Niche it!
BobbyGs Info
World music

Music Sound

World music


Back | Home | Up

World music is, most generally, all the music in the world (Bohlman 2002, Nidel 2004, p.3). More specifically, the term is currently used to classify and market recordings of the many genres of non-western music which were previously described as "folk music" or "ethnic music". Succinctly, it can be described as "local music from out there" (fRoots magazine, quoted in N'Dour 2004, p.1), or "someone else's local music" (Songlines magazine). The academic study of world music is called ethnomusicology.



In essence, the term "world music" refers to any form of music that is not part of modern mainstream Western commercial popular music or classical music traditions, and which typically originates from outside the cultural sphere of Western Europe and the English-speaking nations. The term became current in the 1980s as a marketing/classificatory device in the media and the music industry, and it is generally used to classify any kind of "foreign" (i.e. non-Western) music.

In musical terms, "world music" can be roughly defined as music which uses distinctive ethnic scales, modes and musical inflections, and which is usually (though not always) performed on or accompanied by distinctive traditional ethnic instruments, such as the kora (African lute), the steel drum, the sitar or the digeridoo.

Most typically, the term "world music" has now replaced "folk music" as a shorthand description for the very broad range of recordings of traditional indigenous music and song from the so-called Third World countries.

Although it primarily describes traditional music, the world music genre also includes popular music from non-Western urban communities (e.g. South African "township" music) and non-European music forms that have been influenced by other "third world" musics (e.g. Afro-Cuban music), although Western-style popular song sourced from non-English-speaking countries in Western Europe (e.g. French pop music) would not generally be considered world music.

Examples of popular forms of world music include the various forms of non-European classical music (e.g. Japanese koto music and Hindstani raga music), eastern European folk music (e.g. the village music of Bulgaria) and the many forms of folk and tribal music of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Oceania and Central and South America.

World music is generally agreed to be traditional, folk or roots musics of any culture that is created and played by indigenous musicians or that is "closely informed or guided by indigenous music of the regions of their origin" (Nidel 2004, p.2).

The broad category of "world music" includes isolated forms of ethnic music from diverse geographical regions. These dissimilar strains of ethnic music are commonly categorized together by virtue of their indigenous roots. Over the last century, the invention of sound recording, low-cost international air travel and common access to global communication among artists and the general public has given rise to a related phenomenon called "cross-over" music.

Musicians from diverse cultures and locations can now readily access recorded music from around the world, see and hear visiting musicians from other cultures and visit other countries to play their own music, creating a melting pot of stylistic influences.

While communication technology allows greater access to obscure forms of music, the pressures of commercialisation also present the risk of increasing musical homogeny, the blurring of regional identities, and the gradual extinction of traditional local music-making practices.

Cultural appropriation in western music

World music as a cultural-economic phenomenon is inextricably linked with the invention of sound recording and the development of the international recording industry, but the background to its emergence covers the whole span of modern Western musical history.

Since at least the Renaissance, musicians, composers, music publishers (and, in the 20th century, radio stations and recording companies) have been part of a wide-ranging and continuous process of cultural appropriation that developed in the wake of the European colonisation of America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. In this process, styles, forms and influences from non-Western music -- especially novel melodies, rhythmic patterns or harmonic structures -- were discovered, appropriated, adapted and incorporated into mainstream Western popular music.

This appropriation process has a long history in European art music, which bears numerous traces of the adoption of fashionable European popular and folk dances into the classical genre. Dance styles like the allemande, the pavane, the galliard and the gavotte -- often derived from popular folk dances -- were just four among scores of "dance crazes" that swept the courts of Europe during the Renaissance and early Baroque,

However, by the time Bach and Hndel were writing their great instrumental works during the late Baroque, the rhythms and timings of these dances had been already been appropriated, formalised and incorporated into the structure of elite European 'art' music. This trend continued in 18th and 19th century with folk-dance crazes like the mazurka, the waltz and the polka.

One well-known example of cultural appropriation into the European classical genre arose from the 18th century fad known as "Orientalism", in which music, architecture, costume and visual arts from "Oriental" cultures (including the Turkish empire, India, China and Japan) became highly fashionable. One of the most enduring artefacts of this fad is the third movement of Mozart's popular Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331, known as the Rondo alla turca ("rondo in the Turkish style").

Two other well-known 19th century examples of this fad are the popular Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera The Mikado and the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly, both of which exploited the craze for all things Japanese that followed in the wake of the United States' forcible opening-up of Japan to western trade in 1854.

