We are the world: what is world music?
Sunday 2 November, 4.00pm until 5.30pm, Student Union

‘World music’ is an established part of the music scene, played on mainstream radio and frequently performed live; it’s studied at universities and celebrated at the BBC’s annual World Music Awards. For many, it means celebrating of the diversity of humanity while recognising the universality of music. But it is only in recent decades that the idea of ‘world music’ entered the public consciousness, emerging from the WOMAD festivals to be picked up as a brand to sell CDs. ‘World music’ thus comprises everything from African pop to Javanese gamelan, and is generally understood to mean any non-Western music. But does it actually mean anything in musical terms? Is it any more than a marketing label, patronisingly lumping together radically different musical forms to make Western consumers feel good about their exotic musical tastes?

Politicians have called for more music from ‘other countries’ in schools, and a more ‘diverse’ programme at the Proms. But there is surely a mismatch between the desire to embrace other musical traditions, and the discriminating standards necessary to understand and appreciate any form of music properly. Does listening to world music mean we’re embracing a universal, or are we simply being cultural tourists? Should we be worried about the willingness of some ‘world’ musicians to make a career adapting their material for Western tastes? And, in a globalising world, are we in danger of confusing the influence of the market – which now makes all sorts of music available – with the possibility of music that truly speaks to our universal humanity?

Marimba duo and RCM students, Meridian (Eri Kaishima and Jennifer Parkinson), will perform a selection of works that challenge the ‘world music’ label, including pieces by Steve Reich and Vittorio Monti.

Tamara Gausi
roots editor, Time Out London
Sarah Boyes
freelance writer and editor; assistant editor, Culture Wars; editor, Battles in Print 2010
Ivan Hewett
chief music critic, Daily Telegraph; professor, Royal College of Music; broadcaster; author, Music: healing the rift
Dr Martin Stokes
lecturer, Oxford University; researcher, ethnomusicologist, and writer on world music, with particular interest in the Middle East; co-editor, Celtic Modern: Music Making on the Global Fringe.
Guo Yue
Chinese bamboo flutes soloist and composer (including work on the sound tracks of The Killing Fields and The Last Emperor); specialist in authentic Chinese cooking; author of Music, Food and Love, the first childhood memoir to have come out of Beijing's hutongs.
Cara Bleiman
teacher, Arnhem Wharf Primary School

 Produced by
Cara Bleiman teacher, Arnhem Wharf Primary School

 Recommended readings
BBC Proms 2008: whistle-stop tour with not much to write home about

This "Celebration of World Music" offered no less than five of the winning acts of this year's BBC World Music Awards.

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, 31 July 2008

Rachid Taha on 'world music'

When you hear the phrase ‘world music’, what do you think of? The krautish desert-throb of Tinariwen? The chirpy Chinese pop-punk of Carsick Cars? Or Charlie Gillett chewing on a piece of bark?

Eddy Lawrence, Timeout, 31 March 2008

On Musical Cosmopolitanism

Advances in communication technologies over the last four decades - by which I mean increases in their power, capacity and reach, coupled with their miniaturization and distribution across the social field - have wrought fundamental changes in the way music circulates.

Martin Stokes, Institute for Global Citizenship, 6 November 2007

RootsWorld: Listening to the Planet

Our focus is the music of the world: Africa, Asia, Europe, Pacifica and The Americas, the roots of the global musical milieu that has come to be known as world music, be it traditional folk music, jazz, rock or some hybrid. How is that defined? I don't know and don't particularly care at this point: it's music from someplace you aren't, music with roots, music of the world and for the world. OK?


Guardian World Music

World music news and listings.


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