Walk into a Tower Records anywhere in the world, and you'll find promotional displays that look essentially the same as the ones at home. Nor is there much difference in the CD bins, where you'll find international superstars like Celine Dion, U2 or Janet Jackson.
Some things, though, are quite different. Take the world-music section. Here in America, we think of world music as being foreign and exotic, performed in incomprehensible languages by singers with unpronounceable names. It's Oum Kalthoum and Marta Sebestyen, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
In France, world music is Dwight Yoakam and Dolly Parton.
Country music sounds as foreign in France as French pop does here in America. Likewise, bluegrass is alien in Hong Kong, while Louisiana zydeco is considered strange in Sweden.
World music, in other words, is generally taken to mean "stuff they don't play in our country."
That's beginning to change. Just as salsa outsells ketchup in America and curry restaurants outnumber fish-and-chip shops in Britain, the world's musical tastes are broadening in all sorts of ways.
It isn't just a matter of American and English rock stars spicing up their music with foreign flavor; artists from Asia, Africa and Latin America have been expanding their palettes as well, mixing American and European styles like hip-hop and techno with their own indigenous sounds.
No wonder that, as the music industry grows increasingly global, the line between familiar and foreign becomes increasingly hard to draw.
When Irish singer/instrumentalist Enya started out in the mid-'80s, the fact that she sang in Gaelic and drew from Irish traditional music kept her out of the rock/pop section of most CD stores. But now that she has had several multi-platinum hits, her music seems as American as pizza pie.
Likewise, though the pygmy chants the French duo Deep Forest sampled onto their albums may have come from the world-music bins, the dance beat beneath those samples was enough to put the pygmies on the pop chart. Meanwhile, the Indonesian pop star Anggun is trying to make a name in America and Europe with a sound that draws from R&B;, but maintains a distinctly Indonesian flavor.
"All those things are blurring the whole idea of what world music is," says Yale Evelev, the president of Luaka Bop, a New York-based label that has released recordings of Brazilian sambas, Indian film music, and Okinawan rock.
"The whole world-music melting pot is drawing from so many sources now," agrees Nick Clift, director of associated labels at Caroline Records. Caroline is the U.S. distributor for Real World, a British label whose catalog includes everything from performances by the National Dance Company of Cambodia to dance remixes of Pakistani qawwali music.
"There's no one identifiable sound that is instantly recognized as world music," says Clift. "It's just so many different things to so many people."
For many pop fans, world music began with "Graceland," Paul Simon's epochal 1986 album. Recorded with South African and American musicians, it introduced Americans to the perky, guitar-driven sound of mbaqanga, or "Township jive," and sold more than 5 million copies in the process.
"Graceland" was not Simon's first foray into world music; he'd worked with the Andean folk group Urubamba on Simon & Garfunkel's 1970 hit, "El Condor Pasa." Nor was he the only rocker going global in the mid-'80s. English art rocker Peter Gabriel had used African, Middle Eastern and Indian musicians on his albums, and even had a Top-40 hit with "In Your Eyes," a 1986 single featuring Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour. New-waver David Byrne also got into the act with 1989's "Rei Momo," an entire album of Brazilian- and Caribbean-flavored songs.
But the roots of the world-music boom were planted some 20 years before "Graceland," when Elektra Records launched the Nonesuch Explorer series.
Offering everything from recordings of Japanese shakuhachi (a bamboo flute) to Balinese gamelan (an indigenous orchestra of gongs, drums and metallophones), the Explorer series was in large part the brainchild of Peter K. Siegel, a banjo player who got into making records because he wanted others to hear the "real, authentic" sound of the American folk musicians he had studied.
"It was not a great jump from that to explore all kinds of authentic music traditions," he says. Nor was it difficult to find great musicians to record. "Most of the things I recorded were in New York," he says. "Then as now, there were worlds of great musicians in New York - passing through, or doing a concert or on their way to be an artist-in-residence at a university."
The Explorer series had a number of firsts to its credit, but there were other labels offering music from far corners of the globe, such as Ocora, which released scholarly recordings from Radio France, and Lyrichord. Even the United Nations got into the business, thanks to the UNESCO collection of world-music albums.
But though Siegel's interest in authenticity gave the Nonesuch albums a slightly scholarly air, the audience for the Explorer series wasn't limited to ethnomusicologists. "There was almost a movement of young musicians - folk musicians and folk-rock musicians and rock musicians - who were learning a great deal from this kind of music," says Siegel. "The Grateful Dead or the Byrds or who-ever."
