This article was first published on Ghetto Folk and has been moved due to editorial changes.
A great article by Endeguena Mulu on Trueafrica.co: “Why the term ‘world music’ is bullshit”
Again if it were only in the West and by Westerners this view were held, it wouldn’t bother me much. But thanks to education and entertainment all over the world being heavily westernised, it is people – who are owners of the cultures that are being diminished – who also hold these views, looking down on their own ‘third world’ culture and praising above all the ‘first and second worlds’.
This article pinpoints an interesting fact: for many music lovers, world music has to come from Africa, or South America, or Asia… any part of the world that is not the West. An artist like Mulu is definitely right when he claims that this term tends to classify his music as something exotic or tribal that as not to be taken for “real” music – in some minds, not to be taken for “western” music. It tends to make a difference between music and music from the rest of the world*.
Thing is, world music also exists in the West. Traditional music exists in Europe and in North America. As a westener, I would call music from Brittany “world music” as well. Or country music from the US. Or music from Acadia. It has nothing to do with the place where it’s made, it has to do with the object of the music as an art: the world as seen by the artist, what Mulu explains pretty well with the example of the washint player. Elements of the artist’s culture, environment, language.
What are the musical genres that are not world music then? TV music (be it EDM or radio pop), classical music or dad’s rock music – they all respect formal rules (instruments, harmonies, patterns) that are not taken from the artist’s own “world”. You have to learn how to do it properly, you can not do it your way. You have to learn EDM production techniques on the internet, classical music at the music school and rock music by listening to the famous rock bands. You need to find teachers, or idols, to get inspired. And that’s basically what makes you dream in these musical genres: they give you the power to escape from your own environment. In the case of “world” music, inspiration comes precisely from this very environment. So you’re not trying to escape it at all.
Of course, other terms could be used to describe what people generally call “world music”: “traditional”, “folk”, or the newcomer “global”. Trying to change the word itself will be difficult. What we can do is make the music itself evolve, and start considering that this music we all love can come from anywhere, including the West.
A next step would be to start considering that traditional music can also be made by people who don’t live in the place music is made – or by people who are not born in the place where the music is born.
* See how Branko & Kalaf from Enchufada quite ironically called their streetwear fashion label.