World music

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World music (also called global music or international music) [1] is a Western musical category encompassing many different styles of music from other parts of the globe. It includes many forms of music that Westerners consider ethnic, indigenous music, folk music, neotraditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition, such as non-Western music and Western popular music, intermingle.


World music's inclusive nature and elasticity as a musical category may pose for some obstacles to a universal definition, but its ethic of interest in the culturally exotic is encapsulated in fRoots magazine's description of the genre as "local music from out there". [2]

The term was popularized in the 1980s as a marketing category for non-Western traditional music. [3] [4] It has grown to include subgenres such as ethnic fusion (Clannad, Ry Cooder, Enya, etc.) [5] and worldbeat. [6] [7]


Delhi 2 Dublin in 2012 Delhi 2 Dublin in 2012.jpg
Delhi 2 Dublin in 2012

The term has been credited to ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown, who coined it in the early 1960s at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he developed undergraduate through doctoral programs in the discipline. To enhance the learning process (John Hill), he invited more than a dozen visiting performers from Africa and Asia and began a world music concert series. [8] [9] The term became current in the 1980s as a marketing/classificatory device in the media and the music industry. [10] There are several conflicting definitions for world music. One is that it consists of "all the music in the world", though such a broad definition renders the term virtually meaningless. [11] [12]

The term also is taken as a classification of music that combines Western popular music styles with one of many genres of non-Western music that are also described as folk music or ethnic music. However, world music is not exclusively traditional folk music. It may include cutting edge pop music styles as well. Succinctly, it can be described as "local music from out there", [13] or "someone else's local music". [14] It is a very nebulous term with an increasing number of genres that fall under the umbrella of world music to capture musical trends of combined ethnic style and texture, including Western elements (examples noted in this section).

World music may incorporate distinctive non-Western scales, modes and/or musical inflections, and often features distinctive traditional ethnic instruments, such as the kora (West African harp), the steel drum, the sitar or the didgeridoo. [15]

Music from around the world exerts wide cross-cultural influence as styles naturally influence one another, and in recent years world music has also been marketed as a successful genre in itself. Academic study of world music, as well as the musical genres and individual artists associated with it appear in such disciplines as anthropology, folkloristics, performance studies and ethnomusicology.

Evolving terminology

Anda Union at a music festival Anda Union-1.JPG
Anda Union at a music festival

In the age of digital music production the increased availability of high-quality, ethnic music samples, sound bites and loops from every known region are commonly used in commercial music production, which has exposed a vast spectrum of indigenous music texture to developing, independent artists.

An amalgamation of roots music in the global, contemporary listening palette has become apparent, which weakens the role major entertainment labels such as Columbia, Warner, MCA and EMI can play in the cultural perception of genre boundaries.

Similar terminology between distinctly different sub-categories under primary music genres, such as world, rock and pop, can be as ambiguous and confusing to industry moguls as it is to consumers. As Damian Burns writes, this is especially true in the context of world music, where branches of ethnically influenced pop trends are as genre-defined by consumer perception as they are by the music industry forums that govern the basis for categorical distinction. Academic scholars tend to agree that, in today's world of consumer music reviews and blogging, global music culture's public perception is what ultimately distils a prevailing basis for definition from genre ambiguity, regardless of how clearly a category has been outlined by corporate marketing forums and music journalism. The world music genre's gradual migration from a clear spectrum of roots music traditions to an extended list of hybrid subgenres is a good example of the motion genre boundaries can exhibit in a globalizing pop culture.

The classic, original definition of world music was in part created to instill a perceived authenticity and distinction between indigenous music traditions and those that eventually become diluted by pop culture, and the modern debate over how possible it is to maintain that perception in the richly diverse genre of world music is ongoing. [16] [17]

In a report on the 2014 globalFEST, National Public Radio's Anastasia Tsioulcas said, "Even within the 'world music' community, nobody likes the term 'world music'. It smacks of all kinds of loaded issues, from cultural colonialism to questions about what's "authentic" and what isn't (and who might get to police such inquiries), and forces an incredible array of styles that don't have anything in common under the label of "exotic Other." What's more: I believe that in many people's imaginations, "world music" means a kind of fairly awful, gloppy, hippy-ish, worldbeat fusion. It's a problematic, horrible term that satisfies absolutely no one." [18]

