“World” is not enough

Art & Lit Music

As usual, Glastonbury’s got it right. In between frenetic last-minute searches for new headliners, somewhere on Worthy Farm, someone is repainting signs that have been sending the more adventurous festivalgoers to a very ill-named stage.

It’s one of the most beloved of all Glastonbury’s stages, but set amongst forests of flags, and constantly inundated with the smells of an abundance of food stalls, the stage formerly known as Jazz World has always needed a name change. It’s not that it was a particularly bad name in and of itself, and it’s not like “West Holts Stage” is the most electrifying of new names, but it’s the fact that it lent Glastonbury’s support to the woefully inadequate and all too often used label – “World Music.”

‘World Music’, used as a catch-all term for any non-Western (read: not from America or the UK) music by a music industry too lazy to give anything but the vaguest of classifications to a gargantuan body of diverse artists and music, it is a symptom of a music industry unwilling to avert its gaze from a tiny area of the Earth’s geographical and musical landscape. It’s a blanket dismissal of thousands of albums to the area of a record shop typically only frequented by music nerds and teenagers trying to be alternative. It’s a way of keeping separate all artists that don’t happen to hold British or American passports.

How can we really put the devotional songs of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the same category of music as Tinariwen’s desert rock, or Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s Aboriginal love songs with Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Latin metal? This is like putting the Beatles and Shaggy into the same category of music, something that simply can’t be done (except for the sublime mash-up of Let It Be and It Wasn’t Me on YouTube). Nusrat, Tinariwen, Gurrumul and Rodrigo y Gabriela are rare cases of non-Western musicians who have achieved some level of fame here, but for the many who haven’t, the ambiguity of being a “World” musician is a significant barrier against any success in the charts.

It’s not something that can continue, but efforts to boost the profile of such musicians invariably falls into the trap of grouping together the un-groupable. For instance Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festivals have all the best intentions, drawing together musicians from all over the globe, but the fact that the organisation is called World of Music, Art and Dance means the diversity of the music is blurred by vague labels.

Which brings us back to Glastonbury. The only way we can give musicians from around the globe a chance is by getting rid of this label. We need to eliminate this musical discrimination between the West and the rest of the World. Music is just music, it doesn’t need a label added to it.

People should be drawn in as easily to the sounds emanating from the West Holts Stage as they are from the similarly meaninglessly named stages such as the Other Stage, the Pyramid Stage, or the Avalon Stage, and shouldn’t be subject to the preconceptions brought about by naming it “World” music. Or they should be drawn to the West Holts Stage by the smell of veggie burgers and pear cider.