Thursday, January 09, 2003


‘World music’. What a hideous term. Yet it is a useful shorthand to encapsulate the less commercialised vernacular/art musics that have grown up in local communities across the globe over (in some cases) several centuries – and have, until recently, been ignored - even when plundered. The Rough Guide has done a wonderful service in cataloguing some of the major developments in the field over the past nine years through a large two volume A-Z of the music, the musicians and the discs.

Volume One (affectionately dubbed “a work of lunatic scholarship” by Radio 3’s Andy Kershaw) covers Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This is a substantial update on the earlier (1994) edition. It includes over 80 lengthy articles, broken down into readable chunks; photos; directories and discographies. Volume Two, which I have not seen yet, looks at the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

Inevitably the discographies are – apart from perennial arguments about who should and should not be included - the most controversial element of any such enterprise. We can all think of better exemplars for the artists we know. But in this case most have been chosen wisely to give an overview or flavour, rather than to pander to the whims of some particular school of interpretation. No complaints there. Helpfully, the publishers have an internet version of these on their website, to inform and (no doubt) whet your appettite further.

There are also refreshingly clear and accessible Rough Guides to classical, jazz and rock, of course. And not to be overlooked are the mini-guides concerned with drum’n’bass, house and techno. As the dance and experimental fringes of ‘popular’ music – an ever-stretched an implausible term – expand, the need for more archaeology will become apparent to the minds of the series’ editors, I am sure.

Meanwhile perhaps the best overall magazine on the burgeoning 'world music' scene is the excellent Songlines.

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