‘World Music’ – The debate continues

Posted on March 29th, 2012 in Recent posts by .

Yesterday, we had a look at some our of contributors’ responses to Ian Birrell’s piece in The Guardian. Today, the debate continues…

Howard Male: I oscillate between finding the term ‘world music’ creakily anachronistic and a necessary evil, which maybe suggests it’s both these things. Yet these days almost every sensitive, aware person who uses the term – be they critic or fan – puts it in inverted commas, which suggests to me that there’s something wrong and perhaps its days are numbered.

Nathaniel Handy: Firstly, I would argue that non-Anglo-American music was ghettoissed by Anglo-American society long before the term ‘world music’ ever existed. The creation of the term was an attempt to raise the profile of a ghettoised musical constituency. Secondly, I would agree that this term has become increasingly redundant as the Anglo-American mainstream has begun to open its ears to wider sounds, however, this is largely down to the efforts of those who were for decades dismissed by that mainstream for promoting weird and laughable ‘world music.’

Andy Morgan: World music, world food, world cinema, world architecture, world football – they’re all just an easy way for ‘us’ to talk about ‘them.’ The number of times I’ve heard myself saying something like: “blah blah blah WORLD MUSIC, FOR WANT OF A BETTER TERM, blah blah blah” during a chat over a pint and a packet of crisps, wincing inside as I do… horrible! The truth is that on those occasions I just can’t be arsed to say… “africanlatinasiancarribbeaneasterneuropeanpacificetcetcetc music.”  I’m in the full flow of a conversation fercrissakes! World Music is just an easy, lazy, simple little phrase that means everything and nothing. It’s convenient. That’s what conversing is all about isn’t it? Choosing easy, convenient phrases and keeping the flow going. And as long as that’s all world music is and no one get’s drawn in or deluded by the polemic that attaches itself to the term like a barnacle, then using the term is OK by me, in conversation, for want of anything better.

But, and it’s a huge BUT, people keep wanting world music to mean more than it does, or to do things it was never designed to do. The stupid phrase generates reams of tedious useless debate and endless brain-wracking about what is and what isn’t world music. Underwear gets tied up in horrible chafing knots as people try to turn world music into a style, a philosophy, a genre…  rather than a workaday marketing term that served as a very useful marketing purpose 25 years ago and continues to serve a very vague conversational purpose today… a bit like the word ‘nice.’ And, worst of all, it gives ignorant bastards (festival programmers, newspapers editors, radio producers, TV svengalis) a dumb excuse to brush off 97.5% of the music created on this planet with the words, “Sorry mate… we don’t do world music.” Lazy fuckers!  Of course the world itself doesn’t really give a toss about our nomenclature problems. It just gets on with doing what it wants to do, in all its chaotic unclassifiable and endless profusion. Long may that last. Hey ho, I’m just off to the kitchen to get myself a world drink (Tiger Beer) and a world snack (Bombay mix). Gotta love the modern world don’t one?

Simon Broughton: Nobody has ever really liked the term ‘world music,’ but it has certainly made people aware that the music exists. If you said ‘world music’ to people 25 years ago they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. But now most people would have some idea what you meant. It’s hard to think of a better alternative – except to be more specific. 

And here’s what you had to say…

More important than this old, weary topic is the amount of ‘world music’ that the UK produces, from within its own borders and inner-cities – music, song and dance from the dozens of different language groups and cultures that are a part of our rich diversities. They hardly get a look in at all at most of the summer music festivals. Organisers are shooting themselves in their clumpy feet by ignoring such talent.‘ Norman Druker on Facebook

For me there’s only one criteria to music: either I like it, or I don’t. #nogood #nobad‘ @becks_news on Twitter

It’s not the fact that things are labelled ‘world music’ that offends me but the fact that they’re marginalised, hidden away in the ‘specialist’ corners of record stores and given little to no media exposure.  For a while I thought the World Cup in South Africa may have helped things a little for African music, but sadly that hasn’t seemed to have been the case.‘ Tom Bradshaw on Facebook

It’s just a term. Works just fine. Broad but a good opener as far as ideas go which is good for music #Worldmusic‘ @UmausMusic on Twitter

There’s nothing wrong with it as a general title, imagine trying to break it down into specifics for listing in shops, you’d have a million sections and it’s the same as using Folk for example, there are many types of Folk but no one has a problem with that.‘ Simon Morris on Facebook

I don’t think World Music is a outdated or politically incorrect term. Also, still necessary because there are so many genres and sub-genres.’ Javier Angel Chávez on Facebook

To me, it means embracing the world and not being limited to Anglo-American culture. And ‘world fusion’ even more so :) ‘ @WorldFusionRadi on Twitter

I agree with Rose. It is convenient; I just head for the racks labelled ‘world’ in a record store, instead of having to browse the entire store. But the principle in itself is slightly ridiculous. If folk from the UK is classified as folk, why would folk from anywhere except US & UK be classified as world music? Why does it matter where (just an example) Tinariwen are from – the rock category harbours so many different sounds, Tinariwen (and Vieux Farka Touré, for that matter) fit perfectly!‘ Eva in the comment section

I’m split on this. Makes no intellectual sense, but in the debate everyone immediately knew what they were talking about. It’s difficult to think of other terms; local music? Regional music? Traditionally inspired music?‘ Rod Lawson in the comment section

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3 Responses to “‘World Music’ – The debate continues”

  1. Perry Says:

    A great discussion; isn’t the nature of global music such that cultural identifiers are necessary – so maybe we need to get specialised! Son, Dangdut, Dubstep, Rocksteady, Qawwali, Ghazal, Merengue are all identifiers of musical form/type. As far as retail identification goes, go with Global.
    Where it gets complicated is where bands such as Tinariwen or Tamikrest aren’t treated as a rock bands or Dusk + Blackdown aren’t considered as global music (or are they!? – by who?!).
    Its all about degrees of interest as far as category specialisation goes – who are you talking too, perhaps, adjust the terminology accordingly.

  2. Ginger Shinobi Says:

    A colonialist term created by/for people who want to appear “right on” for being interested in music on an obscure rack in Tescos.

    What’s wrong with simply having a shelf in Our Price or Woolworths for “rock music” and on that shelf is rock music from all over the world?


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