Why the term “World Music” might be outdated


Brian D’Souza’s 2012 debut Future Rhythm Machine was recently nominated for Scottish Album of The Year, and D’Souza’s club-night Highlife has sought to bring elements of this global musical diaspora to UK audiences in a way that works in constant, open dialogue with the World music terminology. Ahead of the first London Highlife event at Corsica Studios this Saturday alongside the Huntleys & Palmers label, Fact speaks to Auntie Flo about some of the issues raised by World music.

What’s always struck me about World music is that the marketing agenda and critical rhetoric surrounding the term were one in the same. PR companies and labels wanted a way to promote music in a way that was open enough to encompass lots of styles – but not so broad that it included Western Anglophone music – and those who went onto discuss it as such saw the umbrella grouping together as a positive thing, rather than being wary of or openly opposed to it.

Yes, that’s true, but I suppose the other thing to consider is that the music buying experience in 1987 seemed a lot more simplified than in 2013. You just didn’t get the sub-genres of sub-genres which you get now. In record stores pop and rock could be placed together as most pop was rock, and not the hip hop/dance/rock hybrid we have today for example. I think we have to accept that we live in a capitalist society and therefore everything is market driven. If using World music helps shift more units, then we just have to accept that. If by using this terminology more people are going to get exposure to different musical cultures, different languages, races, then I’m all for it.

Was the “world music” term a necessary evil to expose the average listener to different types of world from around the world?

That’s understandable given the terms staying power, but there’s still the issue of how this process of identification impacts on how we relate to the cultures that these artists and their music come from. The music doesn’t exist in a marketing bubble. Do you feel the language that surrounds World music needs develop in a new way so that this can become a more open and contentious discourse?

I reckon it all says a lot more about Western culture than the marketing itself. I mean, the marketers only react as best they see fit to help sell more units. They came up with World music because they thought the demographic of the market who would buy an African release would also be interested in a Latin American release, and therefore they would sell more if marketed together. I think this was a clever move and is probably true to a large extent for the record buying public from the US or Europe. As with all marketing it bent the truth a little, homogenised the genre but ultimately made it more palatable for the average record buyer.