A love of music meets with a lust for travel and gives birth to a genre: World Music. Music has delighted travelers across the globe for millennia, contributing greatly to the evolution of different cultures. World Music has helped its listeners open up to Africa, the Middle East, Oceania, and Eastern Europe. Now, westerners who discovered these soulful places through World Music recordings are going to be able to get travel information about visiting these countries from the same disks that contain the music. The idea is to get this audience thinking about travel with great music, and then acting on it because they now also have great travel information.
In 1994,World Music Network(WMN) was founded by married couple Phil Stanton and Sandra Alay³n-Stanton. They began to distribute compilations of World Music to expose people to international music. Their efforts helped non-mainstream music get more media exposure. Today, WMN collaborates with many other associations including the Rough Guides series of travel books, for which WMN provides music compilation CDs to accompany the guide books.
To understand why the travel connection, and in particular the “rough” approach to tourism is so appropriate, it helps to know that “World Music” in this context has a sort of mysterious, almost secret connotation, as it represents all kinds of music that is too unconventional for commercial radio, too ethnic to be westernized, and too amorphous to be contained. Rather than a one note pop song that just ends, World Music is an experience that opens a window into its country of origin.
On WMN’s “African Street Party” CD notes echo with the feeling of heat bouncing off sun-baked African roads, the music “blasting out of every bus, kiosk and market stall” according to the CD jacket copy. WMN also distributes whole albums by individual artists, like the Saharan rock band Etran Finatawa, who sing to their listeners about their fear of losing their culture because of change, and express their longing for a stable identity through the yearning tones of their voices and guitars. This sentiment is not confined to Africa; Hungarian Gypsies also blend their melancholy voices with lively guitars and ornament their songs with trills that brim with pathos.
WMN collaboration with the Rough Guides series has worked and developed over the years because the two enterprises share similar values, values that help reinforce the already strong relationship between World Music and travel. Cultures that were exotic and enticing when heard on CD are fully revealed by traveling to the musics’ sources. By putting their content together, either as a CD that comes with a guide book, or as a digital book that comes loaded on a music CD, both organizations realize the end goal of promoting the experience of great music around the world.
The CDs also offer a page of travel information corresponding to their country. In addition, certain CDs offer more details on their country on the WMN website. Today, travelers often carry laptops, Ipods, and other technological devices that render travel information accessible more easily. In this way, the CDs offer a more efficient way of handling travel information rather than carrying another book.
Phil Stanton of WMN remembers his first encounter with World Music when he was in Africa, saying, “I got into African music in the early 1980s at the tender age of 19 while working as a teacher in Kenya and later on in Sudan, so for me, travel and music went hand in hand from the start. In Kenya I lived close to a local bar where live bands played most nights, and the local Benga (an East African adaptation of Congolese Soukous music) got under my skin. The standard of musicianship was extraordinary-something that still gets me-is the sheer talent of local musicians all over the world.” Stanton feels that music is a universal language, and can help people to attain a higher consciousness. He says that “Music does give an insight. It is a way into a culture. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, music can touch you and open your eyes to the world around you.”
The goal of WMN is to find this “off-radar” music, but not to exploit it. They would rather see themselves as serving to introduce this music to a broader audience that is potentially everyone. WMN and Rough Guides share this commitment to keep the sheer talent of local musicians at the core of people’s travel experiences, and rather than make it so that these musicians have to prove themselves on the outside, this project makes it more likely that they will have their audiences travel to them, and join in the local cultures where they can feel this earthy music of these homelands and uncover and savor the roots of it.