'So flawed and problematic': why the term 'world music' is dead


Ask most musicians what genre they play and you’ll likely get a prickly response. As one well-known, and slightly tipsy, jazz musician once told me: “If you all stopped obsessing about me playing ‘jazz’, maybe I would be playing festival stages rather than tiny clubs by now.” But while there have been meandering debates about jazz during its long history, another genre has become far more contentious in recent years: world music.

Dreamed up in a London pub in 1987 by DJs, record producers and music writers, it was conceived as a marketing term for the greater visibility of newly popularised African bands, following the success of Paul Simon’s Johannesburg-recorded Graceland the year before. “It was all geared to record shops. That was the only thing we were thinking about,” DJ Charlie Gillett, one of the pub-goers, told the Guardian in 2004. The group raised £3,500 from 11 independent labels to begin marketing “world music”to record stores. “It was the most cost-effective thing you could imagine,” said record producer Joe Boyd. “£3,500 and you get a whole genre – and a whole section of record stores today.”

Read the essay in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 24/07/19]