I like the iTunes music store as much as the next person, but the selection is poor when it comes to the ‘world music’ category.
For music that is other-than-English-language-pop (also known as ‘world,’ ‘global, or ‘international’ music — in other words, the vast majority of the music produced on this planet), you might want to try Calabashmusic.com.
The selection is outstanding, it’s DRM-free, tunes are cheap and it’s based on fair trade (50 percent of each sale goes back to the artist). For audiophiles, the sound quality is pretty good — downloads range from 160-192kbps. The files are in MP3 format so you can play them on any player. You can also return to Calabash at anytime and re-download your purchased music.
Did I mention the selection is outstanding? Calabash organizes their large music collection in two ways: browse by regions of the world or sift through scores of musical genres (Portuguese Fado, anyone? How about Afro-Peruvian?). Once you find something that interests you, try out a 60-second preview. They also offer 10 free downloads a week, which is a great way to start exploring new music.
I bring this up now because the folks over at Calabash are trying to launch a peer-to-peer microcredit program for international artists. Their goal is to raise $100,000 by May 31 so they can get it off the ground. You may have heard of Kiva.org. This is the same idea, but for struggling artists around the globe. I think it’s a great idea. Peer-to-peer microfinancing is one of the more interesting, innovative and positive things made possible by the social web.
If you love music from around the globe, also check out National Geographic’s online music section. The music content for this site is provided by Calabash, but it’s packaged a bit differently here. They strive for a more contextual, cultural focus as you might expect. Some of the content also comes from PRI (producer’s of The World, a great news program that daily highlights the global music scene, often in a political context) and Afropop Worldwide (the show that started me on my international music path back in the 1990s). One more: check out the BBC’s world music offerings.
Footnote: I love world music, but why do we have to call it ‘world music?’ Isn’t all music from this world? It makes no sense. David Byrne wrote a really good editorial way back in 1999 for the New York Times that gets to the root of the issue. It’s called ‘I Hate World Music.‘