The problem with the term “World Music”


We now take liberties to  judge, consume and label music in a rapid fashion. This liberty is mostly a product of our extensively fast paced world filled with precipitous hits of You Tube videos to distinguish our opinion of musicians. With this contemporary state of prompt audio consumption it is hard to believe we still have archaic terms floating around in the sea of the music industry.

To begin, the idea that music from any developing country should be stamped simply as “World Music” is both vague and racist. In fact the original description of the term is “Non- Western musical traditions” which can easily translate to “ music we don’t understand” or “I love shotguns and beer and Africa is weird”. Secondly this genre title wasn’t a conclusive decision of any of the musicians contributing to it, it was named by one white male in Connecticut in the sixties. However, it remains to be a promoted and quasi-musical term. To be more specific I recently visited a metropolitan record store and in the dusty corner I saw the phantom banner to “World Music” I looked through this under appreciated section and found the following artists…

Spoek Mathambo– A cutting edge young South African artist who covered Joy Divisions “Control” in a progressive and authentic manor, he is a style icon and contemporary Adonis. He is a rapper, electronic artist and a singer songwriter.

Tom Ze– A Brazilian legend who contributed greatly to the Tropicalia movement, worked with David Byrne, excels at several instruments and has composed over 20 albums that sold millions. His Music is Bossa Nova, Somba and Brazilian folk.

The Buena Vista Social Club– The most successful Cuban band in history who are widely recognized cross globally, worked with Ry Cooder and the subject of a outrageously popular documentary as they were the first Cuban band to perform in America and did so at Carnegie Hall so less. They are folk, Ramba and son band.

M.I.A– Really record store?

If these eclectic and vastly different artists can share the same half off bin, why can’t we just homogenize Katy Perry with Black Flag, they are even from the same God Damn country! However I don’t see Shakira, Ricky Martin or Selena in there, so if you are an untalented suck signed by a huge record label you get to override this generalizing trademark.

Additionally a brand named “Putomayo” releases C.D’s you can often find at Chapters, Global Village or other overpriced stores that market something that was originally lovely. These C.D’s have generalizing titles such as “ African Dreamland”, “A Jewish Odyssey” or “Cowboy Playground”. Their office is smack dap in the financial district of New York city and they call themselves a “label” but haven’t signed a soul. They find music that slightly resembles their idea of a culture, put in on their compilations and donate a small portion of their cheap to make C.D’s to huge charitable organizations around the world.

Why does it matter? If we can pay for coffees by scanning our phones, speak to people in real time through a computer screen and instagram our grilled cheese sandwiches we can take the time to learn the proper titles of the music hardworking artist make.

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