Discussing The Term "World Music"

Maybe I’m wrong, but something tells me that the rest of the world has a different definition for "world music." This term is distinctly an American one, part of that curiously Western phenomenon of attempting to brand what you can't understand. Over the several decades that the phrase has been in existence, world music has been defined a number of different ways. Some observe it as traditional folk music from various parts of the globe while others have used the genre as a wide net in which to capture all non-Western musical styles. At best it’s a term that recognizes the instrumentation, vocal phrasing and rich culture of local musicianship worldwide (even if you're not always sure what exactly you're listening to or what to call it). At worst it’s categorical purgatory, that place where you drop off sounds birthed from an exceptionally talented player from another part of the Earth simply because you don’t have the time (or the patience) to get to know it on its own terms.

Call me crazy, but I think world music deserves better. Perhaps examining the 52nd Annual GRAMMY® Awards nominees in World Music will be a helpful remedy.

Within the Best Traditional World Music Album, the category's diversity immediately becomes apparent. Mamadou Diabate (a highly revered kora player from Mali, West Africa) has been nominated for Douga Mansa while Liz Carroll & John Doyle bring a kick to Celtic folk music with fiercely engaging performances on Double Play. Conversations in traditional Middle Eastern and Indian instrumentation are explored by Rahim Alhaj and Amjad Ali Khan on their Ancient Sounds album. Rounding out the nominees are two recordings predominantly focused on the drum:  the Afro-Cuban influenced La Guerra No from John Santos Y El Folklórico Kindembo and the Taiwanese percussion of the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group’s Drum Music Land.  

As for the category of Best Contemporary World Music Album, there is some serious competition. American banjo player and nine-time GRAMMY Award winner Béla Fleck is in the running with Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3 -- Africa Sessions. Speaking of Africa, Nigeria’s own Femi Kuti has been nominated for Day By Day while the joyous Afro-pop stylings of Amadou & Mariam have been recognized for their album, Welcome To Mali. Cuban pianist Omar Sosa is rightfully within great company with his mesmerizing release, Across The Divide: A Tale Of Rhythm & Ancestry. Last but certainly not least, the alluring vocals of Oumou Sangare (another Malian artist) are the driving force behind her latest album, Seya.

Mali has a strong showing within the World Music field across the board and one might think they have it on lock, but the overall talent here is technically amazing and downright awe-inspiring. It is my hope to shine the spotlight on each of these artists in future posts between now and Jan. 31, 2010, when the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards will take place. You can follow the GRAMMYs on Twitter and Facebook and there’s even a Twitter link for all the community bloggers as well. After sampling a little bit from each of the world music nominees this year, I am extremely excited to be a part of this project and to learn more about music that I wouldn’t know otherwise. As I've been saying recently on my podcast, the more you listen to the more you'll find.

Music is a worldwide thing: keep diggin'...

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