bigtentfestival.co.uk, 21-22 July) in Fife this year features gigs by Salsa Celtica, Sufi musician Ilhan Barutcu and The Proclaimers (one-day pass from £30, children under 16 free). Joyful Noise (joyfulnoise.co.uk, 14-29 September) in London, showcases mainly African music with concerts by the Congo Allstars and Ska Cubano.

Womad around the world

The World of Music, Arts & Dance, better known as Womad (womad.org), celebrates its 30th birthday this year. It was founded by Peter Gabriel and since he first took the stage in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, with Simple Minds and Echo & The Bunnymen it has become a byword for top-quality world music. The event is now held at Charlton Park in Wiltshire. This year it takes place 27-29 July (one-day ticket £65). The brand has now spread to Adelaide and New Zealand, where events take place in March. Austravel (0800 988 4834, austravel.com) can arrange a five-night trip for 2013's Womadelaide (8-11 March), from £1,429, including flights from Heathrow and five-star accommodation, departing 6 March.

The full Brazilian

Daunted by all that booty-shaking at the Carnival? Then consider volunteering for one of Traveller Worldwide's (01903 502595; travellersworldwide.com) projects and combine voluntary work with lessons given by local musicians. Staff will also point you towards the best places for live music. Prices from £695 per person include accommodation and breakfast but not international flights.

Tango: go local

Some celebrated music scenes have been sanitised and packaged for coach tours. That's very much the case with tango in Buenos Aires, where foreign visitors are herded into cheesy extravaganzas and charged over the odds for a mediocre experience. But tango can serve to open up the history and subcultures of Buenos Aires, especially if you join one of the group tours offered by Eternautas. Its Hidden South Tour explores forgotten neighbourhoods and shows tango's relationship with history and immigration; from £26 per person (00 54 11 5031 9916; eternautas.com).

To the source: West Africa

Music aficionados reserve special admiration for West Africa. From Senegal to Benin to Ghana there's an incredibly diverse range of traditions and rhythms. Anyone who has listened to Fela Kuti or Koo Nimu will recognise deep within the source of American blues, rock and bluegrass. West Africa Discovery (westafricadiscovery.co.uk) runs a 12-day Benin, Ghana and Togo cultural festival tour with full board, from £1,350, excluding flights. Departures in January and December 2013.

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