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World Music in the New Millennium
By Jerry Flattum - 10/20/2005 - 01:26 PM EDT

Back in 1963 there was a hit called, "Sukiyaki," sung by Kyu Sakamoto. Amazingly, it was sung entirely in Japanese, Sakamoto's native tongue. In that same year, the Beatles invasion was just getting underway. Sakamoto had a few minor hits shortly after, but not since then has an Asian singer topped the charts (historical challenge welcomed). However, Asia, particularly Japan, has always been a hotbed for Western music, from hip-hop to jazz to heavy metal.

There's a very easy explanation for why non-Western songs have never fared well--or fared at all--on American and British charts: English.

Hispanic music is a different story. Hispanic influence on Western music is tremendous, from the days of big band artist Xavier Cugat to today's reggaeton star, Daddy Yankee. Latin artists have enjoyed immense popularity in America, like Gloria Estafen, Ricky Martin, Carlos Santana, Julio Iglesias, Shakira, Mark Anthony, Los Lobos and many more through the decades. Songs sung in English played a major role in reaching mainstream audiences.

There are many genres and sub-genres of Latino music: salsa, bossa nova, tango, mambo, cumbia, rhumba and many more, including Rock en Español (American rock invades Hispanic music but not before Carlos Santana carved a piece of classic rock history). Many of these styles have become mainstays in ballroom dancing. Even old TV shows like "I Love Lucy," with Ricky Ricardo's infectious theme song, has helped make Latin music mainstream. Of course, the fact that 1/2 if not more of America's population is allegedly now Hispanic.

African influence is unmistakable, having given birth to Jazz, the Blues, R&B and Gospel. Tracing the merger of African and Latino styles is a challenge for any music historian.

There's been some other border crossing, like Paul Simon's foray into traditional African music and before that the Beatle's historical flirtation with Ravi Shankar. In 2000, Sting introduced Middle Eastern singer, Cheb Mami, on his hit tune, "Desert Rose." Other rockers like Mickey hart, David Byrne and Peter Gabriel have played significant roles in bring Worldbeat to a wider audience. Peter Gabriel started WOMAD and launched Real World Records, a label dedicated to international music. WOMAD--which stands for World of Music, Arts and Dance--put on it's first festival in 1982 and has grown over the last 20 plus years into a positive global presence celebrating many forms of music, arts and dance drawn from countries and cultures all over the world.

Globalization--a term used more to describe the spread of Western influence, particularly political and corporate--will continue to bridge geographical borders in the coming years. Meanwhile, other countries will continue to reach out to America...if not compete...across the full spectrum of business, medicine, technology, space exploration and cultural influence. Globalization is in large part due to the Internet. And, the Internet is where non-Western music will find new outlets mainstream rock and pop channels currently block.

Many Internet radio websites have been offering Worldbeat stations for years like Live365 Internet Radio ( or Windows Media ( These digital-based webcasters offer search categories by country, something even the most powerful terrestrial radios have trouble accessing.

A Google search on any world music genre or artist will turn up a plethora of listings with audio, artist, genre information never before available in the analog world.

World music is basically anything that is not American or British, with Reggae and Latin developing their own identities.

Worldbeat takes on a different identity than world music since it is generally a hybrid or fusion of Western rhythms and sounds with non-Western ones. There is a strong European influence as well, particularly in dance and electronica. Digital music has a strong influence since synthesizers and other electronic audio gear has the capability of generating sounds (new instruments) that have no geographical origin.

Worldbeat has, in a sense, a political agenda as well, since an overriding goal is to increase a multi-cultural perspective.

Perhaps no record label has been more influential in introducing and celebrating all kinds of global music than Putamayo. Their website is:

Putumayo opened its first international office in Hilversum, Holland, near Amsterdam. Putumayo Europe has a distribution network covering 20 countries. Putumayo International coordinates distribution to more than 30 countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In 2000, Putumayo also launched the Putumayo World Music Hour, the first commercially syndicated world music program available on more than 120 commercial and non-commercial stations in the United States, Canada and around the world.

Putumayo provides excellent recordings from a wide range of artists performing music from Asia, Africa, South America and many other parts of the globe. The DVD liner notes are extensive and the covers are works of art.

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