While searching for “world music” within Twitter one is most likely to find results about Justin Bieber’s “Around The World” track instead. A simple Google search for the same keywords brings up a variety of institutes, theaters, and World Music networks.
Pre-Internet, “World Music” fans mostly consisted of academic Westerners interested in the globe’s otherness. The music itself was essentially non-English and played with more natural, local instruments from Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, India, and the Middle East. Celtic and Russian choir music could also be classified as World Music.
World Music still sounds native, unfamiliar, and far less digitized than mainstream music: Pop, Rock, and Rap. It has its own category in the iTunes Music Store and hours of streaming on Pandora.
But today, world music either gets mixed into mainstream culture and reclassified or goes buried in the troves of mainstream music which dominate social media chatter.
Those non-Western countries that are highly connected have a greater chance to crossover.
South Korean Pop artist Psy for instance is a World Music artist whose viral video “Gagnam Style” earned him mainstream, Western Pop success. YouTube backed Psy, the same way mass radio Westernized Ricky Martin and Shakira.
Conversely, the digital divide prevents World music artists from successfully marketing themselves. Not everyone has Pro Tools, an iPhone and high speed connectivity. This is where World music becomes more of a world aid program than about the quality of the music itself.
Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, and the Buena Vista Club all demonstrated how commercialization strengthened their local culture. The problem today is that the Internet just wants to Westernize everything.
For World Music, the digital era simply means it either gets absorbed and recasted or converted into an outreach program, known as World music.
(I originally wrote this piece for Flaunt Magazine but they never got back to me.)