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World Music Myths - Busted!

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World music is weird and inaccesible, and only nerds, old people and dreadlocked hippies listen to it. Right? Wrong. World music is way too broad of a genre to create stereotypes about, but people do it anyway. It's time to destroy some of these myths.

1. World music fans are all geeks/old people/hippies/etc.

Lots of geeks listen to world music. So do lots of old people and lots of hippies. So do lots of straightlaced investment bankers, college drama majors, rice farmers, suburban homemakers, hipsters, indigenous tribesmen, Rabbis, Republicans, and... you get the picture. The term "World Music" is nebulous, at best, and so is the profile of people who listen to it.

2. World music is just a bunch of weird drumming and chanting.

Sure, there are lots of genres of world music that are percussion-based and which involve chanting. There are also lots of genres of world music that have no percussive elements at all, let alone chanting. Most modern genres of world music, like reggae, are totally accessible, even to pop music fans. And many genres, such as West African kora music, are refined and elegant, perfect for a classical music fan.

3. World music is always in another language.

Naturally, world music is often in another language, but certainly not always. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for example, sing the majority of their repertoire in English. They're not alone. A great deal of world music is also instrumental, such as that of American Afro-rock band Toubab Krewe, which deletes the language barrier completely.

4. "World Music" actually means "Third World Music".

It's absolutely true that some of the finest music in the world comes from some of the poorest places in the world, but lots of great music comes out of cultures that are actually quite well-off, and even glamorous! For example, there is nothing at all third-world about the elegant old-world Parisian stylings of Edith Piaf or her contemporary chanteuses.

5. "I've never heard any world music".

Sure you have, and lots of it! You'd have to live in a box not to. For a super-mainstream example, remember the song "Who Let The Dogs Out?" That's a soca song. Remember "It Wasn't Me" and "Mr. Boombastic" by Shaggy? Those would be reggae. Remember Paul Simon's Graceland? That was Ladysmith Black Mambazo taking care of the background vocals. The list goes on and on.

6. World music isn't sexy.

I think this myth must be a derivative of Myth #1: if the only people who listen to world music are old, ugly, dirty, or geeky, then the music must not be sexy. I would argue, though, that Cesaria Evora's music is easily as sexy as any American soul or R&B balladeers's, and genres like soca and chutney are undoubtedly hot and spicy!

7. World music must not be any good, because they don't play it on the radio.

First of all, world music is a staple at NPR, which has radio stations nationwide... but that's not helping my case with the younger crowd, which is the primary demographic for pop radio. The short answer to this is that world music, because of the bizarre, preconceived notions about it, is harder to sell to young crowds. Being thought of as a nerd is (quote from an actual teenager here) "ugh... like, totally my worst nightmare." Need I say more?

8. You can't sing along to world music.

Allow me to mention The Baha Men's "Who Let The Dogs Out" one more time. Don't you remember the entire summer of 2000, when no one would stop singing along to that song? Well, there's a lot more where that came from.

9. World music all sounds the same.

Irish Music and Classical Indian Music, for example, sound so mindbogglingly different in every aspect of sound: melody, harmony, rhythm, song structure, etc. that there's literally no way to confuse the two.

10. World music doesn't rock.

Sure, some world music doesn't rock; a lot of it is very subtle and calm. But straight-up dancehall rocks like nobody's business. So do Balkan Beat Box and Dengue Fever and Clifton Chenier and Tinariwen. The list goes on and on...
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