The record store owner frowned at me when I asked him where he kept Fela Kuti, under ‘Jazz’ or ‘World Music’. I already assumed he wouldn’t have ‘Afrobeat’ as a separate category or awared Fela Kuti his own, private entry. For a moment I saw him searching for the right words and then he said slowly: under ‘World Music’. The last part of his sentence, ‘…of course, under World Music of course!’ got stuck halfway his brain and his vocal chords, it never saw the light of day or reached my ears, only my imagination. I pictured us listening to all South American, Caribbean, African, Asian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, even Swiss records in his store and classifying them all according to genre. He has a big store, it would have taken us at least a week.
Back home I imagined a record store with one big category for North American music, one that would include The Ramones, Patti Smith, Dusty Springfield, LCD Soundsystem, Elvis Presley, Kanye West, Public Enemy, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, The National, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. Or an even broader one with English music, to also include the rest of the English speaking world, and every single artist who just happens to sing in the lingua franca of music.
All music is world music, classifying some under that label either points to a lack of imagination, poor judgement or both.
Still, it doesn’t madden me, I’m just happy I overcame my initial reluctance and started listening to Fela Kuti at the age of 40. In my early 20s I wasn’t ready yet. In my early 20s I refused to listen to all World Music. Decades later I finally understood Fela, maybe I finally understood myself.