Linda Ronstadt, for example, was a big fan of "Music of Bulgaria," from the Explorer series. "I think that's one of the best records I've heard in my life," she said in a 1987 interview. "Everybody that I know in the music business loves that record. Crosby, Stills & Nash - that was the main inspiration for their harmonies. They worshiped that record!"
Siegel left Nonesuch in 1970 (he currently operates a label of his own, Henry Street). But the label remains a major force in the world-music market, thanks both to its extensive back catalog and to current artists like the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora and the Grammy-winning Cuban ensemble, Buena Vista Social Club.
Still, even a successful world music release seems small potatoes next to a platinum pop hit. "A quarter-million would be a big hit," says David Bither,senior vice president at Nonesuch. Few world music albums do that well in the United Sates, however, with most "established" acts selling in the 10,000 to 20,000 range.
"Buena Vista Social Club," on Nonesuch, broke the 250,000 mark in the United States, while "Sound Magic," by Real World's Afro Celt Sound System, was considered a smash at 50,000 copies. For recordings licensed from Third World countries, even 50,000 units is a big deal; however, many world-music albums are recorded expressly for American and European release.
It's not the sort of business that gets record company pulses pounding.
"The perception is that world music is niche music," says Ceci Kurzman, vice president for worldwide marketing at Epic Records. "World music appeals to a certain segment of the population, usually a segment of the population that has a more lofty taste in music."
However, this doesn't mean that world-music acts have no hope for mainstream acceptance - particularly if those acts happen to have rock-star fans. Before Paul Simon brought Ladysmith Black Mambazo into the studio to sing "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," for the "Graceland" album, the South African a cappella group was unknown outside of world-music circles. Now, the group is so well-known that it does Lifesavers candy commercials.
Over the years, a number of musicians have used their own albums to introduce world-music stars to American and European audiences. George Harrison touted sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar to Beatlemaniacs; saxophonist Wayne Shorter introduced Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento to fusion fans; Rolling Stone Brian Jones recorded an album of the Moroccan folk troupe the Master Musicians of Joujouka; and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant featured Indian ghazal singer Najma Akhtar (as well as Egyptian and Moroccan musicians) on their "No Quarter" album.
No rock star has been more dedicated to exposing exotic talent than Peter Gabriel. In addition to introducing the pop world to Youssou N'Dour, he has also performed with talents ranging from Indian violinist L. Shankar to qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Moreover, he works closely with the British group WOMAD (which stands for World of Music and Dance), that operates the Real World label and puts on an annual world-music festival.
"The whole Real World philosophy has been to use Peter's acclaim as a launching pad for music that he feels deserves a wider audience," Nick Clift says. After Gabriel appeared at the 1996 "VH1 Honors" concert with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, sales of Khan's "Night Song" album increased dramatically.
Getting a rock star's endorsement is not the sort of thing every act can depend on, how-ever. So some world-music artists actively court pop crossover by adding Western elements - anything from techno dance beats to rock guitarsolos - to their music.
Sometimes, the artists opt for direct collaboration, as when Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure recorded "Talking Timbuktu" with guitarist Ry Cooder, or when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan cut "Night Song" with Canadian guitarist/producer Michael Brook. Other projects add the Western elements later, as with Khan's "Star Rise" album, which used English remix producers to work dance beats into traditional qawwali recordings.
Increasingly, though, artists who want to make the transition from world-music artist to worldwide star are going it alone, hoping that they can deliver a pop sound that is as distinctive and accessible as anything the West has produced.
Take Anggun (pronounced ann-GOON). A star in Indonesia since the age of 9, the 23-year-old singer grew up surrounded by traditional culture, but made her living singing rock. "Traditional music is completely dead in Indonesia," she says. "It belongs to the past. The young people and most of the musicians in Indonesia, they prefer to sound more like Mr. Big or Robert Plant, instead of doing the traditional music."
Even though she was a star, with her own record company and five hit albums, Anggun was dissatisfied. "I found that I was trapped in this rock music," she says. "I love rock music very much, and I used to listen to Bon Jovi and Guns 'N Roses and those kind of bands. But there's another kind of music coming. There is soul, there is hip-hop, there is jungle, and I want to participate in that.
"But I couldn't, because of my image. Because in Indonesia, when you start with some particular [style], you have to stay."
So Anggun went to Europe, soaked up new sounds and wrote songs that expressed her true musical identity, one that draws both from East and West. "I am Indonesian," she says. "But my music is not representative of Indonesian music. The Indonesian part is only about me. That's why I am trying to introduce this music that is a mixture, a marriage between Asian sounds, Arabic sounds, and all the sounds I've been influenced by in my career so far."