Early influences

Millie Small released "My Boy Lollipop" in 1964. Small's version was a hit, reaching number 2 both in the UK Singles Chart [19] and in the US Billboard Hot 100. In the 1960s, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela had popular hits in the USA. In 1969 Indian musician Ravi Shankar played sitar at the Woodstock festival. [20]

In the 1970s, Manu Dibango's funky track "Soul Makossa" [21] (1972) became a hit, and Osibisa released "Sunshine Day" (1976). Fela Kuti created Afrobeat [22] and Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti and Tony Allen followed Fela Kuti's funky music. Salsa musicians such as Jose Alberto, Ray Sepúlveda, Johnny Pacheco, Fania All-Stars, Ray Barretto, Rubén Blades, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentín, Eddie Palmieri, Héctor Lavoe and Willie Colón developed Latin music. [23]

The Breton musician Alan Stivell pioneered the connection between traditional folk music, modern rock music and world music with his 1972 album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp . [24] Around the same time, Stivell's contemporary, Welsh singer-songwriter Meic Stevens popularised Welsh folk music. [25] Neo-traditional Welsh language music featuring a fusion of modern instruments and traditional instruments such as the pibgorn and the Welsh harp has been further developed by Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion. Lebanese musical pioneer Lydia Canaan fused Middle-Eastern quarter notes and microtones with anglophone folk, and is listed in the catalog of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Library and Archives [26] [27] as the first rock star of the Middle East. [27] [28] [29] [30] [31]


Alan Stivell in concert at Brest (Brittany), 2013 Alan Stivell - Jeudis du port 2013.jpg
Alan Stivell in concert at Brest (Brittany), 2013

Examples of popular forms of world music include the various forms of non-European classical music (e.g. Chinese guzheng music, Indian raga music, Tibetan chants), Eastern European folk music (e.g. the village music of the Balkans, The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices), Nordic folk music, Latin music, Indonesian music, and the many forms of folk and tribal music of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Central and South America.

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 20th century, the invention of sound recording, low-cost international air travel, and common access to global communication among artists and the general public have given rise to a related phenomenon called "crossover" music. Musicians from diverse cultures and locations could 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 commercialization also present the risk of increasing musical homogeneity, the blurring of regional identities, and the gradual extinction of traditional local music-making practices. [32]

Hybrid examples

Vampire Weekend performing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2013 Vampire Weekend Red Rocks 05.20.13.jpg
Vampire Weekend performing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2013

Since the music industry established this term, the fuller scope of what an average music consumer defines as "world" music in today's market has grown to include various blends of ethnic music tradition, style and interpretation, [7] and derivative world music genres have been coined to represent these hybrids, such as ethnic fusion and worldbeat. Good examples of hybrid, world fusion are the Irish-West African meld of Afro Celt Sound System, [33] the pan-cultural sound of AO Music [34] and the jazz / Finnish folk music of Värttinä, [35] each of which bear tinges of contemporary, Western influence—an increasingly noticeable element in the expansion genres of world music. Worldbeat and ethnic fusion can also blend specific indigenous sounds with more blatant elements of Western pop. Good examples are Paul Simon's album Graceland , on which South African mbaqanga music is heard; Peter Gabriel's work with Pakistani Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; the Deep Forest project, in which vocal loops from West Africa are blended with Western, contemporary rhythmic textures and harmony structure; and the work of Mango, who combined pop and rock music with world elements.

Depending on style and context, world music can sometimes share the new-age music genre, a category that often includes ambient music and textural expressions from indigenous roots sources. Good examples are Tibetan bowls, Tuvan throat singing, Gregorian chant or Native American flute music. World music blended with new-age music is a sound loosely classified as the hybrid genre 'ethnic fusion'. Examples of ethnic fusion are Nicholas Gunn's "Face-to-Face" from Beyond Grand Canyon, featuring authentic Native American flute combined with synthesizers, and "Four Worlds" from The Music of the Grand Canyon, featuring spoken word from Razor Saltboy of the Navajo Indian Nation.

