IIn essence, the term "world music" refers to any form of music that is not part of modern mainstream Western commercial popular music or classical music traditions, and which typically originates from outside the cultural sphere of Western Europe and the English-speaking nations. The term became current in the 1980s as a marketing/classificatory device in the media and the music industry, and it is generally used to classify any kind of "foreign" (i.e. non-Western) music.
In musical terms, "world music" can be roughly defined as music which uses distinctive ethnic scales, modes and musical inflections, and which is usually (though not always) performed on or accompanied by distinctive traditional ethnic instruments, such as the kora (African lute), the steel drum, the sitar or the digeridoo.
Most typically, the term "world music" has now replaced "folk music" as a shorthand description for the very broad range of recordings of traditional indigenous music and song from the so-called Third World countries.
Although it primarily describes traditional music, the world music genre also includes popular music from non-Western urban communities (e.g. South African "township" music) and non-European music forms that have been influenced by other "third world" music's (e.g. Afro-Cuban music), although Western-style popular song sourced from non-English-speaking countries in Western Europe (e.g. French pop music) would not generally be considered world music.
Examples of popular forms of world music include the various forms of non-European classical music (e.g. Japanese koto music, Hindustani raga music, Tibetan chants), eastern European folk music (e.g. the village music of Bulgaria) and the many forms of folk and tribal music of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Oceania and Central and South America.
World music is generally agreed to be traditional, folk or roots music's of any culture that are created and played by indigenous musicians or that are "closely informed or guided by indigenous music of the regions of their origin".
The broad category of "world music" includes isolated forms of ethnic music from diverse geographical regions. These dissimilar strains of ethnic music are commonly categorized together by virtue of their indigenous roots. Over the 20th century, the invention of sound recording, low-cost international air travel and common access to global communication among artists and the general public has given rise to a related phenomenon called "cross-over" music. Musicians from diverse cultures and locations could readily access recorded music from around the world, see and hear visiting musicians from other cultures and visit other countries to play their own music, creating a melting pot of stylistic influences.
While communication technology allows greater access to obscure forms of music, the pressures of commercialization also present the risk of increasing musical homogeny, the blurring of regional identities, and the gradual extinction of traditional local music-making practices.