New World Order: why the world music ‘genre’ will be the death of its exponents

It’s a hot, sweaty bank holiday weekend, HMV is rammed and oxygen is fast running out. If I don’t get some air soon, I’m going to bludgeon someone to death with the squash racquet I just bought for my Mum’s birthday. Perhaps the hefty woman with the face like a bag of smashed twats who’d probably crawl over a dead relative to get the last Wii Fit in the shop, or the group of scals quite openly discussing the best way to smuggle four copies of Counter Strike out the doors. Let’s face it, by this point, everyone is expendable.

But wait, there is an oasis of respite in this maelstrom of fools: the world music section. Guaranteed, no-one will bother you if you go and chill out there for a while. Sure enough, it’s bliss. I spend a good twenty minutes browsing through the section, reading an inlay every so often (no security tags here), waiting for a lull at the t-shirt stand.

“Bloody bedlam today isn’t it?” I hadn’t even seen the bearded old codger standing next to me.

“S’alright over here. Can’t face that queue though”, I reply. He looks wise and friendly, with the merest suggestion of psychosis in his eyes. Like Brian Blessed. Say something wise, please. Convince me that there is still but an iota of humanity left within these four walls. He exceeds all expectations.

“You know why it’s so quiet over here, don’t you, son?”

“Um, because nobody likes world music?”

“SEE!” he bellows. “That’s exactly the point isn’t it?”


He rolls his bulging eyes.

“World music isn’t even a real genre. It’s made up. It’s a miscellaneous bucket for foreign artists nobody can be bothered to categorize.” It takes a few seconds to sink in, but he’s dead right. It’s a mild form of racism sitting right there between the country section and blu-ray DVDS (also deserted). On closer inspection, I find all manner of musical styles: African funk, Balkan beatbox, French folk music, all lumped together in this half-arsed category ‘world music’.

I find myself surprised at the number of artists whose names I actually recognise: Youssou N’Dour, Serge Gainsbourg, Os Mutantes, Manu Chao…Manu fucking Chao! The guy who lit up Glastonbury 2008 with his energy and dynamism is languishing in this godforsaken plinth they call ‘world music’.

This raises more and more questions. Would customers discriminate against a foreign artist if his records were on display in the rock/pop section? Doubtful. So why not just categorize them according to genre? I mean, who goes to HMV thinking “there’s not enough foreign music in my record collection, I’m going to sort THAT out”? HMV, and presumably, many other retailers assume that their punters will be pretentious enough to buy music for the sole reason that it’s foreign, perhaps so as to impress the cute hippy girl next door in the unlikely event that she comes round to borrow some sugar.

In silent protest, I take a pile of CDs from this abhorrent section and re-categorize them according to genre. By the third visit, I’m conscious that HMV’s eye-in-the-sky security team are aware that something untoward is afoot, but also that they haven’t quite worked out what it is yet. I can picture them frantically googling ‘advanced shoplifting methods’ as I carry out my dastardly deed. This sort of behaviour certainly isn’t in the manual.

Having gradually deconstructed this casually xenophobic system, I stand back and admire my work. There is now a sizable gap in the ‘world music’ section. I consider emptying the entire plinth before thinking:

“Fuck it. World Cup starts next week. They’ll probably just fill it with St. George stetsons.”


2 Responses to “New World Order: why the world music ‘genre’ will be the death of its exponents”

  1. 1 oldrope
    July 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Ha ha, loved this. Your silent protest made me laugh. Fight the man!

    But it’s a good point. Over here in Argentina, they categorise films by country, fair enough I suppose when you are dealing with languages and the American dominance of the market (not a problem in Blighty cos we speak the Gringo Lingo, but a bigger deal in S. America obv). So I have no real qualms with that, besides, at least it is consistent – all countries have their own section.

    As for the music, the music that is segregated is Argentine rock, known as Rock National, which is categorised independently, rather with rock in general. But normally everything else is just categorised together, unless it’s a national music of some sort, Brazilian reggaeton or something. So boo to Blighty form such a silly idea. I remember once buying some French hip-hop that took several hours to find… I made the mistake of looking in the hip-hop section rather than world music section. Silly me

  2. July 26, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Hmm. Sort of ‘bravo’. Mind you, it’s the sort of silent protest that just means some poorly-paid shophand has to re-sort the mess you’ve made of their pre-existing filing system, that they just have to work with whether they agree with it or not.

    Whilst the term ‘world music’ is ludicrous (after all, where the fuck is mainstream ‘western’ pop from?), the problem is this: the sort of stuff in the ‘world’ section is relatively ‘specialist’ in terms of sales. So they’ll employ one or two people (with specific knowledge of what’s likely to be categorised as ‘world music’ by head office) to look after a small section of that keen/curious shoppers can head directly towards, rather than asking any of the other floorwalkers who just have to keep the charts and the hep tips in mind. Bit meffy possibly, but at least it means those with more unusual tastes stand a chance of being properly catered towards. Consumerism sucks, obviously, but since it’s here for the present, they may as well do a halfway decent job of it.

    Defo a shitty piece of terminology in any case. In terms of rubbishy marketing sobriquets, it’s almost as bad as ‘graphic novel’ (HACK! SPIT!). ‘Music you’ve probably not heard of unless you pay attention to the charts and/or music press in other countries outside of american/british pop, in which case kudos’ would be a better name for the section, but it’s probably a bit too long to write on anything.

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