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Don't Call It “World” Music

Music + Nightlife
by Doyin Oyeniyi Aug 5, 2013

Reasons why I dislike the “world music” genre:

1. ALL music is technically world music. But since the world music category was created to describe non-Western music, this makes me ask…why? What makes the West (read: the USA, Canada, and Great Britain) exempt from being categorized as “world” music?

2. Using the term to describe non-Western music is othering. Us vs. them. We’re the norm and they aren’t. We have music that can be broken down into different genres (country, house, rock, rap, soul, pop), but the rest of the world? Naw, they ain’t like us, their music is “tribal” and “exotic” and we won’t take the time to understand it, so let’s call it “world” so everyone knows how worldly and culturally appreciative we are.

3. It’s lazy and tells you nothing about what type of music it is. I did a search of the “world” genre in my iTunes and came up with Lykke Li, Asa, and the Tough Alliance. Lykke Li and the Tough Alliance are Swedish; Asa is Nigerian. Lykke Li’s music is indie rock and pop with electronic elements. The Tough Alliance has an electropop sound. Asa is soul and pop. These real genres tell you a lot more about what to expect from their music than “world,” right?

4. “But Doyin, there are types of music that are traditional and cultural and specific to a certain ethnic group, area, region, country, etc. What about those?” Well, then you call it what the musicians call it. Instead of lumping all these culturally specific songs together in one big ball of “world,” you call it salsa, makossa, capoeira, polka, Gregorian chanting — whatever the musicians creating it call it.

Just please, don’t call it “world” music.

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