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World Music

  The expression ‘world music’ has been used by ethnomusicologists to mean all living music, and to emphasize the universal nature of this aspect of human social behaviour, distinguishing their academic concern from the narrow ethnocentric approach of European musicology. The term embraces the orally-transmitted folk music of the world as well as the art music of all non-Western societies. In Western music education, since the 1960s, not only has the number of world music programmes in university music degree courses steadily grown, but also the introduction to world music has begun to feature in secondary school curricula, reflecting a more enlightened approach in our multi-racial society.

However, recently a different meaning of world music has entered the vocabulary. It has become a term used, somewhat arbitrarily, for marketing various kinds of non-Western music as commercial pop commodities. In 1987, the label ‘World Music’ was chosen by a group of representatives from the independent recording industry to overcome the problem of categorizing the increasing amount of modern, non-Western music appearing on the European market. Some regard this World Music as an indigenous, modernized, urban popular music, emerging as a direct result of technological advances in non-Western cultures and the growth of independent broadcasting and record-producing companies. Others consider it a product of Westernization, as a contrived hybrid of traditional, non-Western forms with elements of Western rock and jazz. There is also the sceptical view that the Western recording companies have promoted World Music as a ‘Third World’ phenomenon, to exploit younger consumers\' increasing awareness of a global identity, and at a time when the state of Western pop music seemed to be at its most stagnant and technologically synthetic.

Since the mid-1960s, when the Beatles developed an interest in north Indian classical music and used the sitar in some of their songs, an increasing number of Western pop-music composers have looked beyond their own cultural traditions for alternative sources of inspiration. Probably one of the most influential factors in convincing the industry of the potential for a World Music market was the unprecedented international success of the American singer-songwriter Paul Simon\'s album Graceland in 1986. On this album Simon coupled Western with South African popular and traditional music styles. There has always been to some extent a commercial market for World Music, from the time when the first recordings of Afro-American jazz were introduced to Europe, to the international popularity of Jamaican reggae in the early 1970s. The establishment in 1981 of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), concerned with all forms of popular music from an intercultural viewpoint, has bestowed academic respectability on what was once an inconceivable topic in music education and research.

The World Music market has become firmly established, and appears to be gradually broadening its scope to return world music to its original ethnomusicological meaning, permitting such forms as Indian art music, Bulgarian diaphonic song, Japanese Shinto drumming and Andean panpipe music to pervade its pop music menu. Whether the living music traditions of the world are being enriched or impoverished by the commercial manipulation of world music remains to be seen. SSt

Further reading Simon Frith (ed.), World Music, Politics and Social Change; , Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World; , Philip Sweeney, Virgin Directory of World Music.



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