Saturday, June 27, 2009

The End of World Music

World Music began on June 29, 1987. That is to say, the term "world music" was codified that day by a group of interested music professionals who gathered in London to try to solve the problem of how to better market a certain kind of music that had previous to then been called a number of different things ("Ethnic Music," "International Music," "World Beat," etc.). The primary motivating factor was to enable record stores to have a single, more palatable genre for the creation of a section in stores, with properly coded bin cards and organization, to compete on a more level playing field with "Rock & Pop," "Jazz," "Urban," "Children's," etc. etc.

(At this moment I would like to send kudos to the magnificent and truly independent record store Waterloo Records in Austin, TX, one of the only record retailers in the U.S. that never bought into the segregation of musical genres, and always stocked their general catalog alphabetically by artist, from A to Z. As a music enthusiast and retail customer, I always found this to be profoundly in synch with the real universe).

With the decline (and some feel inevitable demise) of record retail, and certainly the elimination of any clout that sector now has in the driving force of marketing music, it is becoming apparent that the entire structure of music genres is quickly becoming obsolete. This is actually a great, liberating development. Now the internet is the driving force of marketing music, so the artist's name is the only relevant category (hmmm... kind of like shopping at Waterloo, isn't it?). Isn't that really the way it should be? Shouldn't the only real category for Paul Simon's music be "Paul Simon?"

In the case of World Music, while originally designed in 1987 to liberate and modernize a genre that most people had come to associate with rather staid field recordings by old white guys of non-white (or at least non-western) "traditional" music in far off parts of the world...

...some would say that the creation of the "World Music" genre mostly made it marketable, even hip, for white musicians to take such sounds and techniques, and just make it more accessible to a mostly-white, more mainstream audience...

The marketing problem for something like this, even with the "World Music" identification, and creation of a section in every Tower Records (or wherever) to better place and sell this stuff, is that it was always too much of a challenge to find the actual CDs in record stores. Would this be (properly) filed under "Africa" in the World Music section? Would they go so far as to have a further sub-section for Cameroon? Did you need to remember that it was pygmie mysic from Cameroon? Because one thing was almost certain, unless you were going to be shopping at Waterloo, remembering the band's name, Baka Beyond, was definitely not guaranteed to help you find their CD, whether the store had it in stock or not!

Now, of course, just type the artist's name into Google, and the chances are extremely high that you can find lots of information, music and video samples of the artists work, and links to purchasing a CD or music downloads.

This means that now we really don't need to worry about whether something like this is "World Music" or not:

And with that I proudly announce that this band, BLK JKS from South Africa, will kick off the inaugural Global Roots Festival, on September 24, 2009 at The Cedar. This show is being co-presented by our friends at Walker Art Center.

Perhaps if there's one thing I'd like to accomplish with this and the other artists planned for the Global Roots Festival, it's to move folks away from the idea of "World Music" as a category with borders. Our full roster for the festival will follow in my blog next week.

And you know what the best thing is about the end of the "World Music" genre? There will be no meeting of "interested music professionals" to decide what comes next. Actual music consumers have already determined that.

1 comment:

Miss Hell said...

Like this very much. Ale Moller of Frifot said once that only the generals pay attention to the borders, not the people or the music. It was something like that, then he asked me to do my impression of the Swedish Chef. LOVE that guy! BTW, he loves everyone's Swedish Chef impressions.