One of the earliest examples of crossover music -- can be found in the music of French composer Claude Debussy. In 1899 the French government staged the great Paris Exposition, an event that was to have profound effects on many areas of western art and music. Debussy visited the exposition and it was here that he first heard gamelan music performed by Sundanese musicians. He was transfixed by the hypnotic, layered sound of the gamelan orchestra and reportedly returned to the Dutch East Indies pavilion over several days to listen to the Indonesian musicians perform and to study the structure and tuning of this novel musical form. His exposure to gamelan music had a direct influence on the composition of his famous Nocturnes for piano. [1]

But, as in the case of Debussy, some of this long process of appropriation also had an educative effect, and by the 1960s Western audiences were beginning to move beyond the confines of the Western musical tradition and explore traditional music from other countries and continents, and as Eurocentric cultural and social biases began to be broken down during the Sixties, music from other cultures gained greater acceptance.

The key factor in this transition was the invention of sound recording, but it was also greatly influenced by the wide-ranging program of collection of European traditional folk music by 19th and early 20th century European classical composers and musicologists. This process was, at first, simply one facet of the multifocal 19th century passion for collection and classification, but it was given greater impetus by the growing awareness that the devastating impact of Western urban-industrial culture was decimating traditional cultures.

This collection activity took on some aspects of a crusade, as musicologists raced to preserve vanishing musical artefacts before they were lost to history. This view was a key motivation for the ethnologists who collected and preserved examples of Australian Aboriginal music, since it was widely believed at the time that the Aboriginal "race" and Aboriginal culture would eventually die out.

Musicologists and leading composers like Antonin Dvořk, Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok made strenuous efforts to collect and record local forms of European folk music and folk song, and many folk music melodies and other musical features were absorbed into the mainstream classical tradition. A good example of this process was the enduringly popular suites of "Hungarian Dances" by Dvořk and Johannes Brahms.

During the 19th century this collection program was necessarily restricted to the written notation of melodies, lyrics and arrangements, but it was transformed in the early 20th century by the invention of sound recording and the development of portable cylinder and disc recording equipment, enabling musicologists for the first time to capture this music in actual performance, and the new technology was eagerly adopted by musicologists in Europe and America.

This growing archive of "folkloric" recordings remained largely within the confines of academia until after World War II. But in America, these collection programs -- notably those sponsored by the Library of Congress -- were to have an incalculable influence on the development of the international popular music industry.

Folk-music collectors like the great Alan Lomax worked assiduously for decades to find and record examples of almost every facet of native American, African-American and European-American folk music, and the work of these many scholars, enthusiasts and collectors preserved the sound of many legendary "folk" performers and thousands of hours of priceless song and music from the American folk music tradition.

This musicological program was again revolutionised in the early 1950s by the new techology of magnetic tape recording, which for the first time allowed music collectors to make very stable, long-duration, high-fidelity studio and field recordings. The concurrent introduction of the LP audio disc format, which could hold as much as thirty minutes of continuous music per side, allowed many such "folk music" recordings to be released into the consumer market for the first time. The availability of high-quality portable tape recorders was the key development that led to the inception of Elektra Records enormously influential Nonesuch Explorer Series, which was launched in 1967 with an LP of Indonesian folk music, Music from the Morning of the World.

These "folk" LPs -- notably those of early 20th century blues music -- were to bring about a radical change in the style and direction of late 20th century popular music. This process is exemplified by the huge directional change in rock music that came about when young British and American musicians (like Eric Clapton) heard the now-legendary recordings of an obscure Mississippi blues musician called Robert Johnson.

Another fascinating aspect of the changes in the cultural appropriation process can be found on the music of Dvork, which itself was greatly influenced by his collection and study of the folk music of his native Bohemia. In the 1892 Dvořk was invited to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City; the period he spent in America, and especially his exposure to native American and African-American music, led to the creation of his most famous and popular symphonic work, the Symphony No. 9, subtitled "From the New World".

This is arguably another very early example of the so-called crossover music genre, but interestingly, it also had an influence on the development of American popular music. Part of the symphony's enduring appeal is due to the nostalgic main melody in the second movement, which is said to have expressed Dvořk's homesickness for Bohemia. Remarkably, this melody was later appropriated into the formative bluegrass genre as the basis for the song "Goin' Home" (attributed to William Arms Fisher); it soon became a bluegrass standard and was later adapted into a popular spiritual-style song.

The 1900s

Beginning around the turn of the 20th century, the invention of sound recording and motion pictures enabled American mass-entertainment culture began to develop into a major global economic and cultural force.

Simultaneous with this process, two emerging streams of non-Western music -- African-American music and Latin music -- were discovered by American and European audiences, and they were rapidly appropriated by the mainstream music industry. Over the next hundred years these two broad genres were to have a massive transforative effect on the structure of popular music and the direction of the music industry.

In the 1890s working-class dancers, composers and musicians in the Boca area of Buenos Aires in Argentina invented a daring and sensual new dance style which was dubbed the tango". It took Argentina by storm and after reaching New York during World War I it became an international sensation, aided by a plethora of tango recordings and crystallised by the famously steamy tango scene in Rudolph Valentino's legend-making 1921 film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse .

