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World Famous

Joe Boyd
Photo: Dave Peabody
Joe Boyd
Suddenly this marketing ploy, now musical category though not musical type, is 20 years old. It’s arguably not a genre at all because it has such a wide embrace, and this is a problem for some. But we’re used to wide-ranging terms (jazz, for example), so it matters little that ‘world music’ does not spring from a musical form, that it is, as Joe Boyd states, “basically music from outside the communities that command the heights of the economy”. Charlie Gillett adds: “It’s generally not in English. When we first looked for a box to put everything in, it was mostly records that had been made for a local market, but which happened to be attractive to those of us outside of those countries, whether it was Bulgaria, Nigeria or Brazil.” It includes local traditional music from all over the world as well as hybrids and fusion and music from countries where it is made with Western production values and glossy studio techniques – and therein lies the rub.

There is continuing argument about the usefulness of the term itself, the music sold under its banner and whether its introduction to Western markets has ironically threatened its very survival.

Over the last twenty years the ‘world music’ racking space has expanded exponentially, along with the styles of music placed there; Womad and other ‘world music’ festivals are popular all over the planet, it has its own awards show and arts centres across the country consistently schedule it as a matter of course. The situation was very different when the fateful meeting took place.

In September 1986, Paul Simon had released Graceland, bringing South African gospel a cappella music right into the mainstream, and launching the career of Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the West. This chimed with an openness to music from other cultures which had been glimpsed in the media and through a thriving live gig scene in the UK.

fRom fRoots 289, July 2007


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