Generally, when considering World Music as a genre, most people think of ‘traditional’ music from outside Anglo-American countries. Initially, World Music was studied by ethnomusicological experts, who took themselves back to musical basics when researching. They would develop an understanding of the music from its cultural home, surrounding themselves with the music and its cultural context for years, before presenting their research to the rest of the world. This was often presented as everything that a certain culture had to offer, primitive cultures reduced to just one musical culture. This concept was largely criticised by Timothy Brennan, as he claimed this view had a flattening effect on World Music, and questions whether this means it has become stuck in limbo. Other cultures had their music presented as stable, as unchanging throughout time, place and people. That isn’t the case in the West – why did we ever believe this could be the case elsewhere?
This progressed to see a change in view towards the genre, which became known as ‘World Music 2.0’. At last, we were introduced to World Music as an adapting scene. The distrust of urban cultures and popular music from around the world began to dissipate. It became more difficult for experts to pinpoint a place to a music style, as it started to be recognised that all music migrates – hybridises. Just as you couldn’t necessarily pinpoint a genre as ‘the sound of a city’ in the West, it became evident that this also wasn’t always possible worldwide.
World Music 2.0 is a phenomenon that only appears to have been made possible, thanks to the immense development of technology globally. In a time when the only means of distributing music was through physical copies, it was hard for many artists to reach a global market due to the logistics of distribution. Records were expensive to create and fragile to ship. CD’s, although less expensive and fragile, still incurred great production costs and so required a confidence in sales before they could be produced. The increase in digital music meant physical production costs, beyond that of the recording, were scrapped and recording became relatively inexpensive to achieve at an amateur level. The internet progressed from a medium that served information to a passive user, instead now encouraging creators to upload to and interact with the internet. We have reached an age in which people can now access a global audience from the comfort of their own homes; making it only natural that we began to see a rise in knowledge regarding the urban and popular music around the world. Their creators now have a platform to present the music that the experts weren’t previously interested in.
We then saw a rise in the way World Music was discussed and organised, made especially evident through Seismographic Sounds, a project ran by Norient. There was less of a focus on ‘traditional’ world music, with the urban music beginning to be celebrated alongside it. If you go into Spotify’s ‘World Music’ playlist now, you will now find ‘traditional’ music mixed in with artists such as Boogat. Boogat is a Mexican-Canadian rapper who represents a lot of musical hybridity and migration, following his own moving patterns. See below for a playlist of the artists and tracks featured in Seismographic Sounds!
23 part playlist to the tracks featured in Seismographic Sounds.
Whilst we formerly saw a transition from a Western view of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in music, we are slowly closing the gap to start interacting as global musicians, for a global audience. That said, there is still much to be said on the impact of ethnographic studies on World Music, and how this has influenced the global musician in their efforts to reach the audience of the world. It is recognised that often such artists will stick to specific themes in music to get heard, most notably discussing political themes and activism.
Do they feel a need to play to the stereotypes of their area to get heard? Do creators feel the need to adapt to the platform they are speaking through, or do they get themselves noticed by breaking convention? Have we truly moved to a new world of music where everyone has their own expressive voice, or are some still being repressed as ‘uninteresting’ to the rest of the world?
More in the Series!