Academic journal article Notes

Contemporary World Music, Music Online

Academic journal article Notes

Contemporary World Music, Music Online

Article excerpt

Contemporary World Music. Alexander Street Press, 2009-. (Accessed March 2009 to September 2009). [Requires audio-enabled computer; Web browser and Internet connection of at least 56K bandwidth; Macromedia Flash Player version 7 and Windows Media Player version 10 (for Windows), Macromedia Flash Player version 7 (for Mac). Pricing: institutional subscription $896 to $4,496 per year depending on number of simultaneous users.]

Music Online. Alexander Street Press, 2009-. (Accessed March 2009 to September 2009). Search engine for all Alexander Street Press music databases.

What is "world music" and what is "contemporary" about the music in Contemporary World Music that distinguishes it from others? Among the many naming possibilities considered by Alexander Street Press in the creation of the database (which included the very difficult-to-define "Worldbeat") this was probably the most appropriate, although it is not without problems. Ethnomusicologists with many years of fieldwork behind them could certainly be excused for casting a wary eye in 1987 on the adoption of the new genre, "world music," to be used in marketing records and CDs. It seemed paradoxically to seek a market for a music that was at once exotic, allowing listeners in the West to believe they were on an adventure, and at the same time familiar, the only way to guarantee that they would incorporate it into the formation of their own musical identities, and therefore buy the recordings.

But this cynical view is eclipsed, I think, by a major shift in focus in the field of ethnomusicology itself through the 1970s and 1980s, one which moved from a view of music expressing established and unchanging differences among the many cultures of the world to one of music and culture continually being re-defined as people migrate and come into contact with each other. Mark Slobin observed this shift in 1993, noting that "any essentialist analysis of music will not hold" and that "interchange among small musics is rampant these days, and always was" (Mark Slobin, Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West [Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1993], x). Not only did the new genres that constituted this modern definition of "world music" illustrate these interchanges, but the marketing itself formed a part of the process, as so many more "subcultural" musics went global.

While Alexander Street Press's earlier collection, Smithsonian Global, Sound (reviewed in Notes 62, no. 3 [March 2006]: 776-80) could be seen as a useful documentation of many established musical traditions oftheworld, it could be argued that it tailed to reflect the many changes that these traditions had undergone since their first documentation. CWM can be seen as an attempt by Alexander Street Press to answer this need. Their publication literature stresses the contemporary social forces addressed by music: "Music does more than entertain. It helps us connect on the feeling level with people and their conditions. The songs in Contemporary World Music address issues of racism, fair trade, and poverty ... social injustice ... and religious freedom. Instructors of world history, geography, contemporary events, and other disciplines will use the music to expand teaching." (

This review will be devoted primarily to Contemporary World Music--hereafter CWM--as a database of streamed audio recordings, evaluating it for content and for its search interface. In addition I will devote some space to the Alexander Street Press federated search engine, Music Online, with particular respect to how it serves Contemporary World Music- and related databases.


There are, as of this writing, over 25,000 tracks of music from more than 1,860 albums in CWM. Their stated target is 50,000 tracks, and by my calculations they have added around 12,000 tracks in the past six months. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.