Popular World Music
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Popular World Music

Andrew Shahriari

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Popular World Music

Andrew Shahriari

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About This Book

Popular World Music, Second Edition introduces students to popular music genres and artists from around the world. Andrew Shahriari discusses international music styles familiar to most students—Reggae, Salsa, K-Pop, and more—with a comprehensive listening-oriented introduction to mainstream musical culture. Each chapter focuses on specific music styles and their associated geographic origin, as well as best-known representative artists, such as Bob Marley, Carmen Miranda, ABBA, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The text assumes no prior musical knowledge and emphasizes listening as a pathway to learning about music and culture. The subject matter fulfills core, general education requirements found today in the university curriculum. The salient musical and cultural features associated with each example are discussed in detail to increase appreciation of the music, its history, and meaning to its primary audience.

NEW to this edition

  • Updates to content to reflect recent developments in resources and popular music trends.

  • Contributing authors in additional areas, including Folk Metal, Chinese Ethnic Minority Rock, and Trinidadian Steel Drum and Soca.

  • "Artist Spotlight" sections highlighting important artists, such as Mary J. Blige, Bob Marley, Tito Puente, Enya, Umm Kulthum and more.

  • "Ad-lib Afterthought" sections and "Questions to Consider" to prompt further discussion of each chapter.

  • Lots of new photos!

  • Updated and additional website materials for students and instructors.
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Iconic RCA image of a Victrola with dog.
Source: Bettmann/Getty Images


A Popular Approach to World Music


Most of us probably assume that we know what music is; yet, when I ask students to define it, they find this difficult. The typical responses are either objective or subjective, such as, “Music is organized sound” or “Music is beautiful sound.” Leaf through a few different dictionaries from several decades and you are likely to find similar, though more verbose, definitions.
“The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “Music,” Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1975).
“The art of organizing tones in a coherent sequence so as to produce a unified and continuous composition” (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, s.v. “Music,” Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985).
“Sounds produced in harmonious, rhythmic combinations” (Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language New Revised Edition, s.v. “Music,” Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1994).
“The art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion” (Oxford American Dictionaries, s.v. “Music,” New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008).
The only common element in all these definitions is sound. Whether you consider musical sound objectively (i.e., as a science) or subjectively (i.e., as an art) is important to your understanding of its value and meaning. Some music you can immediately enjoy, but others you may appreciate only intellectually. These reactions are primarily based on your personal experiences with musical sounds and the manner in which you have been culturally conditioned to interpret them. All this is a roundabout way of saying that music has varying definitions, so you should not assume that the idea of music is the same for everyone, particularly when discussing people of different cultural backgrounds.
For our purposes, we will accept the often-quoted definition of music by preemi-nent ethnomusicologist John Blacking (1928–1990), put forth in his book How Musical Is Man?: “music is humanly organized sound” (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973). Although this definition has ramifications beyond the scope of our book, we will use concepts of melody, harmony, rhythm, and form as they are generally understood from the context of European music. This book is intended as an introduction to popular world music, which is strongly influenced by the musical notions of European (and American) bias (see Chapter 2). Therefore, I acknowledge that there are differing definitions of music, but we must have a point of reference in order to begin.


