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World music sales charts launched

August 10, 2009

The term ‘world music’ is a crappy marketing term dreamed up by record industry people so they could market records and CDs in shops; people would know where to go to find that African or Asian artist rather than having to look through the racks of mainstream pop artists. Unfortunately, although well intentioned, this served only to ghettoise the music and make it easier to ignore for the unimaginative music-buying general public. The idea that South Indian classical music is in the same category as Finish folk music, Algerian Rai or Cantopop, kaduro, chaabi or township jive, is patently ridiculous but the retail trade and the record labels went along with it. Now that the high street record shop doesn’t exist any more, perhaps it’s time for a rethink.

So, the fact that here in the UK, the The Official Charts Company (OCC) is launching two new monthly ‘world music’ charts (world music album and world music compilation album) is a mixed blessing.

It’s good that non-Western-mainstream music gets some attention but it’s bad that it perpetuates this artificial mashing together of disparate genres into something ultimately non-existent. Why not market these artists just like any other, without the essentially meaningless ‘world music’ label?

Surely, American rock is an indigenous music from a foreign culture yet doesn’t get treated as ‘world music’. Is there an inherent racism in our music marketing, or is it just that American culture (despite being a foreign culture) is so dominant that we think it’s our culture and that the cultures of nations we’ve actually had far more to do with (India or Jamaica, for example) are seen as somehow far more foreign?

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