Should ‘world music’ really be grouped together?

For many years the term ‘world music’ has been used to encompass the sounds of non-western musicians. It has been used to quickly categorize music that often comes from Africa that seemingly wasn’t worth thinking about long enough to decide which musical genre it truly belonged in. While that might have been fine 30 years ago, with so much diverse music coming from all over the world is this term really doing it any justice?

Where did it come from?

The term was created back in the ‘80s by people who loved to listen to music from Africa and other countries but realized it struggled to get the exposure they felt it deserved. Many of these pieces of music were being lost in the record shops at the time, losing ground to other musical artists due to a lack of marketing. So the term ‘world music’ was created to celebrate the sounds coming from places other than the western world. The term most definitely served a purpose, but has its time been and gone? Should we be finding other ways to describe what ‘world music’ has come to mean?

What are the modern influences?

There is something of cultural superiority in the term ‘world music’ artists who come from Europe or America, don’t get put into the same genre, even if their music sounds very much like that of others dubbed ‘world music.’ Do you really have to speak English to make western-style music? Music deemed to come from exotic parts of the world often gets put into the ‘world music’ category despite clear influences from western music such as pop, rap, or jazz.


Modern ‘world music’ covers a wide range of musical genres and sometimes even the artists themselves span several genres. So is lumping ‘world musicians’ together really doing them justice? Take rock music, there are like a hundred sub-genres plus genres like metal and indie which have elements of rock but are noticeably different when you listen to them. An artist such as Spoek Mathambo spans many genres including electro and glam rock and is influenced by the sounds of both the past and the future. He has released music on Sub Pop’s record label, a company famous for the grunge scene.

What qualifies?

There are questions over what exactly qualifies as ‘world music.’ Is it exclusively for people coming from countries outside of America and Europe? What about people who come from America or Europe but want to celebrate the music of their heritage? Do they now get moved to the ‘world music’ genre or will they be put into the musical genre that suits their musical style better?

‘World music’ was a term that was used to help boost the number of people listening to music that didn’t come from either America or Europe but has grown to become a genre of its own. The problem is that there are many genres within it, all sounding remarkably different to one another and should probably be categorized by the way they sound rather than the country that they come from.