And Sony Music believes the mixture will appeal to audiences all over. "Anggun is one of those artists we're investing in for the long term," says Kurzman, who works for Sony's Epic subsidiary. Although her American debut, "Snow on the Sahara," has Indonesian elements, "It is music for the masses," says Kurzman. "Everybody can get it."
Not only is the music accessible, but so are the lyrics, since Anggun sings in English. (She also recorded versions of the album in French and Indonesian). "At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, [America] will probably be one of the last markets to embrace non-English-language music," admits Kurzman. "Europeans and Asians had to deal with this [language problem] for so long that it's part of the fabric of their pop culture."
Still, that may change. "As Western musicians start using other sources as influences, maybe those sources then become less 'other,' " suggests Luaka Bop's Evelev. "Maybe they will become something that we would find as a natural usage, something that we wouldn't think would be different."
Musical map of the world
Ceili - Instrumental music for dancing, mostly jigs and reels, played on some combination of fiddle, penny whistle, ulleann pipes, harp or guitar.
Sean nos - Gaelic ballad singing, usually unaccompanied; literally, "in the old style."
Flamenco - Fiery, Arab-inflected dance music, performed with guitars, percussion and voice; lately, "new flamenco" has incorporated elements of jazz and salsa.
Rembetika - A fusion of Greek and Turkish styles, this energetic, sometimes sentimental style arose in the 1930s; uses bouzouki, violin and other instruments, plus voice.
Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares - Series of recordings that popularized the Bulgarian Radio's women's choir; lush, densely polyphonic choral arrangements of folk songs, full of odd textures and swooping, chirping ornamentation.
Gypsy music - Term given old-style Hungarian folk music, dating back to the 16th century; often features virtuosic fiddling with a drone accompaniment.
Tanchaz - Literally "dance music"; drawing from Hungarian and Transylvanian traditions, it arose in the 1970s and has been popularized by Marta Sebestyen and Muzsikas.
Plachi - Mournful, dramatic laments; much emoting from the singers.
Chastushki - Sly, satiric folk songs, usually performed to balalaika or accordion accompaniment.
Khorovodi - Energetic, foot-stomping round dance.
Tango - Stylized dance music born in the brothels of Buenos Aires; rich and complex as jazz (particularly when played by Astor Piaz zola); principal melodic instruments are violin and bandoleon (a type of accordion).
Son jalisense - Ballad-oriented music from Jalisco; best-known variant is the trumpet-flavored mariachi sound.
Son jarocho - Rhythmically intricate style from Veracruz; "La Bamba" is a son jarocho.
Son huasteca - From Huasteca; fiery, virtuosic vocals; also called "huapango."
Cancion ranchero - Also known as "norteno"; twangy, energetic, style using accordions and guitars; inspired Tex-Mex music.
Samba - Festive, drum-driven sound of street parades and the carnival; the basic beat of Brazil.
Bossa nova - Jazzy version of samba ("Girl from Ipanema").
Tropical - Rock-oriented samba popularized by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.
Forro - Frisky, accordion-flavored, sometimes described as Brazil's zydeco; most popular of rural styles.
Lambada - Amazonian dance beat; became a global craze in '80s.
Cumbia - Shuffling, cheerful, two-step dance music; fuels everything from traditional folk to salsa sound of Joe Arroyo.
Vallenato - Accordion-spiked sound of Valledupar; from rural tradition.
L Porros - Fiery, percussive music from region around Cordoba.
Tuneful, melancholy music deriving from pre-Colombian Incan culture; played in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and parts of Argentina, Colombia and Chile; known for "antaras," or panpipes (remember Paul Simon's version of "El Condor Pasa"?), as well as harp, guitar, and "tiple," a small, four-string guitar.
Reggae - Lilting vocals, heavy afterbeats, and booming, syncopated bass; draws from American R&B; and a Jamaican folk style called "mento."
Dub - A reggae variation that emphasizes sparse, echo-treated melodies.
Dancehall - Is to reggae as rap is to R&B.;
Zouk - Hi-tech, infectious dance music, derived from Antillean "cadence" style; recorded in France and the Antilles, and was in the '80s one of the Francophone world's hottest club grooves.
Compas - Sinuous sound influenced by jazz and meringue (a slower merengue); became Haiti's dominant pop style in the 1950s.
Voodoo jazz - Compas mixed with rock and Zairean soukous; made popular by groups like Boukman Eksperyans.
Calypso - Dates to slave days; features wicked wit and sly, syncopated melodies; popular outside Trinidad since the 1930s ("Rum and Coca Cola" was calypso).
Soca - Calypso offshoot (short for "soul calypso"); typified by danceable hits like "Hot Hot Hot."