More or less simultaneous with the tango craze, a novel African-American style known as ragtime emerged in the United States, epitomised by the music of virtuoso pianist-composersScott Joplin and Eubie Blake Ragtime introduced African-derived syncopated ("ragged") rhythms into Western music and enjoyed a tremendous international vogue over the next twenty years, as well as exerted a huge influence on the subsequent development of jazz.

Ragtime and then early jazz transformed American popular music -- the work of songwriters like George Gershwin and Irving Berlin was crucially shaped by their appropriation of influences from African-American music -- and these genres also strongly influenced many European classical composers, especially the French composers Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

In terms of their influence on almost every facet of 20th century popular music, the successive historical genres of African-American music have, as a group, been the most significant of all the "exotic" genres appropriated into Western music. Just as they influenced each other, gospel music, ragtime, blues, jazz, R&B and rock'n'roll were also successively appropriated into mainstream Western popular music -- usually almost as soon as each became known as a definable genre. It is undeniable that the various genres of African-American music have, collectively, exerted a greater influence over the development and direction of Western mass-market popular recorded music than any other force.

Alongside the emergence of jazz, beginning around 1915, Hawaiian music reached the mainstream pop market in the United States. The Hawaiian style (or, more often, western imitations of it) became a major music fad, retaining a signiicant audience following from the 1930s to the 1950s. Hawaiian music was itself a complex mixture of European, native Hawaiian and other Polynesian influences. This is well demonstrated by the work of one of the founders of the genre, Queen Lili'uokalani (1938-1917), the last Queen of Hawaii before the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. A musician and composer, she is credited as the composer of the unofficial Hawaiian anthem "Aloha 'Oe". Lili'uokalani indeed wrote the lyrics and arranged the music but in fact she appropriated the tune from a Croatian folk song called "Sidi Mara na kamen studencu".

In the 1930s, following the establihment of the jazz genre in the 1910s and 1920s, the "Latin invasion" that had begun with the tango took off again when American jazz, dance music and popular song was revolutionised by the "discovery" of other traditional "Latin" folk music forms from the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Latin music had a crucial impact on the direction of postwar jazz and popular song. It is undeniable that the use of Latin rhythms in modern instrumental jazz, pioneered by musicians like Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, rapidly became an essential part of the rhythmical repertoire of jazz, providing composers and musicians with a vastly enhanced repertoire of beats and metres. During the Thirties and Forties, newly appropriated Latin music genres created a series of music movements and dance crazes, including the merengue, the samba and the rumba.

In 1944 The Andrews Sisters covered "Rum and Coca-Cola", a song originally recorded by Jamaican musician Lord Invader in the 1930s. The Andrews Sisters' version sparked a new fad for this infectious new style, calypso. The craze reached its apex of popularity in the mid-1950s with the release of the hugely successful Harry Belafonte single Banana Boat Song and Belafonte's million-selling 1956 LP Calypso. Calypso also had a strong influence on the mainstream folk music boom of the late Fifties and early Sixties, which in turn became one of the major springboards for the development of world music as a genre.

In the late 1950s, repeating the impact of the tango, a seductive new music style called bossa nova emerged from Brazil and it soon swept the world, exerting a huge effect over the course of Western pop and jazz over the next decade and beyond.

Nothing better illustrates the lasting impact of bossa nova than the archetypcal bossa song, "The Girl From Ipanema", written in 1962 and best known from the languid 1963 bilingual crossover version by Stan Getz, Joo Gilberto and Astrud Gilberto. Thanks largely to the enormous worldwide popularity of this single, "The Girl From Ipanema" now ranks as the second most-recorded song of all time, surpassed only by Paul McCartney's "Yesterday".

Bossa nova was also an important influence on the shortlived but very popular British-originated music craze known as Merseybeat, the pop style epitomised by the early songs of The Beatles, which combined popular song structures and rock'n'roll instrumentation with rhythmic inflections taken from bossa nova.

Influences from African music also began to appear in the 1950s. This process included one of the more controversial examples of cultural appropriation process, exemplified by the pop song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". A version of this song was an American #1 hit for pop band The Tokens in 1961, and it was credited to American writers, but in fact "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was actually an unacknowledged rewrite of the song "Mbube", written and recorded by South African musician and composer, Solomon Linda, in 1939.

"Mbube" had been a major local hit for Linda and his band, The Evening Birds, reputedly selling 100,000 copies there, but its success at the time was entirely confined to South Africa. Some years later, a copy of Linda's recording reached the renowned American musicologist Alan Lomax; he passed it on to his friend Pete Seeger, who fell in love with it, and it was Seeger who was mainly responsible for popularising the song in the West.

Seeger recorded a version of the song with his noted folk group The Weavers in 1952, retitling it "Wimoweh" (an innacurate transliteration of the song's original Zulu refrain, "uyimbube"), although at this point it should be noted that the politically-aware Seeger did give Linda a partial credit in the Weavers' arrangement of the song. The Weavers scored a US Top 20 hit with their studio version, and had further success with a live version of the song included on their influential 1957 live album, recorded at Carnegie Hall, which led to it being covered by The Kingston Trio in 1959.

