What does the term "world music" mean?

There are several definitions of the term "world music" and in this article, we will try to outline the basic characteristics of this style of music.

What does the term "world music" mean?
World Music: An Unfathomable Diversity without a Concrete Definition. Photo by Adi Goldstein / Unsplash

One of music's most obscure and encompassing terms is world music. It was coined by the American ethnomusicologist Robert Brown, who first used the term "world music" in the 1960s.

Since the 1980s, the term has been used by the music industry. Simply put, there was a need for a name for a style of music that already existed but could not be shelved in folk or pop music, much less academic music.

The term "world music" came to be used more broadly, often to mean different phenomena. Therefore, there will be no such thing as a true definition in this article. More accurately, there will be several definitions and we will try to outline the basic characteristics of this style of music.

One definition of world music might be that it is music that uses the ethnic musical material of a people, placing it as a value in its own right within the framework of another musical style. Most often this other style is so-called pop music.

While the Earth Sleeps (Long Version) · Deep Forest

The author of this composition, one of the pioneers of world music, Peter Gabriel, had embedded the beautiful melodies of the Balkan regions in a distinctly electronic pop sound. The 1980s projects of Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Johnny Clegg, and ethnic musicians from all over the world attracted audiences outside Europe to the music.

This interest was further sustained and promoted by Real World Records, the label set up by Peter Gabriel, which released recordings of purely ethnic music as well as musical projects in which ethnic music was tastefully arranged. As in this collaboration between legendary musicians, Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Armenian duduk player Jivan Gasparyan, and keyboardist Michael Brook.

Djivan Gasparyan (Arménie) - Elephant pond (With Michael Brook & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)

The term world music is also often used to refer to non-European ethnic music, thus encompassing Japanese koto, Hindi ragas, Tibetan chants, as well as the whole of Oceania, the Middle and the Far East, and Africa. This is the most questionable interpretation of the term since the notion of world music then merges with the notions of folk, traditional or ethnic music.

Another definition of world music might be that it is contemporary music, but not academic music, which uses ethnic instruments. The African sanza, the French rata lira, the Indian tabla, the Spanish gaita, and other instruments were used in Eric Mombel's compositions.

The term world music is increasingly used, despite objections from music scholars about its approximation. There are world music festivals, world music labels, and world music prizes. And we only have to choose the definition that seems closest to the point. Or to create our definition for a phenomenon as inconceivably diverse as world music.