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Musically, the World is Slow in Coming to America


In Paris and many other large cities, a radio listener can hear not only the popular music of that land but also a wide variety of what is loosely called "world music" from around the globe.

Only a few unusual sounds have crept into U.S. music over the years. There was the Brazilian bossa nova craze of the 1960s, the Southern African tunes that Paul Simon included in his Graceland album in 1986, and a few rock hits like the Zulu-inspired, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

But most U.S. radio stations play only American pop hits, oldies, jazz, and rap music aimed at tightly targeted audiences. World -- or "ethnic" -- music, as it used to be called, is SO broad, so eclectic, so strange to many American ears that programmers are afraid to play it. They can't quite figure out how to package music as diverse as Scandinavian fiddle sounds, Indian veena tunes and African music. What would advertisers think?

But distinctive world music is breaking through. The new satellite-radio services, X-M and Sirius, each devote a channel to world music. And eclectic, non-western music concerts sell out at venues like the Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco. There's even an academic specialty called ethnomusicology at colleges like Christopher Newport University in Virginia, where professor Brana Mijatovic is introducing the world-music genre. The United States -- a nation of immigrants -- has been slow to admit the music of the world. But it's coming.

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