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World Music

The term ‘world music’ has many differing definitions but generally refers to a traditional genre of folk music composed and performed by indigenous artists of a particular culture. The term emerged approximately in the 1960s and is attributed to ethnomusicologist Robert. E. Brown who coined the phrase whilst lecturing at the Wesleyan College in Connecticut, USA. The term achieved mainstream prominence only in the 1980s however. Whilst world music used to refer to specific indigenous music of a particular region, globalization has brought about an increased number of sub-genres which incorporate influences from various regions of the world, rather than just one. These hybrid sub-genres include the likes of World Fusion, World Jazz, Worldbeat and Ethnic Fusion.  World music differs from modern Western music in its use of mainly non-electric  or acoustic instruments. Common instruments utilized in this genre include traditional and modern stringed instruments, wind, percussion and plucked instruments. World music enjoys a steadily increasing mainstream popularity. Common World Music genres are discussed below.


 World Fusion

The term ‘World Fusion’ can be used interchangeably with ‘Global Fusion’ or ‘World Beat’ and is an all-encompassing label for various types of collaborative musical styles. World Fusion traditionally merges Western pop music with indigenous or folk music traditions from around the world.  Paul Simon’s acclaimed 1986 album, Graceland featured the Zulu choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This album is often credited as one of the first major turning points in the development of world music as it introduced the hybrid genre to a mass Western audience.

Ron Raygel and Vicki Hansen are examples of modern World Fusion artists. Their work combines influences from India, the Middle-east and Africa which allows for a truly unique and multicultural music experience.



Zap Mama is a group originating from Belgium whose purpose is to introduce the music of Africa to Europe via its harmonious blending of the two music genres.



Ojos de Brujo is a nine-piece band originating from Spain. Their name translated into English means ‘eye of the sorcerer’. The band describes their music as a fusion of hip hop and flamenco.




World Jazz

Jazz is a genre that is particularly flexible and versatile. As a result it is capable of infusing various sounds and genres which has led to varied artists from different cultural backgrounds being drawn to this genre of music. Originating in black communities in the United States in the early twentieth century, Jazz spread to the rest of the world slowly via immigration and other cultural exchanges. Whilst African stylistic elements make up the core of Jazz’s essence, it has now morphed and adapted into something new.  An example of the blending of various folk music traditions with Jazz is best evidenced by the great composer and pianist Duke Ellington who often combined African and Asian tonalities into his tracks.



Saxophonist and flutist Yusef Lateef was a pioneer in the Detroit Jazz genre which he infused with traditional Arabic music as evident in the following track.



Modern pianist Vijay Iyer is another prominent example of Indian folk music traditions influencing and blending with the Jazz genre.



Yet another contemporary example of World Jazz is that of the Banda Brasil Jazz Trio, a group which blends traditional Jazz with Bossanova styles.


Prominent World Music Festivals


Further Reading