The Weavers' Carnegie Hall version of "Wimoweh" became a favourite song of The Tokens -- they used it as their audition piece when they were offered a contract with RCA Records -- and this led to them recording it as their first RCA single. However, it was at this point that the lyrics were re-written by the band's producers -- who took full credit for the song -- and it would be several decades more before the full story of the appropriation of Linda's work became widely known. Sadly, by then Linda had long since died in poverty.

(See and for more information about Solomon Linda and the "Wimoweh" story)

The early Sixties: Folk meets Pop

After World War II a small but growing market developed for Western folk music and recordings of non-Western music, and this was supplied by specialist record labels such as Folkways Records, Elektra Records and Nonesuch Records in the USA and, later, Disques Cellier in Switzerland. Such labels were typically small "boutique" operations or minor specialist imprints of large companies, which released albums of non-Western traditional classical music, folk songs and indigenous music.

This market was fostered by the co-called "folk boom" of the 1950s and early 1960s, in which artists and groups like Pete Seeger and The Weavers explored the traditional songs and sounds of English-language folk music and re-interpreted them for the mass audience. In America, this process was massively influenced by the "discovery" of the treasure-trove of recordings of African-American music that had been made over the previous decades. Another more overtly political factor, and one that should not be overlooked in this case, is that many folk musicians were deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights for black Americans, and their championing of black music to white audiences was an integral and hugely influential part of this campaign.

This exploratory process also led many musicians to begin investigating folk music from non-Western cultures -- as in the case of Solomon Linda's "Mbube". In each case, these processes of discovery and appropriation were made considerably easier by the increasing availability of LP recordings of "ethnic" music.

This process had a definite cumulative effect, but it is fair to say that, until the late 1960s, "ethnic"/"folkloric" music remained more or less a specialist interest. Some "exotic" influences inevitably filtered through to the mass market -- as in the case of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" -- but in general these were mostly Western re-interpretations, and very little original music produced outside of the mainstream Western popular music recording industry managed to break into the pop music market or achieve significant sales until the late 1960s.

As noted above, prior to the Sixties, many classical musicians and composers had also written and/or performed music that experimented with combining western musical styles and influences from non-Western musical traditions, but this too was essentially an elite 'art' activity and gained little mass recognition.

Mass market acceptance of what we now call "world music" grew dramatically as a result of the pop music explosion of the 1960s and early 1970s. During this period, adventurous pop, rock, progressive and jazz musicians and producers attempted, with varying degress of success, to create fusions of conventional English-language popular music with instrumental and compositional influences from exotic musical genres Their interest in these "ethnic" musics, combined with their enormous personal popularity, encouraged a growing number of record buyers to seek out recordings of non-Western music.

A prototype of this fusion of pop and world music in the late Sixties can be seen in the folk-rock phenomenon of the mid-1960s. Underlying this devlopment was the fact that many leading American and English pop-rock musicians of the period -- Roger McGuinn, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Donovan -- had begun their musical careers on the folk scene.

Intrerestingly, although the core of the "folk" genre at this time was traditional Anglo-American folk song, maintream folk music was still appropriating new "non-Anglo" influences like calypso and black South African popular music. Another notable feature of the folk scene at this time was that it was also common at that time to include African-American music as part of the broader folk genre, and as a result many legendary black American performers like Leadbelly were able to perform side-by-side with white performers like Dylan and Pete Seeger at American folk scene's peak annual event, the Newport Folk Festival.

Folk-rock was in part an attempt to broaden the language of mainstream pop by incorporating the more "serious" lyrical approach and political awareness of postwar folk. Folk-rock as a genre effectively began in 1964 with the release of The Byrds' electrified cover version of Bob Dylan's "Mr Tamourine Man", in which The Byrds cleverly combined the pop-rock instrumentation and close harmonies made popular by The Beatles with elements of the Anglo-American folk genre.

The huge success of The Byrds' version of "Mr Tambourine Man" spawned scores of cash-in imitations, but folk-rock continued to expand and diversify over the next few years. English acts such as Donovan, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span combined pop-rock arrangements with songs, stylings and instruments drawn directly from traditional English and Celtic folk music.Alan Stivell (Brittany) began the same work in the mid 60's . In America (and also in Australasia and Canada), pop-rock acts like The Grateful Dead, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers moved folk-rock in a different direction. Drawing on their folk roots, and inspired by the hugely influential late Sixites albums by Bob Dylan and The Band, they fused pop and rock with American country music and bluegrass music, creating the genre known as country rock.

Although these trends in what might be termed "folk-pop-fusion" were all significant in their own way, and they were clearly part of the process of cultural appropriation, such experiments by popular musicians, and the availability of recorded collections of "authentic" performances of English and American folk music, began to lead many curious listeners to explore these genres. This in turn would pave the way for the development of the "world music" concept in later years.


