Music for the Listener
Music for the Listener

Chapter 10

Non-Western Popular Music India, Africa, Korea (and others)

Popular or commercial music styles exist in almost all cultures around the world. In this chapter we will focus on a few countries that have influential and unique popular music cultures that circulate broadly: India, Africa, and Korea. In many countries, familiar folk melodies and traditions have merged with influences and business and marketing techniques from the American popular music industry over the years to create something new and interesting that speaks to the people of a particular country or region, and sometimes spreads to countries around the world. For instance, in India the production style of Hollywood movies and musicals have combined with Indian folklore, music, and dance styles to create Bollywood,InformationThe Indian Hindu-language film industry a name adopted by the mainstream Indian film industry. Popular music from several different countries in Africa enjoys widespread popularity all over the world, inspired by musicians from the 1960s, most notably King Sunny Adé. And pop music from Korea is incredibly popular and has gained wide acclaim in international markets.

As the infectious beats, lyrical content, and vocal delivery style of American popular music spread through the tireless work carried out by people in the music industry's marketing machine, its sound spread to other countries and cultures far and wide in the 1960s. As we have learned, American popular music had its roots in R&B and country styles that represented a meaningful combination of the vernacular traditions of the United States. Abroad, local vernacular traditions blended with some of these infectious beats and the popular music industry became a transnational endeavor. Below, we will explore just a few of examples of popular music from different regions of the world. We will also briefly discuss popular music from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and France.


On TV, the radio, and on every street corner in Indian cities one can hear popular music, also known as "cine songs ", (short for cinema) because most of the popular music originates from movies. Interestingly, India has the largest film industry in the world, even larger than Hollywood, and much of the commercial music and culture is tied to cinema.

Bollywood, as it is commonly known, produces hundreds of films a year. The movies typically last three hours or more, and feature scary villains, fearless and smart heroes, beautiful heroines, rocky romances, family issues, shocking plot twists, comedy, outrageous fight scenes, and sexy dances. In almost all the movies, the narrative is periodically interrupted by incredibly elaborate song and dance production numbers, and these are always lip-synced by the primary actors in the films. "Playback singers" and "music directors" (composers/arrangers) are the real stars of India's pop music scene, although they never appear on screen.

Cine music is an interesting and sometimes bizarre blend of Eastern and Western musical practices. Choppy and hyperactive melodies that utilize "Oriental" or Arabic-derived scales are layered atop Latin rhythms with a combination of Western and Indian classical instruments providing the accompaniment. Almost anything goes in this music, which could include harmony and counterpoint from Western classical, rap, rock, symphonic music, jazz, and Indian styles and sounds. The lyrical content typically centers around love and romance; therefore, it is common to hear a duet between female and male singers.

The timbres, forms, and instrumentation of Indian pop music are continually evolving in creative ways, and this is especially notable when comparing the rigid and occasionally formulaic approach to pop music in America. Pop music in India is loved by more than 1 billion people from of all ages, economic statuses, and educational experiences. The films of Bollywood and the music that is heard in those films has become very popular around the world.


The continent of Africa has a rich and incredibly diverse set of music genres, a result of transculturation triggered by trade, migration, and economic collaboration over thousands of years. These formative factors have helped to shape various forms of expression including music, dance, art, games, theatre, and oral and written literature. Since the nineteenth century, musical styles have in sub-Saharan Africa have evolved to include a blend of local elements and imported ones from the West (U.K., Europe), Islam (the Middle East), and the Black diasporaInformationThe dispersion of Africans, along with their cultures, from various parts of the world. of the Americas (Jamaica, Cuba, [and other Caribbean countries], mainland U.S.)

In terms of popular music, the 1960s marked the end of European colonialism in the political systems of several African countries. Bandleaders across the continent modified their repertoire to accommodate what the people of Africa wanted to hear, and in simplistic terms this entailed combining traditional instruments and approaches to music with new sounds, structures, and instruments borrowed from American popular music. In this chapter, we are primarily discussing popular music styles from sub-Saharan African countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Ghana. (Countries in the north and northeastern parts of Africa such as Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt are generally influenced by traditions from Europe and the Middle East, thus placing them in a slightly different category than the countries to the south; unfortunately, there is not enough time in this class to cover music from all these regions).

World War II had a tremendous effect on popular music in Africa. Several key elements combined to help shape the numerous styles of popular music that became popular after the war: the impact of wartime troops in Africa, the lifting of the wartime ban on record production, the postwar economic boom, the establishment of recording studios, the introduction of electronic amplification, the emergence of mass-independence parties, and a new educated generation.

Just after WWII, two of the most influential styles of music to musicians in Africa were (a type of ballroom dance) Afro-Cuban rumbaInformationA type of ballroom dance from Cuba, typically in 4/4 with a slow-fast-fast rhythm. and American jazz (especially its horn section made up of saxophones, trumpets, and trombones). The combination of these two elements created a new style called "Congo jazz". In the immediate postwar years, Congo jazz evolved; the ensemble was cut down to a smaller group of musicians and this resulted in a style called "dance band highlife" which became very popular across several African countries. The jazz influence on Africa was augmented by Louis Armstrong's trips to Africa in 1956 and 1961-1962.

