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Listen to what you are reading about World Ethnic Music

World music is a relatively recent term that includes ethnic or traditional music (i.e. folk music) from non-Western sources.  The term has its problems, as it includes Celtic music, which is traditional Irish music and is certainly “western.”  Specifically world music is that created and performed by native musicians from particular peoples, tribes and/or cultures.


The term was first used by ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown in the 1960s, and became common in the 1980s as a way to describe the wide range of foreign music and ethnic musical forms that were coming on the contemporary music scene.  Classic examples are groups like Ladysmith Black Mambaza performing with Paul Simon, ethnic musicians performing with Peter Gabriel, etc. It is generally used to describe non-western music

In practical terms, that generally means music that uses modes, scales or inflections not common in western music and/or may be accompanied by uniquely ethnic instruments like the gaida (goat skin bagpipe of Bulgaria), the kora (West African harp), the sitar (Indian stringed instrument, the didgeridoo (Aborigine flute), etc. All of these instruments minimally produce a sound that is “different” from traditional western music (whether pop or classical). The music itself may have very different sounds due to its modal structure, such as Balkan ethnic music (like Byzantine chant) which uses eight modes, many of which are in minor keys and/or are chromatic. They may be accompanied by a vocal drone, or a drone provided by and instrument like a gaida. They may use rhythmic structures that are atypical to the western ear, or include vocal performance unknown in the western music corpus, such as the Buddhist monks who can sing two notes simultaneously. In contrast, cultures like India have millennia of highly developed classical music in their history that while being “world” music, certainly are not traditional in the sense of being pop or folk music. This is likewise the case for Japanese koto music, Middle Eastern compositions such as those for instruments like the kanun and the kemence, or much classical Arab music.

Within the world music genre, and overlapping in many cases with ethnic music, is the sacred music from a range of cultures.  Much of it is comprised musically of the same musical forms and styles, informed by the culture and history, but which have content of a specifically religious nature.  American examples could be Gospel music which is built on music that can support secular lyrics or religious.  Similarly in the Muslim world is a whole body of sacred music that shares much musically with secular forms, but is only performed in religious contexts.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL offers the following additional content on this subject:

1. Worship in the early church

2. Early Eastern Orthodox Liturgics

3. The Byzantine Synthesis

4. Chant Development: Byzantine Music History

5. Early Western Chant

6. Development of manuscript notation

The Web Store offers:

1. Ethnic world CDs from those countries that share musical forms and heritage with Liturgical music (i.e. Greece, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Turkish, Celtic, etc.


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