1965-1967: from "Norwegian Wood" to Monterey Pop

Pop musicians first began to move outside the Western tradition in the mid-Sixties, when they started mixing Western electric pop with influences taken from the traditional music of India. Although the results were sometimes risible, this proved to be the most influential fusion of pop and "folk" music of the entire period, specifically because it was the first significant attempt to mix Western popular music with a completely non-Western musical tradition.

Although they were by no means the only people at that time who were following this course, much of the credit for the creation of the World Music genre, and for the rapid expansion of Western mass-audience interest in non-Western music, must be accorded to The Beatles, and especially to their lead guitarist, the late George Harrison.

In early 1965, during a tour of America, David Crosby of The Byrds introduced Harrison to the sitar and the traditional classical music of India. Harrison was captivated by the sound of the instrument; he soon became profoundly interested in Indian music, culture and spirituality, and he began taking sitar lessons from renowned Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.

Harrison's background in African-American music forms had given him a solid grounding in the techniques of improvisation that are central to the genre. Like jazz and blues, the largely improvised nature of Hindustani classical music, its strong reliance on rhythm and percussion, and the extended nature of the raga form were all features that Harrison was able to recognise, appreciate and begin to explore.

In October 1965 Harrison broke new musical ground when he played a sitar on the Beatles' recording of the John Lennon song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", from their 1965 LP Rubber Soul. Other musicians were attempting similar fusions at the time -- Brian Wilson, for example, used a koto on one of the songs on his classic Pet Sounds LP, recorded at around the same time -- but no other single recording had the instant and worldwide impact of "Norwegian Wood".

It was the first time a western pop song had used a sitar in its arrangement, and for many Western listeners it was undoubtedly the first time they ever heard the instrument. In the wake of the song's release, the sitar became the new "in" sound for pop recordings, and an American guitar company even manufactured an electric sitar-guitar designed to simulate the sound of the sitar.

More importantly, "Norwegian Wood" sparked a major craze for the classical music of India in general and for the work of Ravi Shankar in particular, with the direct result that recordings by Shankar and other Indian classical musicians began to sell in large quantities for the first time. Tape recording and the LP were crucial to the popularisation of this music, since a typical raga performance could last twenty minutes or longer, and popular appreciation of this music would have been impossible without the long duration and high fidelity provided by the LP format.

In 1966 Harrison took his "Indi-psych-pop" synthesis a step further with the highly original song "Love You To" (from the seminal Revolver LP), which featured a sinuous Indian-influenced melody and an innovative arrangement consisting solely of Indian instruments and performed by expatriate Indian musicians living in London. The peak of Harrison's Indian synthesis project was the epic track "Within You Without You" (1967) from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, recorded at Studio Two, Abbey Road by Harrison and an ensemble of musicians from the Asian Music Circle in London.

Another obvious trace of Harrison's immersion in Indian music was the fact that "Within You, Without You" also broke new ground (at least in the pop scene) with its length, clocking in at over six minutes. Harrison also recorded in India with Indian instruments and musicians when producing the soundtrack music for the 1968 film Wonderwall; he was given a free reign by the film's director and the music he created was reortedly intended as a sort of "primer" of the styles of Indian instrumental music that Harrison was exploring, but regrettably the film did not have a wide release at the time and Harrison's soundtrack remains little known outside the realm of Beatles obsessives.

Although not quite as influential as "Norwegian Wood", the 1965 song "See My Friends" by The Kinks is another significant Western pop song of the period that shows the unmistakeable influence of Indian music. In this case, according to writer Ray Davies, the song's arrangement was inspired by a stopover in India during the band's first trip to Australia in 1965, when during an early-morning walk, he heard local fisherman singing a traditional chant, part of which he incorprated into the song's sinuous melody line; Davies' exposure to Hindustani raga music is also evident in the sitar-like quality of the guitar accompaniment.

1967 was a pivotal year for the development of the genre. In June the three-day Monterey International Pop Festival, the world's first rock festival, was held in California, and it was attended by approximately 200,000 people. Alongside the legendary English and American pop and rock acts, the bill also featured black South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Ravi Shankar, who opened the climactic Sunday concert, and whose presence at the festival was almost entirely due to the influence of George Harrison. Shankar's performance at Monterey was without question the most important concert of his entire career in the West -- it was seen by tens of thousands of people that day, and thanks to the fact that the entire festival was recorded and filmed, millions more around the world heard it on record and/or saw it on film in the years that followed.

The other major landmark that year was the launch of the hugely influential Nonesuch Explorer Series [2] by the American Elektra Records label. This first Explorer LP, a collection of Balinese folk music entitled Music From the Morning of the World, launched a growing catalogue of high-fidelity field recordings of the music of other cultures. The Nonesuch Explorer series is now recognised as one of the most important commercial collections of world music and several excerpts from Nonesuch recordings were included on the Voyager Golden Record that was sent into deep space aboard the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes in 1977.

