World Music: Changing and Staying the Same

By John Mulvihill. Mr. Mulvihill is a student in Denise Rotavera-Krain’s FYS Class: Questions of Identity Through World Music.

It can be easy to become trapped in a “safety net” and be stuck in one’s own personal world. A good way to learn about the world is by simply listening to the music of other cultures. Music from other cultures and other parts of the world show how things change and how they sometimes stay the same.

In the western world, music which comes from outside it has come to be known as “world music.” This, of course, is generalizing a multitude of musical genres into one. Yet, the western world is still a large consumer of the world music genre and has greatly expanded the market for it. Western artists such as Madonna, Sting, and George Harrison had started using different sounds from different types of world music in their own songs. This has promoted different types of world music. Yet, they are not the only people who have brought different types of music to a western audience. Groups from across the seas have decided to promote their music to western audiences. A prime example of this is al-Kindi ensemble. “This Syrian based group markets itself to global audiences as an authentic Sufi ensemble and by relaying on Western notions of the sacred and in the Orient the al-Kindi Ensemble has been able to inscribe itself within the global sub-genre of ‘spiritual music’.” (Lovatt, 5)

Despite the fact that their music is constructed for, and consumed by foreign audiences, the al-Kindi Ensemble have nonetheless succeeded in constructing a globally accepted idea of authentic Mawlawiya music by becoming one of Syria’s most famous orchestras. Yet not all examples of world music are like this. Music of other cultures has changed along with the times and technology. Many types of world music have taken a more serious tone, and some of the governments of  respective countries have tried to stop that. In fact, many artist singers had to endure repeated criticism, censorship and even persecution. An example of this is Raï music. Perhaps the biggest source of local criticism that Raï faced were its lyrics which flouted many of the traditional values present in conservative Arab Society. “Raï songs openly discussed subjects traditionally considered off limits, such as prostitution, alcohol, forbidden love and sex, leading to strong criticism from conservatives and repeated violence against Raï artists.” (Lovatt, 9) There were even killings of some artists, such as the assassination of Cheb Hasni in 1994.

World music shows that the world is both static and dynamic. Some types of music change over time and others continue on as they always have been. I feel happy about the fact that the Western World (especially the United States) is learning more and more about different types of world music. Even if this has caused violence in some areas, it is a good thing that people are expressing themselves in new ways and old. The new forms of world music help attract a younger generation, and the old keep more mature generation’s attention. When different people from different parts of the world can come together and enjoy the same thing, it truly is beautiful.