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© Insung Yoon via Unsplash
© Insung Yoon via Unsplash - © Insung Yoon via Unsplash

Music streaming and the representation of diversity: the case of world music

In this article, we take a look at the phenomenon of music streaming platforms and their impact on the representation of world music.

Music streaming is now one of the most common ways of consuming music. In this context, it is interesting to consider the impact of platforms in terms of the representation of different musical genres. There are major inequalities in representation between popular music genres and those considered specialised by the Western industry. This inequality can be explained by the business model chosen by streaming platforms: a model of productivist return on popular genres to the detriment of repertoires that are underprivileged in the immense daily flow of new releases (120,000 releases per day). With users having access to millions of tracks (100,000,000 on Spotify), the major issue for artists and record companies is the visibility of their productions. This was highlighted in Sophian Fanen’s research “La Fête du Stream”: the platforms’ aim is to win the loyalty of an ever-increasing number of users, which means attracting the general public, who want to find the tracks broadcast on traditional channels (radio and television). The majors have a historic monopoly on the market, and are shareholders in the main platforms such as Spotify, Deezer and Apple (18%).

The strength of these players enables them to showcase their catalogue on platforms. They are therefore creating trends for the general public across all distribution channels. Anchored in this logic of economic expansion, the streaming platforms shape their editorial playlists and programme their music recommendation tools according to the hits of the moment, in order to satisfy the mass of their subscribers. Sophian Fanen notes that, behind the promise of access to a huge diversity of music on streaming platforms, we are back to an unequal 80%/20% market split, to the benefit of the three main majors (Universal, Sony and Warner) and a few independents (Because, PIAS). This model favours the domination of mainstream music by algorithms, which isolate the general public in a “sound bubble” (Sophian Fanen), making other musical repertoires invisible. So musical diversity is well and truly obstructed by the platforms.


Listeners are thus directed towards a standardised and biased vision, based on a westernised and ethnocentric approach to music, which does not reflect the full range of different musical genres available on streaming services.

If we look at the case of world music, we see that the editorial playlists created by the platforms actually reflect an essentialized vision of this music. For example, on the leading streaming platform Spotify, the Pop Music genre is represented by a multitude of editorial playlists based on several parameters such as decades, influences or leading artists, whereas the “Biso Na Biso” editorial playlist is the only one to represent Congolese music. With 80 tracks, this playlist acts as a snapshot for the entire range of Congolese music, while focusing essentially on the artists of the moment. There are a few soukouss tracks, followed by the latest from Ninho, Tiakola and Dadju, before a champeta-influenced club edit.

This compilation distorts conceptions of genres, becoming a “catch-all” in the words of anthropologist Julien Mallet when he refers to the commercial label “world music”. The example of the editorial playlist “Destination Côte d’Ivoire”, described as a “50-track tour of Ivorian music”, also demonstrates the essentialization of world music by the Swedish platform. These examples illustrate the essentialization and under-representation of musical genres considered to be sound niches by the Western industry.

In response to this phenomenon, passionate fans, the media, curators and independent labels are creating playlists that give these genres a better representation. For example, the independent label Syllart Records, founded by Ibrahima Sylla, offers playlists accessible on Spotify dedicated to Congolese and Senegalese music, taking into account their history, influences and developments.

Retro Congolese Rumba :

African Champeta

Afrolatin via Africa


This makes these repertoires more accessible to both initiated and non-initiated users. Other initiatives, such as the Deedo and Colorfol streaming platforms - with their pan-African vision of music - or the Baziks platform - centred on the repertoires of the two Congos - offer a vision with a new prism of what is considered “world music” by the Western industry.

In conclusion, the idea is not so much to question the existence of streaming platforms and editorial playlists, as to emphasise the importance of increased representation of musical diversity. More than ever, streaming platforms have a fundamental role to play in avoiding the essentialisation and globalising standardisation of music, by providing an infinite source of musical discovery and exposure for a variety of genres.


Questioning “World Music” : an introduction



Bastien Lavigne and Orianne Fournié

Bastien Lavigne
Bastien Lavigne

Bastien Lavigne: holds a master's degree in cultural anthropology and musicology from the University of Paris 8; member of the programming committee of the association Des Rares Talents founded by Hilaire PENDA in Montreuil; producer of the Bastien & Taly project and the Cubongo project; responsible for the coding of recordings at SPEDIDAM.

Orianne Fournié
Orianne Fournié

Orianne Fournié: holds a double Masters 2 in Economic Development and International Cooperation / Governance of International Relations from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Toulouse.

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