Last week, Ian Birrell, former deputy editor of The Independent, revisited the debate on the term ‘world music’ in his piece for The Guardian.
‘It is 25 years since the concept of world music was created by enthusiasts in a north London pub. Perhaps it made sense then, as a marketing device to promote the sounds of the world that were lost in record shops and on the radio. But not now.‘
As you can probably imagine, this prompted a great deal of debate, both online and in the Songlines office. While many people view the term as a catch-all phrase that seems to have, in recent years, lost some of its meaning, others see it a ‘necessary evil.’ So on this occasion, we decided to delve a little bit deeper into the discussion and see what some of our regular contributors think… Here are some of their thoughts.
Rose Skelton: As long as music that is not mainstream popular music retains a relatively small share of the market, it’s useful to have some kind of category for it so that people know where to put the records in the shop. But the term ‘world music’ has collected too many connotations that are no longer valid or useful, which people like Nneka, Baloji, Carlou D, Daara J Family, are perfect examples of. I write about pop, jazz, hip-hop, slam, disco, and funk made in West Africa, and the sooner the music business gets its head around the fact that Africans make and buy all these kinds of music and stop referring to anything coming out of Africa as ‘world’, the better.
Cerys Matthews: Most genre names seem outdated these days when we have such access to so many different types of music. But it is only a way of opening the door and then keeping order to your massive music collection. Natch! And while we are on the subject, indie music always seemed misnamed to me. If you were white and played electric guitar, regardless of your chord changes or home label you were deemed indie. But hey, we’d get in a committee soup if we started from scratch so on to the article… I may have wondered about the term ‘world music’ before, but I’m not at all worried now, because what’s interesting is this, if you have been listening to music at all of late you will know that the most influential, and exciting music that’s being played, recorded and released at the moment is coming from studios outside of Britain and America. This is where you’ll find some of the brightest stars of music, Vieux Farka Touré, Fatoumata Diawara, Toumani Diabaté, Amadou & Mariam and their influences are reaching way beyond the confines of their labels and genre name and genre itself. You now hear different rhythms and instruments and cultural sounds in the music of ‘indie’ bands like Vampire Weekend, pop artists like Jonquil and cutting edge singles like Santigold and if this continues, it will indeed be ‘world music.’
Jane Cornwell: Of course the term ‘world music’ is outdated. Offensive? Only as offensive as a bunch of middle class, middle aged white blokes being unfeasibly pleased with themselves (and a tad colonialist), a la the smug Birrell and his Africa Express crew. Oh, and Damon Albarn’s ubiquitous melodica.
What are your opinions? We’ll be posting more of our contributors’ thoughts tomorrow, but would love to hear what you think. Either leave us comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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