World Music?

World Music?

What is it anyway?

What is world music? I think a common definition for world music is anything that isn’t in English and isn’t a popular style, like rock. So by that definition world music isn’t an actual kind of music but a collection of distinct native music from countries all over the world.

So by that standard, some important figures in world music would be, in no order and just off the top of my head, Ravi Shankar, Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Toure, Celia Cruz, Gilberto Gil, and so many more.

These are all artists who achieved worldwide success while sticking to the musical roots of their homeland – often revolutionizing it but not necessarily crossing over.

But what about reggae, is that world music? It’s usually in English and is hugely popular. Bob Marley has been called the first third world superstar. Maybe world music is anything that isn’t American, British, and to a lesser extent, Canadian or Australian. So if you think of Santana, who is American and mostly plays rock, do you consider his music to be world music because he’s originally from Mexico and has a lot of Latin influences in his music?

So, the criteria for world music can be changed and comprise musicians who tour the world, playing many styles, while still doing their own original thing. People like Ry Cooder, Cyro Baptista, Os Mutantes, Ochestra Baobab, Manu Chao, and Yo-Yo Ma come to mind. Also you could throw in some American rockers/pop stars who embraced world music early on, like Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and David Bryne.

To me one person stands out above all others: Bela Fleck. He got his start in bluegrass - traditional, “native music” from the US - and went on to travel all over the world, even playing with some of the people I mentioned above.

I hope there are a lot of world music fans out there who read this. What do you think qualifies as world music? Who are the standouts?