What Is World Music?
I wish I had a dollar for every time I am asked "What is World Music?". It is probably my most frequently asked question.To a lot of people I know, the term "World Music" conjures up images of men in loincloths, banging on clay gourds in Africa. Or something like that. A style of music that is particular to a specific, usually non-Western culture. And to an extent, they are right. World Music is, to over-simplify, music from around the world. Sounds that reflect a particular culture through the use of geographically-specific musical structure, instruments, and in some cases, lyrics that also reflect a cultural or social reality. In some cases, World Music an be as simple as pop music with lyrics in a language other than English. What does the linguistic approach Francis Cabrel takes -- his pronunciation, his turns of phrases -- say about the French language? What does his style reflect about the development of the French chanson since the early part of this century? Or, most commonly assumed, World Music can be a musical style completely rooted in a culture apart from our own respective ones. To me, someone who has grown up in white, middle class Canada, Native American music opens the doors to a rich social and musical history -- even though many of the performers, like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Robbie Robertson, are from the same country as I. And when the music is performed by an artist completely outside the Western realm, someone like Youssou N'Dour, it is practically impossible to separate the perfomer from the culture he or she comes from. Sometimes musical styles and cultures start to mix. This is when things get interesting. In general, music utilizing a wide range of cultural instruments and styles is called World Fusion or World Beat. Peter Gabriel made World Beat a household term when he founded Real World Records, a label that supports and distributes the work of many World artists. It really doesn't matter where an artist is from or what his or her background is -- if a performer uses different ethnic influences that are obvious in the sound of the finished work, that's World Music.
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