If defining music itself is a challenge, then delineating popular music, let alone popular world music, from all other music is surely problematic as well. As an ethnomusicologist, I typically consider music in one of three categories: classical, folk, or popular. Classical music most often requires formal training and a lengthy period of practice, usually years, before a musician is considered competent. Folk music is usually learned through an informal process and, by comparison, has a relatively quick learning curve. Classical music tends to be more complex than folk music, although this is not always true. The contexts for performance can also suggest a music as being classical or folk—the former being typical of a formal setting, whereas the latter is found in more casual circumstances. But, again, there are plenty of exceptions. Certainly, folk music can be performed in a formal setting (e.g., a concert stage), and some styles are extremely difficult to learn and require years of training (e.g., bluegrass). Conversely, classical music is frequently performed in informal settings, such as for personal enjoyment at home, and includes many simple pieces in its repertoire that musically astute performers can learn to play without much training.
Another observation I have made is that, without prior knowledge of a music tradition, it is often difficult to determine whether a music should be regarded as classical or folk, based purely on its aural qualities. Let me qualify that statement. A person with prior exposure to the folk and classical music of a particular culture can usually categorize a new piece of music as being one or the other. For example, if you were to hear a sample of Andrés Segovia playing a composition by J. S. Bach on guitar, I am confident that most listeners, assuming a Western cultural background, would recognize it as classical music, especially compared to a folk guitar performance of, for example, a Woody Guthrie song, such as “This Land Is Your Land.”
If, however, I give an example of a Thai piphat ensemble performing the composition “Sathukan” and then compare it with the same ensemble playing “Lao Duang Duan,” I am also confident that, unless you are from Thailand, you are unlikely to recognize the former as a classical piece and the latter as a folk tune. Although many musical qualities distinguish the two, a person unfamiliar with Thai classical and folk music will find it difficult to recognize the distinction until it is explained.
However, distinguishing between popular music and the classical and folk genres of an unfamiliar culture is typically less problematic. If I choose an example of Japanese Gagaku court music, you may not be able to tell me whether or not the sounds are categorized as folk or classical (the latter is correct), but you would most likely recognize that it falls outside the realm of popular music. Conversely, if I play an example of enka music performed by Hibari Misora (see Chapter 9), I imagine that most of you could recognize the selection as a popular style, rather than folk or classical music.
That being said, popular world music is quite often rooted in, or at least inspired by, classical or folk music from its respective culture. We must keep in mind that most classical and folk musics were at one time the popular music of the day and, to some extent, still find a voice in popular culture. Certain music used exclusively for ritual purposes may never have been considered popular, but even so, some religious music today clearly has popular appeal, such as gospel. Popular music draws on classical/folk music in many respects, so the lines between these musical categories are often blurred.


In the modern era, music that is classified as “popular” is driven primarily by the music business. Certainly, musicians have been in business for many centuries, trying to eke out a living in various cultures across the globe. The development of the music business as an abstract entity with the primary objective of earning money for profit, rather than for survival, is a more recent phenomenon that expanded rapidly with the evolution of recorded sound.
As the technology for capturing sounds onto recordings developed at the end of the nineteenth century, the business of making music began to take shape in the United States and quickly spread across the planet. The initial cylinder recordings created by Thomas Edison were not only a great technological achievement but also a profitable invention. So, from the very beginning, recorded sound has been largely about making a monetary profit. Maybe Edison would not have thought of it that way, but that is what the recording industry—that is, the music industry—has become: a business.
Figure 1.1
Edison cylinder recording
Ethnic music has played an important role in the development of the music industry since the early decades of the twentieth century. Along with the radio, the success of the Victrola (an early phonograph, see above) made recorded music accessible and affordable for people of various social classes. By the 1920s, several record companies, including Columbia, Paramount, Okeh, and Victor, recorded and marketed a variety of ethnic music. So-called race series records were created to present African American music—namely, blues, gospel, and jazz—along with the music of many ethnic groups found in the United States, particularly from Eastern Europe (e.g., polka), marketed to select audiences.
Also important to the future of ethnic music recordings was the work of John Lomax (1867–1948) and his family, particularly his son Alan (1915–2002). Beginning in 1933, father and son began traveling throughout the United States to record musicians of various ethnic groups, particularly African Americans. Their initial intent was to preserve music that they considered endangered; along the way, they discovered American music legends, such as Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter (1888–1949). After the elder Lomax passed, Alan continued to record musicians from the United States and throughout the world, particularly those from Europe and the Caribbean, until the final years of his life. Other entrepreneurs, such as Moses Asch (1905–1986), founder of Folkways Records, also took an interest in recording ethnic music, with the aim of preserving and helping to promote it to a wider audience.
Figure 1.2
Alan Lomax playing guitar onstage, c. 1940s
Source: Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Lomax Collection, LC-DIG-ppmsc-00433
Certainly, some international genres found mainstream success during earlier periods of the twentieth century, such as tango, salsa, bossa nova, and reggae, but the concept of a world music market only blossomed in the lat...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Popular World Music
APA 6 Citation
Shahriari, A. (2017). Popular World Music (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2193122/popular-world-music-pdf (Original work published 2017)
Chicago Citation
Shahriari, Andrew. (2017) 2017. Popular World Music. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/2193122/popular-world-music-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Shahriari, A. (2017) Popular World Music. 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2193122/popular-world-music-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Shahriari, Andrew. Popular World Music. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2017. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.