Everyone sings. And everyone sings about love and hormones. We sing to tell stories, praise heroes, make work easier, bring rain, protest, pray, express sadness and loneliness and more. And just for the fun of it. Everybody dances, too, usually helped by drummers, some kind of flute and something with strings.

Music has been a lifelong passion for me, including music from other places. I have read theories about how music works its magic — one of life’s nicer mysteries — and concluded that no one knows how it happens. It just does, everywhere — in remote villages and fancy halls, through lousy speakers or expensive headphones. And best of all, in person.

When music comes from a distant culture it can take time to become comfortable with it. Like learning a language, “foreign” music has a language also. Patience and a cold beer can help. The payoff comes when we have that moment that most of us know, when a new song gives us its first rush. When it happens with music that was, until then, strange and even unpleasant, you have just passed through a door into another culture in a pure, unselfconscious and genuine way.

In these columns I want to tell you about some of the music that has given me such moments. Sometimes it happened easily, but more often it took time, particularly when the music was very different from what I was used to. I will pay special attention to music from places where Peace Corps Volunteers have served, but also from other countries, including the US, because music crosses borders all the time, is creatively messed with and sometimes comes home in disguise.

I was with the Peace Corps staff in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968 — a time when Ethiopian music was changing radically. The Imperial Bodyguard and the National Police had dance bands that played western instruments and the radio was making stars out of their lead singers. By the late 1960s the music scene in Addis Ababa had blossomed into what is now remembered as a “golden age” that lasted well into the 1970s, heavily influenced by soul music from the US. Otis Redding was big at the hippest disco in Addis, the Sheba Club, before most Americans had heard of him.

A big favorite in those years was Mahmoud Ahmed, who sang with the Bodyguard band and who is enjoying unexpected celebrity in New York and London as he nears 70. There’s also a buzz about others from that time, like Alemayehu Eshete and Tilahun Gessesse. Aster Aweke, a generation younger, is an established world music star with an extraordinary voice, somewhat less traditional but unmistakably Ethiopian. Unlike the others, she is still in her creative prime and continues to record new material. During the years of the Marxist Derg regime (1974–1991) a lot of musicians and singers fled to the US, Canada and Europe and stayed. The old stars are still hugely popular both at home and away, and the biggest, like Mahmoud, can fill halls anywhere in the Ethiopian diaspora.

Good CD collections are easy to find online, if not always in shops. A place to start is the Ethiopiques series, Volume 1: “The Golden Years of Ethiopian Music.” Mahmoud has several CDs in the series. I like “Ere Mela Mela,” in Ethiopiques Volume 7. Something quite different is Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974, in Ethiopiques Vol. 4, that includes the instrumental music of Mulatu Astatke, the first African student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Along the way he played with Duke Ellington, was in a Latin band, had a Fellowship at Harvard and now has a Residency at MIT (the one in Cambridge, Mass, not the Makele Institute of Technology in Ethiopia). His music was all over the soundtrack of the Bill Murray film “Broken Flowers” a few years ago. Despite his promiscuous past, Mulatu’s music is immediately recognizable as Ethiopian. If you are new to Ethiopian music, the best approach is to play one of these CDs over and over. If it doesn’t make you crazy it will turn you into a fan. It works for me more often than not, if I persevere.

Aster Aweke, sometimes called the Aretha Franklin of Africa because of the power of her voice rather than her singing style, has two albums from the early 1990s that attracted attention, Aster and Kabu. They are harder to find than the Ethiopiques series, on which she isn’t well represented. It’s the familiar story of friction between promoters and performers. Aster released Fikre in 2006. It’s easier to find, but her early recordings are what her fame is based on.

There’s so much music and so little time that I suggest trying music that people you know already enjoy. You, dear readers, certainly love music that many of us haven’t heard. I invite you to share your foreign favorites, particularly (but not only) music you got to know in-country as a PCV. Send the name of the musician(s), the songs/performances, the album names if possible, and anything else you that want to add. I will try to track it down. I’m often amazed by what is available on CDs. Even music that was recorded in a galaxy far, far away has probably been reissued by a fan in Slovenia or Wales and is waiting, shrink-wrapped and dusty, near the cash register in a cafe on State Rte 304.

— Shlomo Bachrach