World fusion

The subgenre world fusion is often mistakenly assumed to refer exclusively to a blending of Western jazz fusion elements with world music. Although such a hybrid expression falls easily into the world fusion category, the suffix "fusion" in the term world fusion should not be assumed to mean jazz fusion. Western jazz combined with strong elements of world music is more accurately termed world fusion jazz, [36] ethnic jazz or non-Western jazz. World fusion and global fusion are nearly synonymous with the genre term worldbeat , and though these are considered subgenres of popular music, they may also imply universal expressions of the more general term world music. [7] In the 1970s and 80s, fusion in the jazz music genre implied a blending of jazz and rock music, which is where the misleading assumption is rooted. [37]

Although it primarily describes traditional music, the world music category 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 so-called third-world musics (e.g. Afro-Cuban music). [38]

The inspiration of Zimbabwe’sThomas Mapfumo in blending the Mbira (finger Piano) style onto the electric guitar, saw a host of other Zimbabwean musicians refining the genre, none more successfully than The Bhundu Boys. The Bhundu Jit music hit Europe with some force in 1986, taking Andy Kershaw and John Peel fully under its spell.

For many years, Paris has attracted numerous musicians from former colonies in West and North Africa. This scene is aided by the fact that there are many concerts and institutions that help to promote the music.

Algerian and Moroccan music have an important presence in the French capital. Hundreds of thousands of Algerian and Moroccan immigrants have settled in Paris, bringing the sounds of Amazigh (Berber), raï, and Gnawa music.

The West African community is also very large, integrated by people from Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Guinea.

Unlike musical styles from other regions of the globe, the American music industry tends to categorize Latin music as its own genre and defines it as any music sung in Spanish from the Spanish-speaking world. [39]

1987 meeting

On 29 June 1987, a meeting of interested parties gathered to capitalize on the marketing of this genre. Paul Simon had released the world music-influenced album Graceland in 1986. [40] The concept behind the album had been to express his own sensibilities using the sounds he had fallen in love with while listening to artists from Southern Africa, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Savuka. This project and the work of Peter Gabriel and Johnny Clegg among others had, to some degree, introduced non-Western music to a wider audience. They saw this as an opportunity.

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.

At the outset of the 1987 meeting, the musician Roger Armstrong advised the reason why something had to be done:

[He] felt that the main problem in selling our kind of material lay with the UK retail outlets and, specifically, the fact that they did not know how to rack it coherently. This discouraged [the retail stores] from stocking the material in any depth and made it more difficult for the record buyers to become acquainted with our catalogs. [41]

The first concern of the meetings was to select the umbrella name that this music would be listed under. Suggestions included "world beat" and prefixing words such as "hot" or "tropical" to existing genre titles. "World music" won after a show of hands, but initially it was not meant to be the title for a whole new genre—just something the record labels could place on record sleeves to distinguish them during the forthcoming campaign. Afterward, they agreed that despite the publicity campaign, this wasn't an exclusive club—and that for the good of all, any label that sold this type of music could use the name.

Another issue was the distribution methods at the time. Most main labels were unhappy with the lack of specialist knowledge in their sales force, which led to poor service. Many larger outlets were reluctant to carry the music, because they favored larger releases they could promote within the store. It was difficult to justify a large presentation expense with limited stock going into stores.

World music market

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 color 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 coordinated together and developed a compilation cassette for the cover of the music magazine NME . The overall running time was 90 minutes, each package containing a mini-catalog showing the other releases on offer.

By the time of a second meeting it became clear that a successful campaign required its own dedicated press officer. The press officer would be able to juggle various deadlines and sell the music as a concept—not just to national stations, but also regional DJs keen to expand their musical variety. DJs were a key resource as it was important to make "world music" important to people outside London—most regions after all had a similarly heritage to tap 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—so new listeners could 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.

