the songs of the cities

When exploring a new place, a new city, a new part of your own city… you face a moment of anticipation, of anxiety. It is a moment of possibility. It is a moment where anything can happen.


The moment you arrive to that place you immediately start defining that place, that entity, that brand. It is defined through the interpretation of cues you get from it, through the previously acquired knowledge and through all the previous places and brands you have encountered. That moment of definition with a city of course takes much longer than trying to define a building, a brand experience or a more contained public area. A city is layers. It divulges itself slowly, progressively with the experiences which one acquires. Each of us understands these layers through the framework that is familiar to them, easy for them to understand. Thus creating an individual painting that this experience represents. Collectively becoming an awe striking mosaic of colours and experiences.


But these experiences are not flat nor are they two dimensional. They are sensory and sensual. It is a complete emersion of all the sense that help define that experience. This experience can alter with the proportion of senses involved every time you go through that experience and how differently they get engaged at each time.


I personally experience a city through sound and music. With a multitude of notes which creates a unique harmony. Even through its definition this harmony changes with the vagrant moods.


New York runs to the tunes of improv jazz.. blended with the songs of troubadour singers like tom waits and leonard cohen
the metro chugs rhythmically, over, every, section, of, the, rails chug, chug, chug… punctuating the thoughts, penetrating the core, merging with your own heart. then comes the beeping of the trucks. non constant beep rising stringent above all others. the opening and closing of storefronts. the calling out of vendors in the village market. the chatter of people. people constantly talking, humming. through that comes a laugh. loud. contagious. short. new yorks sound is fueled by the sounds of people. of its people. a unique blend of everyone from around the world. New York speak is a mixture of all languages and accents and dialects. the surprise comes when nature joins the melody and a chirping sound of a bird takes over the space in little pocket parks. or the buzzing of the fireflies in the twilight of central park. or the seagulls screeching around the edges of the island.





Paris on the other hand is more melodious. paris sounds like the accordion that is so ubiquitous along its Seine. Paris sounds of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. Blend that with Aznavour and Brassens. Add a bit of Renaud, Goldman, Johnny, Pagny, Zaza etc etc etc. maybe summing it up Paris sounds like the restos du coeur. The brain child of Coluche has basically embodied the sound of Paris. It is distinctive and it is blended. When you are walking along the streets, into the small alleys and hidden paths, you don’t walk, but you glide, you float swept by the harmony and the melody. It is mute but it makes you sing. It makes you dance with the ambulances, with their distinctive sirens, counting the steps of your valse musette, and with the accordionists, violinists, cellists in the metro and the edge of the Seine.






Going to the old world of the middle east we head to Cairo where the sound is very very different. The sound of Cairo is punctuated five times a day by the call to prayer of the Mouazzins. Even though that is a call you hear in every muslim city around the world, the Mouazzins of Cairo are very distinctive. It is intense, it is personal. It is monotonous. It is penetrating. In one of the most inhabited cities of the world this call to prayer sounds more akin to a personal conversation between the Mouazzin and God. If you listen you can hear the answer in the moments, in the seconds of silence. This is actually the same characteristic you have of all the sounds of Cairo. They sound like individual conversations, call, songs that blend together in a uniform idiosyncratic conversation between the city and it’s inhabitants. It is a thick sound that is feels immersive, permeating. Cairo is not only about the religious harmonies. It’s vernacular sounds are just as omnipresent and engaging. The sounds of the flukas on the nile blaring pop music and neon light. the call of vendors. the honking. the incessant honking and cursing in the dense traffic. Even the honking is linguistic, with significance to each type of honk. the sound of the souks, the clicking of tea glasses….Om Kolthom and Abel Haleem, Amr Diab and many other embody the sound of Cairo. It is a sound that is melancholic, sad, languorous, yet energetic, old and makes you want to move your hips, strengthen your step as you walk to the steps of a balady, local peasant dance.







Each city has a sound. Each city has a voice in which it expresses itself. It is a interspersion of all different tones and notes unique to a city, it is one of its defining factors. Sometimes it misses a beat. Sometimes it raises it’s voice in protest. Most of the time it sings in celebration of life.

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27 Responses to the songs of the cities

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  4. Joe says:

    very nice blog Samar,

    do you think that the inhabitants way of walking differs from one city to another? or the way of wolking depends on every one or on the size of the city…?

