This writer sums it up perfectly. Anybody who uses the term "world music" unless absolutely neccessary should be shot and clog danced upon the entire Westwind International Folk Ensemble.
The end of world music as we know it?
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Saturday August 16, 2003
The 'world music' label is a Eurocentric misnomer, says Robert Maycock
Any fool, to paraphrase Brahms, can see it. Music is part of the world, therefore the tag "world" is a tautology. So why has it stuck, and what can we do about it? First we have to accept that it has been useful. Whoever coined it...solved a few problems. You know where to look in record shops for Youssou N'Dour or Ravi Shankar...As a shorthand it points you in directions you may want to go when using anything from the internet to inflight music channels. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The trouble is, it broke some time ago. When the west had encountered only a few sorts of music that tag could refer to, it made sense to bring the African, the Indian, the Latin-American and any other migrating or touring music under one umbrella...World music, however, has begun to be a victim of its own commercial success. Anything and everything is pushed under the umbrella as long as it isn't western classical or Euro-American pop, from austere south Asian classical song to Scottish folk music. The umbrella can be left nicely in one corner of artistic life and forgotten about by others...
As a result, the music itself comes to be listened to and looked at as though from the wrong end of a telescope. There's western music, and there's everything else. Never mind that some elements of the "everything else" support industries of their own, such as Indian films. It's all lumped together and the differences are minimised...
Behind that blur is a free market that determines its content. Go to the annual trade fair, Womex, and you see it in action. Promoters are offered artists they can weigh up, or trade off, against other artists in different styles - "Will you have our Cuban group this year, or will it be the new sensation from Mali?" It's like a magnified version of the competitive jostling for work or awards that takes place in western music between, say, pianists and violinists, and just about as attractive...
Feeding off the blur, a world music lifestyle has sprung up, almost a culture in its own right. You know the signs: Himalayan hats, central European woollies, Fairtrade bananas, backpacking holidays, no meat unless you know the farmer, fringepolitical activity, some kind of adopted spiritual practice. These are all fine as practical or idealistic gestures, but they add up, usually, to a life mercifully free of mountain winds, central European winters, plantation working conditions, bonded labour, scarcity of nutrition, one-party domination, or religious intolerance - the sort of experience that underpins some of the musical expression they delight in...
That's really the worst thing about the world-music tag - it's part of a continuing assertion of superiority...The trade relations involved mean that to break out of their own domain musicians have to be "discovered" and taken on tour or recorded by a multinational company...
We need a Fairtrade movement in music, too. Musicians who show such dazzling skills, and bring pleasure to such big audiences, should always be paid what they are worth in western terms. That will take a while to get going, but in the meantime what about a declaration of intent by changing the words we use? It isn't easy to replace a useful phrase. "International music" would be accurate but somehow lacks the necessary buzz. Womex, for all that goes on under its aegis, has the right idea this year when it describes itself as "dedicated to world, roots, folk, ethnic, traditional, local and diaspora music of all kinds" - but who is going to remember all that?
What do you think?
From BBC Music magazine, August (subscriptions £34.99, tel 0870 444 7014; quote Guard803)