Merengue - The Dominican national dance, a brisk, brassy music relying on a clave beat (bom-bom-bom, bop bop); popular with salsa fans.
Son - Melodic guitar-and-percussion music.
Rumba - Strongly rhythmic Afro-Cuban party music, drawing heavily from traditional West African rhythms.
Salsa - Heavily percussive, popular dance music performed throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. Incorporates many rhythms, including rumba, mambo and merengue.
Classical Music - One of the world's oldest musical traditions; often features fevered interplay between stringed instruments, like the sitar and vinya, and tabla drums.
Ghazal - "Light classical" vocal style; updated by film soundtracks and pop singers like Najma Akhtar.
Bhangra - Dance style using elements of dub and disco with ghazal-style vocals; also popular in Britain; pioneered by artists like Bally Sagoo and Talvin Singh.
Qawwali - Hypnotic, vocally ornate devotional music, emphasizing the voice with harmonium and percussion accompaniment; made into pop style by singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Kiliwali - Pop style reflecting diverse influences, including Persian classical music, Indian ghazals, and Western rock; repressed by Soviets.
Gamelan - Famed folk music, using gongs, drums and metallophones; two traditions include composition-based Balinese gamelan, and looser, more improvisational Javanese gamelan.
Jaipong - Lively, percussive pop, emerged in '70s.
Buddhist chants - Used for rituals and meditation; features gongs, drums, reed trumpets and droning chants.
Beijing opera - Raucous, splendid, theater music with orchestra and vocals; influenced Hong Kong movies.
Chinese rock - Mixes elements of rock, folk and jazz with traditional Chinese folk melodies; politically controversial, but stars like Cui Jian remain popular.
Taiko - Thunderous, percussive music relying on oversized drums; popularized by the group Kodo.
Enka - Sentimental, melancholy, traditional ballad style, usually with shamisen (a type of lute) accompaniment; played by geishas; can still be heard in karaoke bars.
Kayokyoku - Folk fusion style popularized by the awesome Shang Shang Typhoon.
Samulnori - Celebrated percussive sound, with drumming that can rival the rhythmic invention of African music.
Ponchak rock - Sweet, romantic pop music.
Rai - Sultry, sexy, teen music blending traditional Arab elements with disco and rock; many stars forced into exile with rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
Andalous - Virtuosic oud and percussion music; the root influence of Spanish flamenco.
Berber - Hypnotic folk music of the Berber people; enjoyed vogue when Rolling Stone Brian Jones recorded "Master Musicians of Joujouka" in the '60s.
Gnaoui - Music derived from slave culture; much in common with Delta blues; Jimmy Page and Robert Plant recorded with gnaoui musicians.
Musiqqa sharqiyyah - Literally "Oriental music"; features singer with large band; epic, musically varied ballads (songs can last an hour or more); epitomized by the great Oum Kalthoum.
Shaabi - Vocally virtuosic; from Egyptian youth culture.
Al-jil - Pungent, danceable youth music; literally "new generation" sound.
Zar - Driving, trance-like music of the Sufi dervishes.
Makossa - Brash, intensely rhythmic sound known in the West through Manu Dibango's hit, "Soul Makossa."
Juju - Gently percolating Yoruba sound, using electric guitars and talking drums; made popular by stars like King Sunny Ade.
Afropop - Rambling, intense dance music; brassy, guitar-heavy sound influenced by James Brown and John Coltrane; popularized by the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Soukous - Widely-influential dance music characterized by close harmonies, a skipping snare drum and intertwining guitars; came to prominence in the '60s with Franco and Tabu Ley Rochereau; revolutionized in the '70s by the three-guitar sound of Zaiko pTC Langa Langa.
Mbalax - Mixes "kora" tradition of the griot, or folk poet, with brass-and-guitar sound of African pop; biggest star is singer Youssou N'Dour, a virtuoso who has recorded with Westerners like Peter Gabriel and Wyclef Jean.
Highlife - One of first popular fusions of African traditional music and Amer-European pop; by the 1950s had absorbed elements of jazz and soul and influenced dance music throughout West Africa.
Chimurenga - Churning, guitar-based pop based on traditional "mbira," or thumb piano, music; used to political ends during war of independence by musicians like Thomas Mapfumo.
Jit - Spunky blend of Chimurenga and soukous; made popular in the '80s by groups like the Bhundu Boys.
Mbaqanga (Township jive) - Perky, Zulu-derived sound featuring electric guitars and penny whistle; made familiar by Paul Simon's "Graceland."
Iscathamiya - Lush, a cappella harmonies (think Ladysmith Black Mambazo); iscathamiya groups are highly competitive, and the lyrics are quite boastful.
Pub Date: 6/21/98