The two most dominant styles of popular music in mid-century Africa were highlife and juju. Highlife was a blend of swing jazz, calypso, and Afro-Cuban percussion. The primary instrument of these styles is the guitar, and in fact these ensembles were generally comprised of several guitar players, a double-bass, bongos, and trap drums. The tradition of guitar playing in Africa has a very long and important history (see Guitar Cultures by Dawe K. and Bennet, A., 2020; Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience by Waksman, 2001). Juju music has been one of the most consistently popular musical styles in Nigeria since the early part of the twentieth century. It is a dance music played by large ensembles, led by guitarists and accompanied by percussionists who play the Yoruba talking drum. The head of the drum can be tightened or loosened while it is being played, and this changes the drum's pitch to more closely mimic human speech patterns. The Yoruba people are one of Nigeria's largest ethnic groups.

The independence era in Africa began with Ghana in 1957 and continued after the Nigerian Civil War from 1967-1970. After that war ended there was an oil boom that created a strong local record manufacturing industry. The popularity of highlife began to fade, but juju music, led by King Sunny Adé and others, had changed slightly. In the mid-1950s the legendary I.K. Dairo became the first juju artist to feature talking drums, electric guitars, and accordion, essentially shaping the sound of the music into its most widely known form. A few years later, artists King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey had an intense rivalry which resulted in a period of intense creative output by both artists. Juju music began to spread in popularity around the world and reached a high point in the early 1980s; Adé recorded albums for Bob Marley's label Island Records in the 1980s. Both Obey and Adé kept releasing records into the 1990s.

In 1969 a genre called "Afro-beat" was created by Nigerian and Yoruban Fela Kuti, a saxophone player and former highlife musician. Afro-beat is a blend of traditional Yoruba music with jazz, West African highlife, and funk music from the United States. Kuti is often considered one of the most influential musicians in the world; his music was politically conscious and was inspired by the Black Panther movement. Similar to the music of Bob Marley which encouraged the Jamaican people to stand up for their rights, Kuti encouraged his fellow Nigerians to regain their self-reliance and self-pride after de-colonization.

Today, African artists such as Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and Yemi Alade enjoy widespread popularity with their blends of African styles with American rap and R&B genres.


The dominant musical culture of modern Korea is of Western origin, so popular music from there has less indigenous or folk influence when compared to music from the countries discussed above. Indigenous traditional music is enjoyed by a small minority of people in both North and South Korea. This has to do with the splitting of the country into two halves following the defeat of Japan in 1945, and this westernization is also a result of the outward-looking attitude of the Korean people brought on by industrialization and modernization in the twentieth century.

In Korea there are two main categories of popular music: easy-listening instrumental music and popular song. However, when most Korean people think of popular music, they think of popular song which originated around the turn of the twentieth century. Because Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910-1945, many of the traditional Korean popular songs have origins in Japanese traditions, but after WWII the Koreans adopted American popular song characteristics in much of their music.

Today's pop music from Korea is internationally popular, aesthetic-driven, style-bending, and trendsetting. It draws its influences from a broad range of commercial genres like pop, experimental, rock, hip-hop, R&B, electronic, and dance, and the variety of influences is so diverse that there is probably a K-Pop group or performer for every taste. However, despite the blend of genres it is still thoroughly Korean; The tunes are inspired by traditional Korean music and the songs are typically sung in Korean with some English appearing in many of the songs.

The origins of K-Pop, or Korean Pop, can be traced back to a girl group called The Kim Sisters who achieved a level of success in the 1950s singing covers of American pop songs (they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show 22 times!) They became the archetype for Korean pop artists who came later.

Artists Seo Taiji and Boys from the 1990s is the first group that closely resembles today's K-Pop stars like BTS and Blackpink. They successfully merged Korean pop with American music and coupled that with hip-hop choreography to create the winning formula that K-Pop stars still utilize today. Genre-bending music, attractive young performers, perfect appearances, and intricate choreography define the genre today. The most popular group from the First Generation, from the 1990s to 2000s, was H.O.T. and they are often considered the first true K-Pop idol group because they were manufactured from the elaborate training system in Seoul (that is subsidized by the Korean government). A group called G.o.d. (Groove Over Dose) debuted in 1999 and represents the Second Generation, from the 2000s to the 2010s.

The Third Generation, from the 2010s to the present, represents the most successful generation of K-Pop groups such as BTS, Exo, Seventeen, and Blackpink. The massive commercial and mainstream success of these groups is unique because historically the United States exports pop culture but does not typically import it. The entertainment industry is dominated by a white-centric monoculture, and the K-Pop groups were able to break into the mainstream by effectively using social media to help increase their popularity and create interest in their music. The popularity of K-Pop is akin to the British Invasion of the 1960s by groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They are talented, perfectly styled, socially conscious, and capable of generating a massive amount of engagement on social media.