1968-1986: Joujouka to Graceland

In 1968 Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones recorded the Master Musicians of Joujouka in the village of Joujouka in northern Morocco. Jones died the following year but the LP was released in 1971 on Rolling Stones Records. Although there was some criticism of the electronic treaments Jones applied to the recordings in post-production, the LP was one of the first recordings released in the pop market that showcased traditional Arabic music.

Another important landmark in the growth of the world music genre, and one which is often overlooked, came in 1970 with the popular Simon & Garfunkel single "El Condor Pasa", taken from their multi-platinum selling Bridge Over Troubled Waters LP. The theme was endlessly copied and used all over the world, for instance in parody about downed F117a plane El kondor pada, and many other. Like Harrison's use of sitar, Paul Simon's use of Andean folk instruments (including the pan flute) was a pop music "first". His evocative English-language adaptation of a traditional 18th century Peruvian folk melody by Jorge Michelberg (notated in 1916 by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomias Robles) gave many listeners their first taste of the flavour of Peruvian folk music, and when the song was released as a single it became a hit in many countries, earning a Top Twenty placing (#18) on the American charts.

Also in 1970, Breton singer and musician Alan Stivell recorded his first professional album, Reflets ("Reflections"), a fusion of Celtic musics with rock, western classical, and other influences. His instrumental album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp increased the popularity of that instrument, and promoted the fusion of Celtic music with other music, as did the European best-selling live album recorded at the Paris Olympia. His 1979 Symphonie Celtique mixed the same elements, but brought the classical elements to the fore. He continues to experiment with different combinations of these elements, especially on 1 Douar ("One Earth").

In 1975 there were several important "popular" releases that gained wide recognition and exposed pop audiences to new musical influences. In February, Led Zeppelin released an ambitious "Arab-pop fusion" song, the ten-minute epic "Kashmir", from their Physical Graffiti LP. The song was strongly influenced by composer Jimmy Page's interest in Arabic music. Although its length made it an unlikely hit, the song became a firm famourite on American FM radio stations and was even played on Australian pop radio. Although Led Zeppelin has quite fairly been criticised for their repeated uncredited appropriations of the work of black American blues musicians like Willie Dixon, and while "Kashmir" is a clear example of cultural appropriation, like "El Condor Pasa" it did have the positive effect of opening the ears of many fans to a previously unknown realm of non-Western music.

In November that year Joni Mitchell released her LP The Hissing of Summer Lawns, featuring the innovative track "The Jungle Line", which mixed traditional African drumming and synthesiser. For this recording, Mitchell was accompanied by the musical group The Warrior Drums of Burundi, who were visiting America at the time.

Two other musical events in 1975 which had a significant impact on the devolopment of World Music can both be largely credited to Marcel Cellier, owner of the Swiss record label Disques Cellier.

That year Cellier released the dazzling Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, the first volume of an eventual three-album series of recordings of Bulgarian vocal folk music, performed by the Bulgarian State Radio Choir and Trio Bulgarka. In the years that followed, particularly after the album's re-release through the British 4AD Records label, the Bulgarian Voices album became a significant cult hit in many countries and created a huge groundswell of interest in this thrilling form of eastern European folk music, leading to the 1980s collaboration between Trio Bulgarka and acclaimed British singer-songwriter Kate Bush on her 1989 album The Sensual World.

Cellier's other big hit of 1975 was Flutes De Pan et Orgue ("Pan Flute and Organ"), a 1971 recording of traditional Hungarian pan flute music, performed by virtuoso Romanian pan flautist Gheorge Zamfir, and accompanied by Cellier himself on organ. The international vogue for Zamfir's music is largely due to Australian film director Peter Weir. His 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of the most successful Australian feature films of the period, featured evocative music from the Cellier disc on the soundtrack, and the film's success created widespread interest in Zamfir and his music.

The popularisation of the album was, ironically, the inadvertent outcome of a frustrated plan. Weir had been introduced to Zamfir's music a few years earlier, and when he began production on Picnic he decided to use pan flute music on the soundtrack; he approached Zamfir to compose original music in the same style, but Zamfir declined, so Weir was obliged to return to the music he had originally heard and licence some of the tracks from the Cellier LP. The irony is that, although it made him internationally famous, Zamfir would have made far more money from the publishing rights if he had composed the original music Weir wanted -- since all but one of the tracks on the Cellier LP were credited to the ubiquitous "trad. arr. ...".

Leading up to the watershed year of 1987, another very significant field of musical appropriation was the appropriation the Jamaican music style known as reggae. In its first appearance in western pop, reggae was a significant example of "crossover" music, since it was widely popularised in England by Jamaican-born singer-songwriter Bob Marley, who was one of the genres main founders, and its rapidly growing popularity in Britain was greatly assisted by the fact that there was by that time a large number of 'black' migrants from the Caribbean had settled in England. Internationally, however, the most successful appropriator-adaptors of reggae for mainstream pop audiences was the hugely successful British band The Police, who scored a string of hit singles and LPs in the late 1970s and early 1980s with finely-crafted pop songs played in a reggae style, such as "Walking On The Moon".

