Music is an audio expression that knows no borders. We bond over the love of classics and chart-topping hits. Mostly produced and distributed by record labels in developed countries, such universally appreciated songs are categorised into familiar music genres like pop and R&B for easy identification.
One night in the late 1990s, I tuned in to a news channel on the radio expecting my usual dose of current events around the world. Instead of headlines and weather reports, what delivered was a catchy freestyle drum-focused song that got me humming along. It was unlike other sounds I had known. The upbeat arrangement ended with the DJ explaining brief info about that track. My hazy memory only picked up words such as ‘Burkina Faso’ and ‘world music’, without any recollection of the artist and song title. Inserting such tunes may seem unorthodox, but it definitely lifts the sombre tone of current affairs.
Clueless on what world music is? The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as ‘popular music originating from or influenced by non-Western musical traditions and often having a danceable rhythm’. That explains the buoyant nature of the track.
Digging more into the history of this genre, I discovered that it was coined by American ethnomusicologist Robert E Brown in the early 1960s to describe the music of artists he was working in Asia, Africa and Indonesia. But in the 1980s, the term resurfaced as a way of cataloguing and marketing non-Western, traditional and vernacular music.
Lumping ethnic and foreign music that’s unique to indigenous culture may seem logical but it’s bizarre to hear oriental influences alongside Cajun fiddlers. If reggae and dance-hall can be a genre or sub-genre by itself, why not group them with their respective origins instead? Identities may be blurred with the removal of racialisation, but it is also necessary to properly define and accurately represent the artist who created it.
In an era where racial harmony matters, the cultural superiority of the West should be abolished as music is ever-changing, allowing sounds created outside Western culture to have their rightful recognition.