It would be difficult to over-state the extent to which popular music from Jamaica has had an impact on music and artists around the world. The transculturalism mentioned above in reference to the music of Africa also plays a part here because Jamaica was colonized by Europeans in 1507, but many of the inhabitants were originally from Africa and were taken to the islands of the Caribbean through the transatlantic slave trade. Like some of the African countries mentioned above, Jamaica became independent from the United Kingdom in 1962, and its popular music flourished in the decades that followed.

The two primary styles of popular music and dance from Jamaica are ska and reggae. Ska was the first, and from 1961 to about 1965 it was the predominant popular style in Jamaica. Ska can be considered Jamaica's first truly indigenous music. Ska music sounds different depending on which artist or group is performing it, but it is generally a stylistic blend of African-Cuban and New Orleans influences with jazz, blues, and Rastafarian rhythms. Ska and reggae are unique in that they both feature a rhythmic groove or technique called a hesitation beat, which is often played by the guitarist(s) of the group. The hesitation beat is also sometimes called the bluebeat. A feature that sets ska apart from reggae is that there are prominently featured saxophones, trombones, and trumpets. The first and most well-known early ska group was The Skatalites. Ska has experienced two revivals since the 1960s; in the 1980s it experienced massive popularity in the United Kingdom with groups like the Specials, Selector, and Madness. This second wave was called "Two Tone" ska. In the 1990s in the United States groups like No Doubt, Sublime, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Fishbone were very popular and represented the third wave of ska.

Both reggae and ska have their roots in Jamaica's Cuban-influenced calypso music from the 1800s; it was a rural folk form of music that was meant for dancing. By the late 1960s, the faster tempos of ska had slowed by almost half, and the lyrical content had shifted to reflect a political and social consciousness. In 1968 a vocal group called the Maytals released a single called "Do the Reggay" and this effectively became the first reggae song. Reggae is defined by its political lyrics, the slowed down hesitation beat, and electronic instruments (electric guitar, electric bass, etc, like American rock bands).

There are several influential reggae artists from Jamaica, but the most renowned is Bob Marley. Influenced by James Brown and the tenets of Rastafarianism, Marley's rebellious lyrics and distinctive tenor voice propelled reggae to a high level of international recognition. He is often considered the first musical superstar to come from a developing or low-income country, and as such, he was beloved by people from all corners of the world. Albums such as Exodus (1977), Survival (1979), and Uprising (1980) solidified Marley as the leading figure of reggae and a prophet with a worldwide following.

Puerto Rico

One of the most popular genres of music around the world in 2010s and 2020s is reggaeton. There is some dispute as to the national character of the style, but it is most frequently associated with Puerto Rico. Reggaeton is a fusion of hip-hop from the United States and dancehall reggae from Jamaica and is typically performed in Spanish. The songs are driven by a modified reggae rhythm referred to as the "dembow". A common characteristic of this music is that it is often sexually suggestive and sometimes features explicit lyrics.

There are three main genres of dance music that emerged in Jamaica in the 1970s: dub, dancehall, and ragga, and these styles quickly spread to other countries in the Caribbean. Stripping sampled sections of previously recorded music combined with new melodies or vocals developed into a style called dub. The term was derived from the dubbing of new vocals that had been done by DJ's in the 60's. Later, dub-influenced dance music that developed during the early 80's was called dancehall. It usually featured simplistic forms of dub with an emphasis on the bass line. In the mid-1990s reggaeton was born, and since approximately 2017 (after "Despacito" was released by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee), the genre achieved worldwide recognition. Today, artists such as J Balvin, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, Maluma, and Karol G are very popular reggaeton stars who have hit songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S.


American popular music performed in the English language had such an impact on culture in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s that several countries enacted laws mandating that a certain amount of radio airtime each hour must be in the local language. These laws still exist now, and if you find yourself listening to the radio in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc, you may recognize a song even though it is performed in a European language. Because of the mandate, once a song becomes a hit on international charts there are artists who record the hit song exactly as it sounds except it is in French, Italian, German, etc.

An interesting result of this mandate is a thriving French rap scene that began in Paris and has spread to French-speaking countries across the globe. France has the second-largest hip-hop market in the world, second only to the United States. French radio stations started playing American rap and hip-hop in the early 1980s, and by 1991 the first star of French hip-hop, MC Solaar, released an album Qui séme le vent récolte le tempo and it became a major hit. Rap began in the boroughs of New York City as the music of young, impoverished, and oppressed people of color, and this spoke to the same groups of people living near Paris. It was influenced by American rap, but it is now recognized as a distinctively French cultural phenomenon and a point of pride. French rappers that are still popular today are IAM, Supreme NTM, Niska, SCH, and Vald.