world music

world music
contemporary folk and popular music of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as distinguished from that of the U.S., the U.K., and, sometimes, W Europe

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Musical genre incorporating diverse styles from Africa, eastern Europe, Asia, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and nonmainstream Western folk sources.

The term was first coined largely in response to the sudden increase of recordings in non-English languages that were released in Great Britain and the United States in the 1980s, but by the early 1990s world music had become a bona fide musical genre and counterpoint to the increasingly synthetic sounds of Western pop music. Initially, African popular music and world music were virtually synonymous, and the genre's biggest stars included the Nigerians King Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the Senegalese Youssou N'Dour. Moreover, one of its earliest advocates was the Cameroonian-born Frenchman Francis Bebey. By the 21st century world music encompassed everything from Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the pop-flamenco of the French group the Gipsy Kings to "ambient-global" projects that merged so-called ethnic voice samples with state-of-the-art rhythm programming.

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 broadly speaking, music of the world's cultures. In the 1980s the term was adopted to characterize non-English recordings that were released in Great Britain and the United States. Employed primarily by the media and record stores, this controversial category amalgamated the music of such diverse sources as Tuvan throat singers (Central Asian arts), Zimbabwean guitar bands, and Pakistani qawwalī (Sufi (Ṣūfism)-music) singers, as well as nonmainstream Western folk musicians such as Cajun fiddlers and Hawaiian slack-key guitarists. Previously, international music had limited currency as a catchall term that ranged from tourist souvenir records to field recordings made by ethnomusicologists (ethnomusicology) in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. Although purists argued that no musical style could be identified as “world music,” the term was coined to bring “foreign” music closer to the mainstream of Western popular music. In many ways the history of world music is the story of the marketing of foreign music by Western record companies. Despite these commercial origins, by the early 1990s the term had precipitated a change in the consciousness of musicians and producers, and world music had become a bona fide musical genre.

      The birth of world music can be dated to 1982–83, when British and American promoters, record companies, distributors, and stores, as well as some journalists and broadcasters, began to promote music from other countries, especially African music (African popular music), which for a time was virtually synonymous with world music. The clearest sign of the growing interest in African music was the success of Nigerian juju bandleader King Sunny Ade, whose first two internationally released albums for sold more than 100,000 copies each in the United States in 1983–84. This figure—less than half of Ade's sales in Nigeria and much less than the millions in sales that defined success for Western popular performers—established a benchmark for the many new companies that emerged in response to the attention attracted by world music. The phrase world music was adopted by a group of British independent labels who believed they would get better access to record stores and more media recognition if they could agree to formalize one generic description. Their hope was to bring together the diverse strands that included music from not only all areas of Africa but also eastern Europe, Asia, South and Central America, and the Caribbean.

      Paradoxically, world music was often synonymous with local or regional music, and interpretations of what fitted tended to shift from one country to the next. Although some artists from countries on the margins of the Western popular music market could now aspire to a worldwide audience, those who took superstars such as Michael Jackson (Jackson, Michael), Madonna, and Bob Marley (Marley, Bob) as their role models were usually frustrated by the idiosyncratic tastes of world music mediators. World music was welcomed for its “authenticity,” as a counterpoint to the increasingly synthetic and robotic sounds favoured by Western pop producers during the 1980s.

 Among the few exceptions to this rule were several local stars from Francophone West Africa and North Africa, some of whom achieved international success with records made for labels based in France. In 1982 the independent Celluloid label was among the first to bridge the gap between immigrant and indigenous European markets, selling more than 300,000 albums by the Senegalese group Touré Kunda and following through with Senegalese bandleader Youssou N'Dour's groundbreaking Immigrés album in 1984. Barclay Records had a long history of making commercial pop records with artists from Africa and the French Antilles and sold more than a million singles in Europe by world music artists Mory Kanté from Guinea ( "Yé ké yé ké" [1987]) and Khaled from Algeria ( "Didi" [1992] and "Aisha" [1996]).

