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A New World Music Order

Monday, August 30, 2010 - 11:57 AM

Social networking and cloud computing  are changing the way world music happens.  Instead of Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel bringing African or Brazilian or South Asian sounds to a wider international audience, we’re now seeing small, local scenes popping up around the world, and using social networking media like Facebook to instantly share their music – World Music 2.0, some are calling it.

This is an interesting evolution.  World Music, as a genre (or more precisely, a marketing term for a large number of regional genres), has usually been a “mediated” experience: most Western listeners came to it through the agency of a big Western “star” – Yehudi Menuhin for classical fans; Tony Scott for jazz fans; The Beatles for pop fans.  And World Music really caught fire with brand-name productions like Paul Simon’s Graceland, or David Byrne’s Rei Momo.   Byrne and Peter Gabriel each created record labels that brought some of the great musicians of Cuba, Congo, Brazil, and Pakistan (to name just a few) to a global audience. 

Now, cheap technology and easy access to a distribution network (the internet) have made it possible for younger musicians, who haven’t reached a level of popularity that would attract a Western producer, to in effect become their own producers.  It’s basically the indie-rock model on a global scale, and it’s just in time.  I’m simply not interested in seeing rich producers manufacturing world music supergroups, like Pangea.  Their song “Citizens of the World” aims to be a trans-cultural hit.  Problem is, it’s neither a good Western pop song nor a convincing blend of performers.  It is slick and artificial.  I’d much rather hear some of the musicians who record in a place like Maffou, the studio and cultural center founded by Salif Keita, the great Malian musician, in his hometown of Bamako; it offers local musicians access to instruments and technology that is affecting the way their music sounds.  It’s messy and rough and sometimes amateurish or derivative.  (Just as the first wave of global pop was influenced by American and British rock, this younger generation is clearly indebted to hip-hop and especially to DJ culture.)   But it is also the unmediated sound of the people’s music as it evolves. 

Where do you think World Music is headed?  Leave a comment

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