One of my favorite columns from my stint writing the print version of Post No Bills was a list of some of the local shops that sell ethnic music. Most of the places I covered weren’t record stores but rather neighborhood groceries, video stores, or gift shops that catered to specific communities, whether Arabic or Indian or Greek or African. Back then it wasn’t so hard to find international music in traditional record stores–in particular, the old Tower Records downtown, which inherited much of its initial stock from the Rose Records that had previously occupied its space–but things are very bleak these days in Chicago’s brick-and-mortar stores. Fortunately it’s never been so easy and affordable to buy recordings from every corner of the globe online. Soon I hope to update my decade-old list of local music shops, but for now I thought I’d run a brief series about some of my favorite mail-order sources for international sounds. I’ll offer a new list every week or so over the next month.

Tulumba sells all kinds of Turkish products, from jewelry to food to books. The site’s music selection is exceptional, with a very deep catalog that makes room for contemporary pop, Turkish classical, Kurdish and Laz styles, Romani traditions, electronica–you name it. As with just about every outlet mentioned here, if you don’t know what you’re looking for the Web site won’t help you much–the only way to tell what’s on a particular disc are the lo-fi sound samples–but the prices are low enough that experimenting won’t bankrupt you.

Maqam is a Chicago-based company offering a good, low-priced selection of contemporary pop from the Arab world, as well as some instruments (need a keyboard that uses Middle Eastern scales?) and DVDs. They have a decent variety of more traditional music from the area also, but the focus is on the shiny, dance-oriented product churned out in Egypt, Lebanon, and other music centers. You can browse using country of origin or style.

Ketab focuses on all kinds of stuff from Iran–books, gifts, DVDs, Farsi software–and offers various community services in Los Angeles, where the company is based. But it also stocks a wide array of Persian classical and Iranian folk and popular music at low prices. Navigating the site without reading Farsi can be taxing, but last month when I was trying to figure out if the Dastan Ensemble had any new material, Ketab came through for me.

Today’s playlist:

Wingy Manone & His Orchestra, 1927-1934 (Chronological Classics)
Carmen Costa, Carmen Costa (Warner Music Brasil)
Michael Blake Sextet, Amor de Cosmos (Songlines)
Paul Motian, Time and Time Again (ECM)
Workshop, Es Liebt Dich und Deine Körperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter (Blue Chopsticks)