Voice of America published an intriguing article on the twentieth anniversary of World Music. The category always seemed a bit odd as it was attempting to label something that couldn’t be labeled, namely all the music styles outside of North America and Europe. Yet the label still exists today and has been embraced by a wide variety of groups from the BBC to Barnes and Noble.
Twenty years ago a group of British record company executives got together in London and coined the term “world music” to describe music other than mainstream western pop. They were frustrated by the fact that a growing number of people interested in music “from out there,” as some describe it, could not find it because record stores did not know how to file and categorize it.
The editor of Roots magazine, Ian Anderson, told VOA that World Music was, and still is, no more than a bin in a record shop.
“All it ever was was a way of creating opportunities [that] could be heard by people,” he said. “Nobody ever suggested there was a thing called “World Music.” In fact at the first meeting we tried to find the term that included the most things and excluded the least, so Tropical because that missed out … Ethnic was boring or World Beat because that left out stuff that did not have drums.”
Anderson added none of those responsible for creating the term ever imagined world music would become such accepted currency in most parts of the West. He said artists who otherwise were not given any respect in their own countries are now looked at differently after touring or doing the World Music Festival circuit. And having a World Music section in most record stores has resulted in higher sales.
Read more on World Music at twenty.