August 1998
WORLD MUSIC? The phrase is used with such regularity by the media in
recent times that you might think the term had existe...
The Origins Of The 'World Music' Genre page 3
©1998 Grant Goddard
The interest from all sections of the British media was ...
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'The Origins Of The "World Music" Genre' by Grant Goddard


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The story behind the creation and marketing of the 'world music' genre in London in 1987, written by Grant Goddard in August 1998 for Toronto World Arts Scene magazine.

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'The Origins Of The "World Music" Genre' by Grant Goddard

  2. 2. WORLD MUSIC? The phrase is used with such regularity by the media in recent times that you might think the term had existed forever. But 'world music' was in fact a name artificially created by a small group of music industry people who met monthly during 1987 in a public house in London, England (somewhat appropriately named The Empress Of Russia). 'World music' was devised as an appropriate answer to a simple problem. Since the early 1980s, a handful of small, independent record labels had sprung up in Britain that were releasing music recorded in Africa, East Europe, Asia and Latin America. These record companies were not interested in the traditional music or quaint 'ethnic' recordings from these continents that western record companies had dabbled in since the earliest days of the phonograph. Instead, upstart labels such as Earthworks, Globestyle and Sterns were interested in bringing the vibrant, contemporary, popular music from other continents to the attention of music fans in Europe and North America. The problem was that record stores throughout the western world had no obvious place to display or file such recordings in their inventory. A record-buyer looking for an album by, for example, the Super Rail Band in music stores had no obvious place to find it. It could be in the 'folk' section, though it was not folk music. It might be in the soul section ("well, the musicians are black, aren't they?") but the music certainly was not soul. So the Super Rail Band were most likely to end up in the 'S' division of the huge 'rock/pop' alphabet, lost in a sea of pouting, preening third-rate mediocrity. The independent record companies were frustrated by this situation and hurting financially. The potential buyers of their releases were failing to find these albums in record stores. And the record stores were caught in the middle of the situation. If they ordered this type of music product, where should they file it to maximise sales? It was a real problem for all parties. By 1987, a label such as Globestyle had developed an extensive catalogue of 25 album titles, and there needed to be an obvious single point in every record store where potential buyers could find its releases. The result was a series of regular meetings in The Empress of Russia attended by the managers of twelve pioneering British record labels, as well as DJs of the few radio shows that played this music, and representatives of record distributors that specialised in this music. By the third meeting, the ad hoc group had agreed upon the name 'world music' as descriptive of all their releases, and each record company contributed £50 per album title towards a jointly funded generic marketing campaign. Twelve-inch plastic divider cards with the words 'WORLD MUSIC' emblazoned across the top were distributed to every record store across Britain, enabling each to establish a brand new section in its display of album sleeves (this was the pre-CD era). 25,000 copies were distributed of a single-sheet, monochrome leaflet that listed 73 albums available from the twelve record companies. Press releases explaining and describing this new genre called 'world music' were sent to everyone on a media list created by pooling the contacts of the individual record companies. The Origins Of The 'World Music' Genre page 2 ©1998 Grant Goddard
  3. 3. The Origins Of The 'World Music' Genre page 3 ©1998 Grant Goddard The interest from all sections of the British media was overwhelming. Many magazines and newspapers ran feature articles about the campaign, as well as spotlights on individual artists whose recordings were being promoted. In October 1987, the popular weekly music newspaper NME produced a special 'NME World Music Cassette' which acted as a sampler for all the record labels' individual releases. By the end of the year, the term 'world music' had been adopted as a new genre of music, not only in Britain, but across Europe. And what exactly did the phrase 'world music' mean? One of the press releases produced in the marketing campaign explained: "Trying to reach a definition of 'world music' provoked much lengthy discussion [within the committee], and finally it was agreed that it means practically any music that isn't, at present, catered for by its own category e.g.: reggae, jazz, blues, folk. Perhaps the common factor unifying all these world music [record] labels is the passionate commitment of all the individuals to the music itself." Eleven years later, the debate about the meaning of 'world music' continues to ignite much passion, but the original campaign succeeded beyond its participants' wildest dreams. A section of 'world music' – whatever it is – can now be found in music stores across the western world. [First published in 'Toronto World Arts Scene' magazine, August 1998(??)] Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at