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Grammy awards rename world music category to avoid 'connotations of colonialism'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 03/11/2020 Ben Beaumont-Thomas
Angelique Kidjo wearing a hat and smiling at the camera: Photograph: Monica Almeida/Reuters © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Monica Almeida/Reuters

The Grammys are changing the name of their “best world music” album category to “best global music” album, to avoid “connotations of colonialism”.

In a statement, the Recording Academy said the change came “as we continue to embrace a truly global mindset … Over the summer we held discussions with artists, ethnomusicologists, and linguists from around the world who determined that there was an opportunity to update the best world music album category toward a more relevant, modern, and inclusive term ... The change symbolises a departure from the connotations of colonialism, folk, and ‘non-American’ that the former term embodied while adapting to current listening trends and cultural evolution among the diverse communities it may represent.”

Angelique Kidjo wearing a hat: Angélique Kidjo with what was then called the best world music album award, at the 2020 Grammys. © Photograph: Monica Almeida/Reuters Angélique Kidjo with what was then called the best world music album award, at the 2020 Grammys.

The term “world music” was originally coined in the UK in 1987 to help market music from non-western artists. The Grammys created the best world music album category in 1992, with winners since including Ravi Shankar, Gilberto Gil and three-time recipient Angélique Kidjo.

The term has fallen out of favour more widely in recent years. The Guardian stopped using it in July 2019, tagging articles about music from non-western countries instead with a more inclusive genre descriptor such as “pop and rock” or “electronic music”.

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Our world music album of the month column was, like the Grammys, renamed global album of the month. Guardian music critic Ammar Kalia reasoned that the change “does not answer the valid complaints of the artists and record label founders who have been plagued by catch-all terms. Yet, in the glorious tyranny of endless internet-fuelled musical choice, marginalised music still needs championing and signposting in the west.”

Related: 'So flawed and problematic': why the term 'world music' is dead

UK music festival Womad has also stopped using the term. “We understand ‘world music’ is ghettoising for a lot of the artists,” festival director Chris Smith told the Guardian. “We’re respectful of the term because it’s our heritage, but we need to evolve it because the music has evolved.”

The Grammys’ change is the latest in a number of alterations to the music industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony. In June, the Recording Academy announced best urban contemporary album would be renamed best progressive R&B album, as the term “urban” is increasingly seen as inappropriate descriptor of Black music.

Academy chairman Harvey Mason acknowledged “some uncomfortable feelings” around the term in the academy. Tyler, the Creator, who won best rap album at the 2020 Grammy awards, said: “I don’t like that ‘urban’ word. It’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word to me”, while Republic Records, home to Ariana Grande, the Weeknd and others, has stopped using the term.

The academy does, however, continue to use the word “urban” in the context of Latin awards, including the newly created best Latin pop or urban album award.

Nominations for the 2021 Grammys will be announced on 24 November.


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