    • Samar Hechaime says:

      Thank you Joe

      of course every city imposes its own rhythm of walking. cities like New York and London encourage a faster pace. it is more staccato and pronounced. Paris gets you to meander more and flow with it. Beirut makes you sway just a little bit more as you walk.

      the type of walking is different from one place to another as well. Beirut is not exactly a pedestrian city like the others mentioned but it is not completely a car city. walking distances are more or less confined to the 5 min walking radius. that is enhanced by the fact that there are no proper sidewalks, the terrain is more hilly and the drivers are all over the place. That limited walking manifests itself in the shoes we wear there. higher heels, more delicate shoes and thus the daintiness and the swaying as we walk.

      on the other hand London has a flatter terrain, but lots of flagstones and cobbled stones making your pace more determined especially on the smaller flagstones since if you sway on those you would definitely loose your balance and fall flat on your face, not exactly the most elegant thing you would want to go. The rhythm of life is well suited to that démarche. In London the beat is different and you move to it. Moving around mostly in a multi-modal transportation fashion warrants wider more grounded shoes, less delicate and more sensible.

      There are multiple factors that play into creating the rhythm and harmony of a city, from size, to scale, to physical attributes, population, history, culture, way of life, climate etc etc and those are what add to the complexity of the song of each. No factor is isolated and they all interplay to add to its unique experience which makes us adapt to it and play within it when we are immersed within it.

  5. Cristina Duran says:

    It is so true about the different sounds that each city has. As a person you get used to this sounds in cities or towns that you have lived, when for external reasons you have to move out, you see this changed, the difference specially will be between the big cities and the small ones. In my particular case I have an experience like it, for seven years I lived in Loja, a small city from Ecuador, then I had to move in to Guayaquil, where is now my permanent house.
    I remembered about Loja, known for its culture and lots of musicians, the blend of people I saw and shared was a complete change for me when I moved in to Guayaquil. In a big city like Guayaquil there’s a lot of noise, more traffic jam which in Loja you don’t have, even people is different, in Guayaquil distances are further, people vending food, flowers, cigarettes and candies. People here are more open mind, outgoing, funny and warm unlike Loja people is more educated, sweeter, intelligent, responsible and committed to their obligations. In consequence the sounds of the cities change according to the city you live and people decide where to live according to their tastes.

  6. Andrea Moreno Quevedo says:

    I believe that each place has its own essence, by this I mean that either if you live in a big city or in a small town you get used to it because it makes you who you are; it gives you your customs and makes you develop a sense of love and respect for it. I’ve always live in Guayaquil which is city in Ecuador and always seems to be in a hurry, people driving like crazy to get to their jobs or schools, the cries of street vendors on every corner, traffic jams and horn sounds are as common as breading, even though it’s hard to believe it I like it that way.
    I understand what you mean by saying that each city has its own sounds and sometimes very different from one to another, I’ve traveled a lot to the US and when I first did it I had a great culture shock , it was like you described it, I felt so anxious, full of curiosity and couldn’t wait to see what was behind each corner. In contrast of Guayaquil with cities such as Miami, Orlando or South Carolina, for me they seem to be more sophisticated but at the same time very active, for the first time I visited them I didn’t feel I was in a hurry, instead I feel like relaxed.
    But finally it all comes to one thing, you do what you love and you live where you feel you are part of.

  7. Hans von Buchwald says:

    I would definitely have to agree with you, every city has its own sounds, just as if every city had it’s own personality.
    I had this great experience when I went to Vienna. I went on vacation by myself with lots of expectations about this city because I knew how much culture this city had. Through my experience in Vienna the first few hours I got lost and that made me really upset but then I started to walk through this complex and multicultural city and I experienced the sounds. This combination of cosmopolitan surroundings and imperial monuments make this city a place filled with culture. Vienna is a city in which you can learn and feel the history just by walking through the streets. While you enjoy listening waltz, you can enjoy a delicious cup coffee and eat extraordinary “sacher torte” and enjoy of the indirect company of the people around you which are centered and polite. I would have to say that Vienna is a city in which you will enrich yourself with knowledge and experienecs that you will like to share and never forget.

  8. cristina parrales says:

    well, as we all know every city, or every place has it´s own identity or personality, every city is diferent from another. for example i lived for 2 years in miami, a city i compare with my home, both are similars, both have trafic, both have people walking in the downtown, both have latin american people. I really like miami and guayaquil; but for example i prefer guayaquil´s beaches because they are safer and even more beautiful, but the deal heere in guayaquil is the high prices i have to pay for jenas, t-shirts or even a movie, in fact miami as city is safer and more organized, that`s why i prefer it for long living time and even for funny nights you know you can go out knowing you`ll get bak safe. As i said it at the beginning every city is special for many reason, every palce has it own culture, history and people, we must respect it and even get involve with it, so we can know more about the places we visit.

