World Music and Problematic Labels

Limiting labels are creating constraints in how we interact with diversity

By Maya Ulrich


Illustration by: Morgan Wittmers-Graves

Illustration by: Morgan Wittmers-Graves

In an ever globalizing and technologically advancing world, it seems natural that music from many different countries, cultures, and influences would seep into the playlists of this generation’s contemporary audiences. However, there seems to be a limited amount of room in popular culture for sounds and languages that white, eurocentric industries deem to stray too far from the universal pop aesthetic they are trying to push onto the masses. What gets pushed out of this very niche, very Western definition of music has been coined as “world music.” In creating such dividing confines and limiting spaces for what is “in” versus the unknown, the music industry has created a very polarizing place for musicians who are trying to create a sound that reflects cultures white people have always tried to silence.

This dissolution of world music or non-white music from popular culture perhaps reflects a greater ideological phenomena that has been happening as long as white people have been trying to control, well, pretty much everything. This mentality is much like our views on people and cultures outside the walls of our own ethnicities, nationalities, and experiences. It is creating borders literally and figuratively in our countries and in the music we are introduced to. We, as an American culture, have had our ears persuaded into accepting a certain stylized, aesthetically white, and culturally clean sound as the norm.

By allowing the broader industry of music to remove representation and diversity by packaging it into something as easily definable as world music, we are perpetuating the sense that non-white, non-Western music is somehow both homogeneous and exotic at the same time. This makes it more easily commodified and consumed by a white audience, but it also makes it easier for a white industry to keep world music in its place, and even more ironically, off of the world stage.


Wake Mag