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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 10:31 GMT
Awards stir world music debate
Nitin Sawhney: Objects to the
Nitin Sawhney: Objects to the "world music" category
Most of the winners may have been announced already, but the ceremony for BBC Radio 3's first Awards for World Music is on Monday. BBC News Online's Ian Youngs reports.

The World Music Awards - part prize-giving, part concert - will bring together some of the biggest names from the world music scene, including Nitin Sawhney, Susheela Raman, Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez and Yat Kha.

Manu Chao: The only winner not expected to play
Manu Chao: The only winner not expected to play
The awards have also stirred up an ongoing debate about the nature of world music.

Some think it should be conceived as a style like pop or jazz, while others dislike the category - they say it keeps them on the margins without serious respect or attention.

"As far as I'm concerned, good music is good music is good music," awards organiser Anna Umbima told BBC News Online.

"The more you get it out to the public and the public hears this music, the more it will become popular, because we're talking about such fantastic artists."

'Brilliant music'

The ceremony would not be a formal affair, but a "get up and enjoy yourself to the world of brilliant music" evening, Ms Umbima said.

BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music winners
Newcomer - Susheela Raman (UK)
Innovator - Manu Chao (France)
Boundary-crossing - Nitin Sawhney (UK)
Africa - Djelimady Tounkara (Mali)
Asia/Pacific - Yat Kha (Tuva)
Americas - Orlando 'Cachaito' Lopez (Cuba)
Europe/Middle East - Taraf de Haidouks (Romania)
Six out of the seven winners already announced are confirmed to perform. The only one not appearing is Manu Chao, the Frenchman who won the award for innovation and who is arguably the biggest star.

Another two winners - of the Radio 3 Listeners' Award and the Critics' Award for Album of the Year - will be announced on the night.

Gongs will be presented by some of the biggest names from across the musical spectrum.

Ms Umbima says the phrase "world music" is a way to describe a whole range of styles that was invented to make it easier for fans to find their way around record shops.

But others, like Nitin Sawhney, the UK artist who has been named winner of the Boundary-crossing award, are less willing to accommodate the whims of retailers, media and shoppers.

Susheela Raman: Thinks of herself as a pop singer, not a world singer
Susheela Raman: Thinks of herself as a pop singer, not a world singer
The phrase creates a "racist" category, he says, that lets people sideline music by artists who are not in the same style or from the same background as the majority.

"It's always flattering and complimentary to get awards," Sawhney told BBC News Online.

"But at the same time I don't understand the concept of judgementalism in the arts. I always think of the arts as being about personal, emotional expression.

"I tend to think that music is the place that doesn't have barriers or prejudices, but it's amazing how people try to force their barriers or prejudices onto music."

But Sawhney chose to accept his award and the invitation to play at the concert, saying that turning the prize down would have been "patronising and arrogant".

Cachaito: Cuban artist was winner of the Americas section
Cachaito: Cuban artist was winner of the Americas section
Instead, he uses such public platforms to make his views known - as he did with the Mobos, the South Bank Awards and his Mercury nomination.

Among the other winners, Chao says it is a "lazy label" and Susheela Raman calls it "ridiculous".

The term "world music" has already become well established - there are magazines and festivals dedicated to it, and the music business has used it as a category to measure sales since 1998.

Some 2.5 million albums from the world category were sold in the UK that year, but that number dropped to 1.3 million in 2000, the last year for which figures are available, according to the British Phonographic Industry.

HMV says sales have risen by about 10% in its stores over the last three years, with artists like the Buena Vista Social Club leading the sales.


"Anything that can present some great albums to the public in an accessible way can only do good for the genre as a whole," the retailer's spokesman Gennaro Castaldo said.

Radio 3's awards are "exactly what the genre has been missing", he thinks.

"Its such a broad genre, with so many different styles, that people often find it daunting."

The hope is that as the phrase "world music" becomes more widely-understood - helped by Radio 3's awards - artists will become more accepted and successful, not less.

The Awards for World Music will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 29 January on and cable and digital TV channel BBC Knowledge on 3 February.

See also:

17 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Nitin's subversive sounds
14 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Radio 3 recruits Kershaw
11 Nov 01 | Reviews
Womad wows Gran Canaria
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