      Most of the world music labels launched in Britain between 1983 and 1986 had much lower sales horizons and only a few survived, notably Hannibal, Stern's Africa, World Circuit, and rock singer Peter Gabriel (Gabriel, Peter)'s Real World Records. Gabriel's support had been instrumental in the formation and survival of the annual World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festivals, which began in 1982 and played a vital role in introducing many artists who later became leading world music figures, including Youssou N'Dour and Pakistani qawwalī singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali).

      Several American labels—notably Rounder, Rykodisc, and Shanachie—initiated or extended their world music repertoires during this period, when three established American rock artists—Paul Simon (Simon, Paul), David Byrne (Talking Heads), and Ry Cooder (Cooder, Ry)—played a vital role in helping to expand the world music market. Simon's Grammy Award-winning album Graceland (1986) featured black South African (South Africa) musicians who controversially recorded and toured with him despite a widespread trade boycott of South Africa. The album proved quite popular. In the wake of its success, record stores became more willing to stock world music, including the a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the mbaqanga group Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens.

 Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads, hired Latin American musicians to play on his solo albums and launched his Luaka Bop label with a series of well-conceived compilations of music from Brazil, Cuba, Cape Verde, and Peru. Slide guitarist Ry Cooder (Cooder, Ry) relaunched his recording career in the 1990s with collaborations with the Indian musician V.M. Bhatt, the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and a group of veteran Cuban musicians in Havana collectively called the Buena Vista Social Club.

      Industry recognition of world music came in 1990, when the influential American trade magazine Billboard introduced a world music chart. A year later the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences added a world music category to its Grammy Awards. Among the artists who benefited most from this new visibility were the Gipsy Kings, the French pop- flamenco group that sweetened strong vocals with strummed guitars, catchy songs, and a neo-disco (disco) beat; an avalanche of Irish-related artists, many featuring the word Celtic in their album titles, that included 1997 Grammy winners the Chieftains; Cesaria Evora (Evora, Cesaria), a smoky-voiced nightclub singer from Cape Verde; and several “ambient-global,” or “ethnotechno (techno),” projects, including Enigma (from Germany) and Deep Forest (1995 Grammy winners from France), who merged so-called ethnic voice samples with state-of-the-art rhythm programming.

Charlie Gillett

Additional Reading
There are few surveys of world music. Simon Broughton et al. (eds.), The Rough Guide to World Music (1994), is in a class of its own. Africa and eastern Europe are particularly well covered, especially the sections on Francophone West Africa (by Lucy Duran) and South Africa (by Rob Allingham). Jeremy Marre and Hannah Charlton, Beats of the Heart (1985), was written as an accompaniment to a 13-part television series of the same name directed by Marre, and, without attempting to be comprehensive, this well-illustrated book gives insights into its chosen subjects, including Gypsy music, Indian soundtracks, and Columbian cumbia music. Graeme Ewens, Africa O-ye! (1991), a general survey of African music, is a balanced, well-illustrated account of the continent's kaleidoscopic musical history; Chris Stapleton and Chris May, African All-Stars: The Pop Music of a Continent (1987, reissued 1989), covers similar territory. David Coplan, In Township Tonight! (1985), provides a good account of South Africa's music history, written from a jazz perspective but including the major mbaqanga artists and musicians. Among several books documenting connections between African and Western music, there are two classics: Paul Oliver, Savannah Syncopators: African Retentions in the Blues (1970), traces the African antecedents of American blues, gospel, and jazz; and John Storm Roberts, Black Music of Two Worlds, 2nd ed. (1998), surveys the ongoing connections between African, Caribbean, and American music throughout the 20th century. John Storm Roberts, The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States, 2nd ed. (1999), pioneered the study of Latin-American music. Sue Steward, Musica!: Salsa, Rumba, Merengue, and More (1999), is a comprehensive account of salsa.

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Universalium. 2010.

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