Relationship to immigration and multiculturalism

In most wealthy industrialized countries, large amounts of immigration from other regions has been ongoing for many decades. This has introduced non-Western music to Western audiences not only as "exotic" imports, but also as local music played by fellow citizens. But the process is ongoing and continues to produce new forms. In the 2010s several musicians from immigrant communities in the West rose to global popularity, such as Haitian-American Wyclef Jean, Somali-Canadian K'naan, Tamil-Briton M.I.A., or Lebanese-Colombian Shakira, often blending the music of their heritage with hip-hop or pop. Cuban-born singer-songwriter Addys Mercedes started her international career from Germany mixing traditional elements of Son with pop. [42]

Once, an established Western artist might collaborate with an established African artist to produce an album or two. Now, new bands and new genres are built from the ground up by young performers. For example, the Punjabi-Irish fusion band Delhi 2 Dublin is from neither India nor Ireland, but Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Country for Syria, an Istanbul based music collective, blends American Country music with the music of Syrian refugees and local Turkish music. [43] Musicians and composers also work collectively to create original compositions for various combinations of ethnic and western instruments.

Radio programs

World music radio programs today often play African hip hop or reggae artists, crossover Bhangra and Latin American jazz groups, etc. Common media for world music include public radio, webcasting, the BBC, NPR, and the (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). By default, non-region-specific or multi-cultural world music projects are often listed under the generic category of world music.

Examples of radio shows that feature world music include The Culture Cafe on WWUH West Hartford, 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 [44] on the BBC World Service.


World music is defined in opposition, and relative, to Western popular music and Western art music, and its constituent musics are positioned as equivalent to one another, despite the fact that they may have vastly different musical qualities. Therefore the treatment of so-called world music is unequal to that of the normative music of the global West. This is primarily due to the fact that dominant corporate structures for music distribution and promotion in Europe and North America originate in those continents, as do their forums for establishing industry genre categories.

Therefore, in market context, "ethnic" music is synthetically defined by a radius that extends from a Western center.

Some musicians and curators of music have come to dislike the term "world music". To these critics, "world music" is a parochial, catch-all marketing term for non-Western music of all genres. In October 1999, Luaka Bop label founder and ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wrote an "I Hate World Music" editorial in The New York Times explaining his objections to the term. Byrne argued that the labelling and categorization of other cultures as "exotic" serves to attract an insincere consumption and deter other potential consumers. [45]


WOMEX 15 - Budapest WOMEX 15 - Budapest, 2015.10.22 (1).JPG
WOMEX 15 - Budapest

The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music was an award given to world music artists between 2002 and 2008, sponsored by BBC Radio 3. The award was thought up by fRoots magazine's editor Ian Anderson, inspired by the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Award categories included: Africa, Asia/Pacific, Americas, Europe, Mid East and North Africa, Newcomer, Culture Crossing, Club Global, Album of the Year, and Audience Award. Initial lists of nominees in each category were selected annually by a panel of several thousand industry experts. Shortlisted nominees were voted on by a twelve-member jury, which selected the winners in every category except for the Audience Award category. These jury members were appointed and presided over by the BBC. [46] The annual awards ceremony was held at the BBC Proms and winners were given an award called a "Planet". In March 2009, the BBC made a decision to axe the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music. [47] [48]

In response to the BBC's decision to end its awards program, the British world music magazine Songlines launched the Songlines Music Awards in 2009 "to recognise outstanding talent in world music". [49]

The WOMEX Awards were introduced in 1999 to honor the high points of world music on an international level and to acknowledge musical excellence, social importance, commercial success, political impact and lifetime achievement. [50] Every October at the WOMEX event, the award figurine—an ancient mother goddess statue dating back about 6000 years to the Neolithic age—is presented in an award ceremony to a worthy member of the world music community.


Many festivals are identified as being "world music"; here's a small representative selection:









Budapest Ritmo Tent and MUPA Center Budapest Ritmo 2016.jpg
Budapest Ritmo Tent and MÜPA Center










New Zealand


Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration4.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration 7.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration 8.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration 20.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration 10.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration 11.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration14.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration 3.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos World Music day celebration.jpg
Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos
World Music day celebration 13 World Music day celebration 13.jpg
World Music day celebration 13
World music day2019 4 World music day2019 4.jpg
World music day2019 4
World music day2019 3 World music day2019 3.jpg
World music day2019 3
Saxophonist Saxophonist.jpg
World Music day celebration World Music day celebration.jpg
World Music day celebration
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World Music day celebration 13





Spain Spain's most important world music festivals are:





United Kingdom

United States

See also

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