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What Is World Music?

World music can be samples using an online listening library.
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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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World music is a term generally used to describe a set of music genres that come from various indigenous cultural traditions. Different kinds of this folk music are often closely tied to the histories and traditions of specific countries. Various songs categorized as world music can therefore be quite diverse, and some of them can date back centuries, while others can be relatively new. Depending on the culture of origin and individual musicians' artistic choices, world music instruments can range from simple hand drums to electronic synthesizers paired with turntables and computerized mixers. Some fans of this music listen to it to connect to their ethnic past, while others prefer it as an alternative to the standard offerings on mainstream radio stations.

Diverse influences for world music can come from many corners of the globe, such as the Caribbean, Africa, Ireland, Scandinavia, and the South Pacific just to name a few. Tracing the histories of each of these folk music genres can often reveal that each has drawn influences from others at different times. Just as with many other aspects of art and culture, these sub-genres of music are not static. They are subject to frequent change and evolution as world views and trends also change.

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Newer listeners often find that the selections for world music are so numerous that they can have trouble deciding what to listen to first. One possible way for them to narrow down the choices is to try world music radio stations that are still in their native languages but originate from a different country. One of these stations from Australia will still be broadcast in English but will often have different folk music influences than one from the United Kingdom or Canada for example. The same world music radio guidelines can apply to other nations as well.

Although this kind of music may not always be played on local mainstream radio, fans of these music genres often have plenty of resources to keep up with the work of their favorite musicians and to discover new favorite music pieces. Festivals devoted to world music are hosted in many countries each year, and they often present the opportunities for fans to connect with one another. Online listening libraries and streaming radio stations also offer chances for newer listeners to sample genres, as well as learn about the work of various artists.

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