To think of Essos is to think of the exotic: spicy food, garish clothing, bizarre customs, and of course alien music. To have been in any of the Free Cities is to know about how much the senses can be overwhelmed by the unfamiliar, and beyond the free cities lie even more peculiar cultures that seem to discourage any outsider to examine them any closer. But if one dares to look into these cultures the mysticism that once surrounded their customs becomes just as natural as any other westerosi custom. To know about the history of and culture of Valyria is to understand about half the cultures of Essos. It is easy to see why all the music of the Free Cities seems to emanate from the same principles and to follow the same traditions: from the conservative volantine to the forward-looking braavosi the principles of valyrian music are still present after thousands of years. To a lesser extent even the merchant cities of Slaver’s Bay also share in the same principles as right after the valyrian conquered the ghiscari Empire the remaining elites adopted valyrian music as a way to gain the favor of their new rulers, and thus most of the ghiscari music receded until almost disappearing. Only after the recent fall of Valyria there has been a resurgence of traditional ghiscari music that finds itself at odds with the foreign but established valyrian music: it is a battle fought by musicians at court and buskers the streets the end of which we won’t see for still a long time. Further East the city of Qaarth stands as the only remnant of an empire that claims to have started as the same time as the continent itself. Even if this can be dismissed as a spurious claim, their music reflects what one would expect to find in an old tradition that hasn’t received much influence from the outside: an old and antiquated system, limited by tradition and endlessly patched, but capable of immense depth and richness. Outside of big city walls the nomadic peoples of Essos also have their music. The lhazareen shepherds have what can only be described as an ancient musical language based on flute tones that allows them to communicate with each other in the vast open areas of Lhazar. The Dothraki, on the other hand, seem to have very little in the melodic tradition and rely mostly on drums to produce their music. This might mislead the reader to conceive of their music as primitive repetitive drone but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth, as their drumming is by far one of the most complex systems I have so far seen in Westeros and Essos.
The chapters dedicated to the music of Essos are of singular difficulty, for in a few years a man alone cannot be try to assimilate and understand not one musical culture, but a dozen, all of them foreign to him at the beginning of his journey. For this reason, I prolonged my stay in Essos for as long as I could, tried to take as many notes, and collected as many instruments as possible. I will still fall short of detailing the musical cultures of Essos in as much depth as their westerosi counterpart, but in time I hope to delve deeper into their study and expand these chapter. My journey through Essos started departing the kingdom of the North and sailing to Braavos. And I have to admit I was woefully under-prepared for I had initially only intended to stay on the west coast and visit the Free Cities, but on my sailing down the coast an opportunity to follow a Dothraki khalasar presented itself. Turning down the offer would have been the sensible choice had it not been for the mesmerizing sound of their drumming outside the walls of Pentos so I gave up my cabin on the ship and having procured myself a modest horse I followed the khalasar into Essos. We visited Norvos and Qohor, then the Dothraki sea and after a long year we arrived at slaver’s Bay. I visited the cities of Mereen, Yunkai, and Astapor and remained in the vicinity of Slaver’s Bay for a long time until I ventured into Lhazar with a tribe of shepherds. Having reached this far I then proceeded to Qaarth where I spent more than 3 years before I initiated the return home by way of Volantis, Lys, and Tyrosh.