Photo: Leo Volcy
Why The GRAMMY Awards Best Global Music Album Category Name Change Matters
Last week, the GRAMMY Awards were in the news because of an exciting, timely update to one of its 84 categories: Moving forward, Best World Music Album will now be known as the more inclusive Best Global Music Album. While the change might appear subtle to those not familiar with the baggage the term "world music" carries, it represents an important honoring of its past and movement towards a more inclusive, adaptive future.
The new name was decided after extensive conversations with artists, ethnomusicologists and linguists from around the world, who decided it was time to rename it with "a more relevant, modern, and inclusive term," an email sent to Recording Academy members explained.
"The change symbolizes a departure from the connotations of colonialism, folk and 'non-American' that the former term embodied while adapting to current listening trends and cultural evolution among the diverse communities it may represent."
Read on to hear from three international artists about what the new Best Global Music Album name means to them, and why it's more inclusive than "world music."
"Miriam Makeba used to tell me the expression 'World Music' was a politically correct way of calling our music 'Third World Music,' therefore putting us in a closed box from which it was very difficult to emerge. Now the new name of the category opens the box wide open and allows every dream!" GRAMMY-winning Beninese singer/songwriter Angélique Kidjo told us. The legendary artist won (what was then called) Best World Music Album at the 2020 GRAMMYs for her Celia Cruz tribute album, Celia, and at the 2016 and 2015 GRAMMYs.
Nigerian singer Bankulli, who is featured on Beyoncé's The Lion King: The Gift album, added, "Global Music provides a more inclusive awards platform to artists from relevant new genres. The term is encompassing of what is happening today and looks to the future for better representation."
"American ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown coined the term in the early 1960s, but it was later popularized in the 1980s as a marketing category in the media and the music industry intending to encompass different styles of music from outside of the Western world. It is by and large a determination of any type of genre or sound that Westerners consider ethnic, indigenous, folk, or simply non-American music," Uproxx explained earlier this year.
As the Guardian recently noted, "the term 'world music' was originally coined [in the music business] in the U.K. in 1987 to help market music from non-western artists… Our world music album of the month column was, like the GRAMMYs, renamed global album of the month.
Guardian music critic Ammar Kalia reasoned that the change 'does not answer the valid complaints of the artists and record label founders who have been plagued by catch-all terms. Yet, in the glorious tyranny of endless internet-fueled musical choice, marginalized music still needs championing and signposting in the west.'"
The Recording Academy awarded the first Best World Music Album golden gramophone at the 1992 GRAMMYs to Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart for his album Planet Drum. A diverse group of artists, representing many countries and musical styles, including Brazilian bossa nova great Sergio Mendes, Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades and South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo have also won over the years.
"Culturally speaking, we are living in a borderless world. Changing our language to better describe and categorize influential music from around the globe allows us to hit a reset button on how we view each other. It allows us to have a better conversation about who we are and where we're headed," Marlon Fuentes, Genre Manager, Global Music, New Age and Contemporary Instrumental at the Recording Academy, shared.
"In my opinion, this moment was symbolic of a new era that connects the past to the future. A signal that we are living in a time where creative people from all over the world are using social media and innovative approaches to overcome clichés and stereotypes by defining their identity on their own terms."
"Global Music is the future of music. As the world continues to become more interconnected, music culture no longer has borders," Haitian DJ/producer Michael Brun said. "The fusion of sounds breeds innovation, and global music artists are at the forefront of that movement. I'm happy to see the Recording Academy working to adapt to the changing landscape and celebrate excellence from around the globe."
This summer, the Recording Academy announced updates to the names and rules for four other categories, which included renaming Best Urban Contemporary Album to Best Progressive R&B Album. Conversations around nixing the term "urban music," an umbrella category encompassing traditionally Black genres like R&B and rap, came to the forefront in 2020 following the deep reckoning with racism in American and beyond. Major labels, including Universal Music Group, including affiliates Warner Music Group and Republic Records, have dropped the term.
As Billboard notes, the Best Global Music Album rename follows a similar change implemented at the 2020 Academy Awards—Best Foreign Language Film was updated to Best International Feature Film. South Korean director Bong Joon-ho won for his widely celebrated 2019 film Parasite.
The 2021 GRAMMY nominees for Best Global Music Album—along with the other 83 categories—will be announced on Nov. 24. The 2021 GRAMMY Awards and Premiere Ceremony will take place on Jan. 31, 2021, when all the big winners will be revealed.