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Gogol Bordello Frontman Bashes The Term World Music

By June 6, 2006

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In a recent interview with indie/jamband website Jambase.com, Eugene Hutz, lead singer of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, got remarkably angry when the term "world music" was dropped. "...we want to destroy the term known as world music," said Hutz, and proceeded to go on a minor rampage (read the full interview with Hutz).

How do you feel about the term "world music"? Does it offend you or make you somehow feel like the music it describes is inferior?

Personally, I don't have any major issues with the term, but I look at it for what it is: a marketing term, designed to make it easier to differentiate types of music. It's excessively broad, sure, but it seems to work pretty well for the purposes for which it's intended. No, Irish music and African music don't have much in common, but they often appeal to the same American listeners, who are more likely to switch between those two genres than, say, Irish music and Britney Spears.

I also happen to like a crazy range of music... a mix tape I made last night includes DMX, Hank Williams, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Meditations and Louis Prima. In my head (and in my ears) music is just music, so I don't need to differentiate, but I surely appreciate the ease, when I'm in a record store, of flipping through the "rock" section (which is insanely broad-ranged as well) and then heading towards world music. It'd be excessive, I think, to define every single obscure artist with their own category, and just plain dumb to eliminate categories altogether.

What do you think? Post a comment or leave a message in the World Music Forum.


August 13, 2006 at 2:22 pm
(1) Shamus9999 says:

I was all set to speak in defense of the term “world music” but having read the article I feel that he raises some valid points.

One, labelling a particular band’s style “world music” does tend to put a lot of people off. They might think, “Oh, like the Chieftains or those old Topic label records” then not even want to listen.

Two, I agree with him that American music is also world music: we’re a part of the world too. Even your Hank Williams could be considered world music. Like (I think it was) Louis Armstrong once said of the term “folk music”: “All music’s folk music. Only folks play it. I ain’t never heard a cow sing a song.”

October 18, 2006 at 10:22 am
(2) Spin The Globe says:

I don’t like the term “world music,” but I find it helpful. It’s a big bin in which one can expect to find “exotic” music from far away…or from the immigrant neighborhood across town. And it’s so dynamic, as a genre uses the term as a holding pattern until it can find its own runway. Like Celtic, reggae, salsa — all of these generally get their own section as the style becomes more popular and well known.

Categorizing music by style is generally more helpful than categorizing by country of origin, given people’s migration patterns. You can find great salsa in Scotland, for example, reggae in Belgium, and lots of West African pop in Paris. And you can find pretty much anything in the USA if you know where to look.

So let’s keep “world music” for a while, but let’s not be satisfied with it. Use it as a launcing point to educate and explore and expound on the basic wonderfulness of each unique artist. Hutz may not be happy about this, but in the short term, what’s the alternative? To file Rokia Traore in the same bit with Justin Timberlake? No thank you.

Spin The Globe -world music radio
href=”http://SoundRoots.org”>SoundRoots global culture blog

October 21, 2006 at 8:19 pm
(3) worldmusic says:

Well said!

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