In 1986 Paul Simon re-emerged as a catalytic figure when he returned to the "world music-pop-fusion" concept he had first essayed on "El Condor Pasa" back in 1970. His hugely influential, multi-million selling Graceland album bore the unmistakeable stamp of Simon's recent discovery of South African "township" music but more importantly, he was decided to record the album with leading South African session musicians and the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. These musicians also performed on the subsequent concert tours, as did two other special guests, exiled South African music legends Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela.

Simon received some criticism for his decision to record in South Africa (which at the time was still being economically boycotted by most Western nations) but his championing of township music focussed enormous attention on South Africa and its indigenous musical traditions, as well as the struggle against apartheid. There is no doubt that the success of Graceland was directly responsible for a massive upsurge of Western interest in the music of southern Africa, as well as making Ladysmith Black Mambazo into international stars.

After 1987: WOMAD and beyond

The origins of the term World Music in relation to the selling of this type of music began in 1982 when World Music Day (Fte de la Musique) was initiated in France. World Music Day is celebrated on the 21st of June every year since then. On Monday 29th June 1987 a meeting of interested parties gathered to capitalise on the marketing of this genre. Arguably popular interest was sparked with the release in 1986 of Paul Simon's Graceland album. The concept behind the album was to express his own sensibilities using the sounds which he had fallen in love with listening to artists from Southern Africa, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Savuka. But this project and the work of Peter Gabriel and Johnny Clegg amongst others had to some degree introduced non-western music to a wider audience and this was an opportunity which could not be ignored.

Before 1987, although World Music undoubtedly had a following and with this potential market opening up, it was difficult for interested parties to sell their music to the larger music stores; although specialist music stores had been important in developing the genre over many years, the record companies, broadcasters and journalists had been finding it difficult to build a following because the music itself seemed too scarce. They were eyeing the Jazz and Classic markets, watching them develop a cross-over audience and decided that the best way forward would be to collective strategy to bring the music to a wider audience.

At the outset of the 1987 meeting, the musician Roger Armstrong advised why something needed to be done; "(He) felt that the main problem in selling our kind of material lay with the U.K. retail outlets and specifically the fact that they did not know how to rack it coherently. This discouraged them from stocking the material in any depth and made it more difficult for the record buyers to become acquainted with our catalogues."

The first concern of the meetings was to select the umbrella name that this 'new' music would be listed under. Suggestions included 'World Beat' and prefixing words such as 'Hot' or 'Tropical' to existing genre titles, but 'World Music' won after a show of hands, but initially it was not meant to be the title for a whole new genre, rather something which all of the record labels could place on the sleeves of records in order to distinguish them during the forthcoming campaign. It only became a title for the genre after an agreement that despite the publicity campaign, this wasn't an exclusive club and that for the good of all, any label which was selling this type of music would be able to take advantage.

Another issue which needed to be addressed was the distribution methods which existed at the time. Most of the main labels were unhappy with the lack of specialist knowledge displayed by sales persons which led to poor service; there was also a reluctance amongst many of the larger outlets to carry the music, because they understandably liked larger releases which could be promoted within store. It was difficult to justify a large presentation expense if the stock going into stores was limited.

One of the marketing strategies used in the vinyl market at the time was the use of browser cards, which would appear in the record racks. As part of the World Music campaign it was decided that these would be a two colour affair designed to carry a special offer package; to aid the retailer a selection of labels would also be included (presumably for shelf or rack edging).

In an unprecedented move, all of the World Music labels co-ordinated together and developed a compilation cassette for the cover of the music magazine NME. The overall running time was ninety minutes, each package containing a mini-catalogue showing the other releases on offer. This was a smart move as NME reader are often seen as discerning listeners and it was important step to get them on board.

By the time of that second meeting it was becoming clear that in order for the campaign to be successful, it should have its own dedicated press officer. They would be able to juggle the various deadlines and also be able to sell the music as a concept to not just the national stations but also regional DJs who were keen to expand the variety of music they could offer. They were seen as a key resource as it was important for 'World Music' to be seen as something which could be important to people outside London - most regions after all had a similarly rich folk heritage which could be tapped into. A cost effective way of achieving all this would be a leafleting campaign.

The next step was to develop a World Music chart, gathering together selling information from around fifty shops, so that it would finally be possible to see which were big sellers in the genre - allowing new listeners to see what was particularly popular. It was agreed that the NME could again be involved in printing the chart and also Music Week and the London listings magazine City Limits. It was also suggested that Andy Kershaw might be persuaded to do a run down of this chart on his show regularly.

And so October of 1987 was designated 'World Music' month. A music festival, 'Crossing the Border' was held at the Town & Country Club, London and it was the start of the winter season for both WOMAD and Arts Worldwide. The main press release stressed the issues inherent in the campaign:

"Since the early Eighties the enthusiasm for music from 'outside' Western pop culture has been steadily mounting. More and more international artists, many of whom are big stars in their own countries, are coming here on tour. They started off, like The Bhundu Boys, playing small clubs and pubs, but now many acts are so popular that they are packing out larger venues.

