World Music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


World Music

World music is a direct and powerful indicator of the multicultural nature of Canadian society. Broadly interpreted, "world music" can mean the traditional musics of cultures outside North America and Western Europe, or contemporary versions of traditional musics.

World music is a direct and powerful indicator of the multicultural nature of Canadian society. Broadly interpreted, "world music" can mean the traditional musics of cultures outside North America and Western Europe, or contemporary versions of traditional musics. Often, the term simply means cross-over music that applies non-Western sounds to mainstream pop or rock. World music is as diverse in its origins and applications as it is in its sounds and techniques. Synonyms include ethnic music and international music.

The term "world music" arose in 1906 to describe exotic influences in classical music. It gained popularity in 1987 after recording companies in England chose it to help retail recordings by African and Latin American musicians. The term has been used in Canada since 1988. Styles encompassed within the category include Celtic, Cajun, zydeco, soukous, klezmer, salsa, merengue, soca, highlife, reggae, and numerous other traditional musics.

The related term "world beat" is sometimes used interchangeably for "world music." "World beat" surfaced in the US in the early 1980s, referring to fusion music with a danceable beat. The term "world beat" is less used now.

Features of World Music

World music derives its attraction from sounds unfamiliar in the West. Among the instruments played in authentic world music and world-influenced popular music are such percussion instruments as the West African djembé, conga drums, the Middle Eastern darbuka, and the African xylophone. These are blended with Scottish and Irish instruments such as the bodhràn, bagpipes and the ubiquitous fiddle, and perhaps even Australian didgeridus and Spanish flamenco guitars. Musical characteristics include modal and non-Western scales, bent pitches, vocal melismas and complex rhythmic patterns. Improvisation is often a feature.

Many world music practitioners incorporate political messages about war, conservation, or exploitation of indigenous populations.

Demographic Background

The upsurge in world music followed directly from the wave of immigration from developing nations in the 1970s and thereafter. As immigrants and visiting performers from the Caribbean, Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America played their traditional musics, they created a Canadian market for and interest in musics such as reggae, calypso, steelband and merengue. Since Africa and the Caribbean have been a major immigrant source, especially in Toronto and Montréal, these musics in particular have penetrated the mainstream. Along with Celtic music, African rhythms are a predominant influence today; African drumming is experiencing popularity even outside world music circles.

Canadian world music practitioners who have achieved international recognition include the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Kashtin and Lhasa de Sela. Many internationally successful Canadians, such as songwriter-producer Daniel Lanois, cross-pollinate mainstream popular and rock music utilizing the sounds of their heritage. World music has entered the language of jazz; saxophonist Jane Bunnett explores Cuban-jazz fusion. Locally, innumerable lesser-known artists and ensembles perform in their own musical vernaculars: Brazilian, Haitian, Lebanese, Pakistani, Spanish, Welsh and other traditions. World music functions as a statement of their ethnic identity.

World music is performed and celebrated through festivals (Toronto's Caribana, Montréal's Carifiesta, the Festival of World Beat in London, Ontario), in concerts and clubs, and is prominent on television and film soundtracks.

World Music and the Recording Industry

World music has been a growth area since the 1990s. Larger recording companies have established world music categories to meet the wave of consumer interest. The industry has recognized the category through awards: The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the overseeing body responsible for the Juno Awards, established a Best World Beat Juno award in 1992; this later became the Best Global Recording category. In the US, a Best World Music Album Grammy category was initiated in 1991. Similarly, the industry tracks world music charts.

World music sections of retail stores offer a profusion of possibilities. In English Canada, the section often houses any recording not sung in English, or disks recorded in developing nations by musicians little known here (eg, Zimbabwe's Thomas Mapfumo). The section may contain music derived from Scottish or Irish "roots" music; thus one finds the The Rankin's Celtic-derived folk music alongside Loreena McKennit and the Innu-language recordings of Kashtin. Even French recordings by bilingual pop singers such as Céline Dion are sometimes located under "world music."

The creation of the world music retail category allowed many immigrant musicians to reach new audiences in Canada, and likewise for Canadian musicians to export their traditional sounds. However, some believe the label marginalizes its performers.

Contemporary Classical Music

Contemporary classical music has embraced world music. Canada hosted the first World Music Week congress of the International Music Council in 1975, fostering exchange among musicians of five continents. The annual festival World Music Days was held in Canada in 1984. Among Canadian classical musicians who incorporate world music sounds into their repertoire and compositions are the percussion ensemble Nexus, which uses classical Indian tabla; the St. Lawrence Quartet, which has used klezmer instrumentation; and the composers Alexina Louie, Malcolm Forsyth and Christos Hatzis. In 2002, CBC Records launched a world music sub-label; its premiere release was by the Toronto ensemble Maza Mezé, which incorporates music of Greece and the Middle East. CBC has also devoted regular radio programming to world music, adding to the listening opportunities already available on community and campus radio stations.

Role of World Music in Education

Since roughly the 1970s, as Canadian society became more pluralistic, educators have realized the benefits of including world musics in school curricula and music education programs. World musics are used as effective tools for encouraging cross-cultural understanding and racial tolerance, aiding in maintaining traditions, and for teaching non-musical subjects. Under-represented (non-Western) musics provide opportunities to explore new rhythmic and melodic concepts, improvisation and oral transmission, and for ear-training. Songs from Ghana, Zimbabwe, the Andes, the Jewish heritage, Japan, Australia and First Nations peoples may now be heard in Canadian classrooms, as are rhythm exercises based on Brazilian or sub-Saharan rhythm patterns, and the sounds of exotic drums or aerophones (flutes). A wealth of books, recordings and videos on world musics is now available at primary, secondary and post-secondary levels.

Impact of Technology

World music is now available everywhere, thanks to new recording technology, greater ease of global travel, and the Internet, where its sounds may be heard via RealAudio. Instruments and styles that previously could be experienced only by travelling great distances can now be sampled by the click of a key. Numerous Internet sites offer opportunities for even further cross-fertilization.

See also Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian, Folk Music, Franco-Canadian, Popular Music and Jazz.)