  9. karen rosero says:

    when you visit a new country you feel excited you dont know what interesting thing you could find you felt emotion and that was happened to me when i visited Europe. When i went to europe i noticed that is different from my country by culture and there are things i would like to value, we need to be a bit more organic or be more aware about global warming. People in these country is worried about ecology so for that reason i think that we have to value that kind if things because it is benefit for us

  10. Silvia Toledo says:

    I totally agree with this respectful blogger because I have had the same feeling as Mr./Ms. Hechaime. A city, of any country, transmits a set of sensations, emotions and experiences together that can be mixed up in a simply song. I can say about many cities of my country, Ecuador; but from all of them I have chosen Bahía de Caráquez.
    I hadn´t even arrived and I yet needed to drive some kilometers but I could already feel it was the perfect place to rest. Up to town, the bright colors of its houses and apartments invaded me with peace. The smell of the salty sea made me smile and made feel thirsty inmediately. The movements of the green leaves from the palms and the huge trees were constantly pushing me to a long walk that never got me tired. Even cars danced around the corners, that appeared to be different every time you passed along them. The whole city can be compared to Salsa songs as these went slow at my ears when I first arrived at Bahía de Caráquez. Songs are good ways to express your inside. When you associate a city to a special song, you are telling of the way of living of its people and the way each thing moves in each space.

  11. Marco Gordon says:

    I liked this post. I dont know it it’s maybe because of the movies or the pictures we see oftenly, when we arrived to a new city or when we are contemplating a landscape, suddenly in our minds we listen so many types of sounds and combine them into a melody that just exist inside of us. The song of a city is unique, but that mixture of sounds brings memories to us, making us appreciate more that place.

  12. Octavio Córdova says:

    I really liked this post, specially how you compare and describe each city. I think is very interesting and you have good skills at writing.

    I was born and I live in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This is a wonderful city that has grown in the economical and turistic aspect for many years. Actually, Guayaquil is now consider the economical capital of Ecuador.

    In Guayaquil you can hear from the sounds of the birds in the morning to the screaming of people when our soccer teams are in an important game. For example in the “Clasico del Astillero”, which is Barcelona vs Emelec. Other thing you can hear in my city are cars when the traffic is full, and obviously some people on streets trying to sell some stuffs. I can’t leave behind the nightlife which is really good.

    I consider Guayaquil really attractive with kind, helpful and honest people. That’s why foreign people take a good impression of this city when they visit us.

    Octavio Córdova

    • Samar Hechaime says:

      Thank you Octavio. You are right, it is all these things put together that make the rhythm of our cities and they will be always the impression visitors and tourists will take when they visit
      Hopefully I will get to visit Guayaquil and hear its song.

  13. Stefanie Armendariz says:

    Each city has a sound, I totally agree with that. I’m from Guayaquil and I have lived here all my life, so I think the sound of Guayaquil is part of me. The sound of Guayaquil is a mixture of children laughing, cars beeping, women’s heels while waking, dogs barking, some music playing and believe it or not, I think you also can hear the sound of wind.
    I think the sound of a city depends on climatic stations too, for example in Guayaquil when it’s winter you can hear the rain and the steps of people waking fast to arrive wherever they want because it’s raining; winter is kind of silent and quiet. When it’s summer is totally different; you can hear people talking a lot in the street or people driving so fast, but is totally opposite to winter.
    The sound of a city is definitely one of the tinhgs that distinguish a city.

    • Samar Hechaime says:

      Thank you for such a beautiful description of Guayaquil Stephanie
      You are right, the songs and sounds of the city are not constant but they are evolving and ever-changing. This is what keeps a city’s beat interesting and fresh all the time. It keeps a certain rhythm which is characteristic to it, but changes its tune quite often to reflect its state of mind and that of its inhabitants.

  14. Patty Lopez says:

    The music is the best way to express ourselves, thats why each city has its own sound. It’s like a group of blended feelings, expressions, costums, beliefs coming together to be one and give an especial characteristic that is like an label or the first thing that you think when you hear the name or each city. The best way of showing this, is go to Guayaquil and Quito. Two so different cities in a same country, Ecuador. When you visit Guayaquil, you can hear loudly Julio Jaramillo, a relaxing melody that fight the stress and makes you want to go and eat an Encebollado or celebrate the passion of soccer screaming the goals of Emelec and Barcelona; you can hear the happiness in the people that are talking and the adrenaline of the people driving so fast. That is the best way to describe the melody of Guayaquil. However, Quito has a different melody. it is expressed by the Pasillo and the way that people try to warm themselves with a Canelazo joined with the laughter and emotion of the people while are playing 40; the car horns and the bus brakes in traffic. Those especial things can change completely the song of each city and makes it especial and differents even if they are in the same country.