"The excitement and word-of-mouth appeal is backed up by radio - World of Music on Voice of America, Transpacific Sound Paradise on WFMU, The Planet on Australia's ABC Radio National, DJ Edu presenting D.N.A: DestiNation Africa on BBC Radio 1Xtra, Adil Ray on the BBC Asian Network, Andy Kershaw's show on BBC Radio 3 and Charlie Gillett's show [3] on the BBC World Service to name but seven... and the demand for recordings of non-Western artists is surely growing. This is where the problems can start for the potential buyer of 'World Music' albums - the High Street record shop hasn't got the particular record, or even a readily identifiable section to browse through, it doesn't show in any of the published charts, and at this point all but the most tenacious give up - and who can blame them?"

Today, mainstream music has adopted many of the features of world music, and artists such as Shakira and the members of the Buena Vista Social Club have reached a much wider audience. At the same time world music has been influenced by hip hop, pop and jazz. Even heavy metal bands such as Tool and Nile have incorporated world music into their own. Some entertainers who cross over to recording from film and television will often start with World music; Steven Seagal is a recent example.

World music radio programs these days will often be playing African hip hop or reggae artists, crossover Bhangra and Latin American jazz groups, etc. Public radio and webcasting are an important way for music enthusiasts all over the world to hear the enormous diversity of sounds and styles which, collectively, amount to World Music. The BBC, NPR, and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) are rich sources for World Music where it is possible to listen online as well as read about the artists and history of this genre.

Criticisms of the Genre

Some musicians and curators of music have come to dislike the term "world music." On October 3, 1999, David Byrne, the founder of the Luaka Bop music label, wrote an editorial in The New York Times explaining his digression. To many including Byrne, "world music" is a catchall name for non-western music of all genres. As such, it changes its own market. The labeling and categorization of other cultures as "exotic" is argued to attract an insincere consumership and deter other potential consumers. Critics of the term propose eliminating the category and integrating the records into existing "western" genres, be it folk, pop, jazz, classical, hip hop or otherwise.

NPR's World Cafe

The NPR website for World Cafe says: "World Cafe showcases an eclectic blend, from rock and world music to folk and alternative country." [4]


There are many World Music festivals and jazz/folk/roots/new age crossover events. A small selection is represented here:

  • FloydFest in Floyd, Virginia, USA. Has featured artists from a wide diversity of styles including Ani DiFranco, Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie, Trumystic, Nickel Creek and Akoya Afrobeat Enemble.
  • The WOMAD Foundation puts on festivals in different countries all around the world and which have last year included artists such as Youssou N'Dour, Robert Plant and Jaojoby [5] [6].
  • The Festival in the Desert takes place every year at Essakane, near Timbuktu, in Mali, West Africa and has achieved international status in spite of the difficulties of reaching its location. [7] [8]
  • Stern Grove festival is a San Francisco celebration of musical and cultural diversity. Examples: Lucinda Williams, John Doe, Ojos de Brujo, O-Maya, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Funk Brothers and also symphony orchestras and operatic stars. [9]

Music labels

Luaka Bop, David Byrne's music label
Real World Studios, Peter Gabriel's music label
Dancing Turtle Flash-based site
Rough Guide series
Folkways series
Primary Music Label's Site
Tropical Music WorldMusic label
Crammed Discs
6 Degree Records

See also


  • Bohlman, Philip (2002). World Music: A Very Short Introduction, "Preface". ISBN 0192854291.
  • N'Dour, Youssou. "Foreward" to Nickson, Chris (2004). The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to World Music. ISBN 0399530320.
  • Nidel, Richard (2004). World Music: The Basics. ISBN 0415968011.

External links

Home | Up | List of music genres | African American music | Atonality | Ballet | Blues | Cabaret | Christmas music | Classical music | Computer and video game music | Country music | Crossover | Cumbia | Dance music | Dance music | Dub music | Electronic music | Experimental music | Flamenco | Folk music | Free improvisation | Folk music | Funk | Goth | Heavy metal music | Hip hop music | House music | Jazz | Lam | Msica Popular Brasileira | Mambo | Mazurca | Mbaqanga | Musical theatre | Pop music | Popular music | Punk rock | Rock music | Acid Brass | American march music | Anatolian rock | Andalusi nubah | Background music | Baroque metal | Bass-Pop | Beach music | Beatlesque | Blues ballad | Bomba | Byzantine music | Celtic music | Change ringing | Concert march | Crossover thrash | Dark cabaret | Downtown music | Dronology | Euro disco | Eurobeat | Furniture music | Generative music | Industrial musical | Intermezzo | Lounge music | Martial music | Meditation music | Melodic music | Modern soul | Reggae | World music

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly