Happy 30th birthday, ‘world music’

The World
World Music at 30

1987 was a big year for music. "World music," in particular, since that's when the global genre was first named as an industry category.

It all started at a meeting in a London pub 30 years ago.

Music industry insiders gathered there wanted a way to easily identify the work of artists from around the globe, so record buyers could find that music in stores. (Remember, there were no streaming services back then.)

Joe Boyd was one of them. An American who's lived in the UK since the mid-1960s, Boyd has played a critical role in the music of Pink Floyd, Nick Drake and Fairport Convention. Now he's writing a book on "world music," as one of the original folks who helped coin the phrase.

"Our ambition was very modest," Boyd says of coming up with the name. "We had no real desire to change the music world or our end of it, we just wanted a little category." 

But soon enough, art centers started to hold world music concerts and festivals, and record stores around the globe starting using the name.

One of the biggest artists to appear at that time was Senegal's Youssou N'Dour.


Fusion within world music has helped cultures and generations share each other's styles and influences. Here's an example of that from Bonde do Rolê, a band from Brazil. 


With world music's success, though, it wasn't long before a backlash began. There were even protests. "People who didn't like the term thought that we were somehow dictating something to people, and we never had such intentions," Boyd says.

Boyd admits the term has "outgrown its usefulness." As music consumers, we've also become more savvy, educated and open to new sounds. We know many of these world bands by their name, not their category.

"You say Caetano Veloso is coming to town hall to play a concert. You don't say a Brazilian world music artist is coming and his name happens to be Caetano Veloso," Boyd says.

Thank goodness for that! 


All this year we'll be checking in with different artists and producers who still have a stake in this thing called world music. Stay tuned.

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