In a statement, the Recording Academy said: “As we continue to embrace a truly global mindset, we update our language to reflect a more appropriate categorization that seeks to engage and celebrate the current scope of music from around the world.
“Over the summer we held discussions with artists, ethnomusicologists, and linguists from around the world who determined that there was an opportunity to update the best world music album category toward a more relevant, modern, and inclusive term...The change symbolizes a departure from the connotations of colonialism, folk, and ‘non-American’ that the former term embodied while adapting to current listening trends and cultural evolution among the diverse communities it may represent.”
The Academy introduced the category in 1991. The first winner, in February 1992, was Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum. Ry Cooder was the first two-time winner in the category. Ravi Shankar and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have also won twice in the category. Angélique Kidjo is the only three-time winner in the category to date.
Here is how the Recording Academy defines the category in its current online guidebook, which has category rules for all 84 categories: “This category recognizes excellence in albums of world music, including recordings of international non-Western classical music, international non-American and non-British traditional folk music, international cross-cultural music based on the previously mentioned genres as well as international recordings of world beat, world jazz (with a higher percentage of world than jazz music), world pop and cross-cultural music. Albums of reggae, Latin or European pop music aren’t eligible in this category and should be entered in other categories as appropriate.”
The award has been presented to Brazilian artists five times--more than any other nationality. It has been presented to artists from the U.S. four times; from India, South Africa and Benin three times; from Mali and France twice; and from Ireland and Panama once.
Following the 45th Grammy Awards (presented in February 2003), the award was split into two separate categories for best traditional world music album and best contemporary world music album. For the awards presented in February 2012, the two categories were merged back to best world music album.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences came to a similar understanding 18 months ago. During the Academy's board of governors meeting on April 23, 2019, it was decided that best foreign language film (which had been awarded since 1956) would be renamed best international feature film beginning at the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020.
It was argued that use of the term “foreign” was “outdated within the global filmmaking community,” and that the new name “better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”