  15. Ana Belén Aguilar says:

    I really believe that every city in this world has its own sound that makes it special and unique. A year ago I traveled to Europe and I can remember that every city had a sound and every time I heard it, it makes me imagine that I´m in one of it at that moment, feeling those emotions for being there. One of the cities I visited was Roma, and I rank it as noisy and a romantic city at once. Noisy because being a tourist town there will be many people speaking different languages, and as we know the Italians are terrible drivers they are always yelling at the car in front to go a bit faster, etc. Rome is also romantic, in the night you can listen to the musicians playing in the street, artistic events, couples walking, etc. I think the power that a sound has to make us remember a time lived is unique, because it has the ability to paint that place again, with the same intensity and with the same feelings with which they were once lived.

  16. Yahel Gilbert says:

    It´s true that each city has it´s own song. I live in Guayaquil – Ecuador and it is a beautiful city. The people that lives here are very loving and open to talk about anything. There are several museums that represent our history and how our ancestors fought for our freedom. For me the song that identifies Guayaquil is Guayaquileña by Julio Jaramillo. Guayaquil brings me peace, you always can hear the birds and see our river. You should that song, is very relaxing and at the same time it makes you dance.

  17. Pedro Bellolio says:

    My city sound, is a very peculiar sound.In Guayaquil, Ecuador, you can hear it in the nights, around 9:00 to 12:00 pm. At that hour, all the garbage trucks in the city starts to work, each garbage truck has a big and noisy speaker wich plays a repetitive tropical song, to advertise that in that moment you must take out the garbage. All the nights, all the weeks, at the same hour. It has become the city sound becuase, believe it or not, everyone in the city whistle or hum the “Puerto Limpio” song, trhough the young kids, the teenagers and the very old person. Everyone enjoy the time to take out the trash.
    Pd: the song name is ” Cancion de puerto limpo”, you can find it in youtube.

  18. Mafer Rizzo says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, i think that is original the way it describes the cities and causes a feeling of proud to the readers and instantly makes us think about our city.
    Guayaquil, my great and beautiful city, is warm and cozy; full of turism and hard-worker people. It has changed a lot, now it has more tourist attractions than before, its mayor has done very important and valuable projects for it.
    Daily people work hard to support their family, to give a good education to their children and to represent Guayaquil as it should be. The people of my city is cheerful and enjoy the soccer games, especially those in which play barcelona and emelec, the most famous teams.
    At the mornings we have to get up early because as every city it is full of traffic and we shouldn´t arrive late to school, university or job. For me Guayaquil is more beautiful at night, we can appreciate de lights along this. We go out a lot at night but more from thursday to saturday, we go to discotecs or bars with friends to have some fun.
    Also I can say that here we can find a lot of restaurants of any kind of food, it is a city rich in gastronomy.

  19. Maria Jose Tinoco says:

    Nice post! I really like it and I’m totally agree with you, I do believe that cities have their own song. Every city has something that talks a lot of each one, because of the culture, traditions of the people, the turism, etc. That’s why when I travel to other countries for me is beautiful and interesting, I see differents things, talk with people, I can visit many places and can I learn about the history of that city too.

    For me where I live is a nice place, even though we have some bad things, but it’s ok! Here people are warm-hearted and they’re open to talk with anybody. We have many things that represents us for example the music and the food.

  20. yahitsa molineros says:

    Every city is unique because of their culture and people. When I travel to other countries I feel so excited because I know that I’m going to learn something important that identifies that place from others. I’m from guayaquil but it’s really necessary to tell that I love USA ,people is different than in my city in the way how they think ,for example you can go out to shop in pajamas and nobody cares or you can dress whatever you want and it doesn’t matter if you look weird or crazy , but if you do that here in Guayaquil people start to talk about you. Definetely i would like to live over there.Of course my city has their own essence too;hard working people ,differents touristics places,open-minded people,music,traditional food,etc.Well exists a lot of things here that you can define at the instant you treat us .

  21. Mishelle Mora says:

    I’m agree with you every city has its own melody and when I say that every city has its own melody I refer to every city has its culture, languages ​​and music. we can also realize that people of every city is different and transmits melody, if we want to know the city really, we must begin by citizens.

  22. christian fierro says:

    I am agree with you,each city has a sound. Each city has a voice in which it expresses itself. I think that each city has his own costum and his people that make each city unique.I have the opportunity to travel to Atlanta Georgia for me is the best city that I had visited because in this place you can relax complete is something amazing as you can see the trees, the nature and all the things that have this city.I would like that you have the opportunity to go there because this place is a excellent city and you can have a good time there. In my case I don´t like too much the principal cities in my country like Guayaquil and QUITO because these places are really stress out and I prefer a town that I know I can live relax and calm down.

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