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When World Music topped the charts

On July 24-26, highlights of the WOMAD festival will be broadcast live on Radio 3; to mark the occasion, music writer Nige Tassell picks a selection of moments when world music crashed UK popular culture.

1966 – Ravi Shankar meets The Beatles

Having already used a sitar on the recording of Norwegian Wood, George Harrison hooks up with Ravi Shankar, the instrument's leading player. Later referred to by Harrison as "the godfather of world music", Shankar's influence is most clearly felt on Within You Without You from the Sgt Pepper album.

Listen to a documentary broadcast by the BBC Asian Network to mark Ravi Shankar's death in 2012

1982 – WOMAD Festival is born

WOMAD (aka the World Of Music, Arts and Dance) makes its first appearance. The multicultural event in rural Somerset is an unqualified artistic success, but a commercial flop. Co-founder Peter Gabriel reunites with Genesis for a benefit show to cover the debt. It would go from strength to strength and in 2012 celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Radio 3 live at WOMAD 2015

1983 – Malcolm McLaren releases Duck Rock

Although he singularly fails to credit the musicians on his debut solo album, the flame-haired former Sex Pistols manager does introduce British pop fans to what will later be dubbed 'world music' – in particular, South African township jive on the hit single Double Dutch.

1986 – Paul Simon goes to South Africa

Like McLaren, singer-songwriter Paul Simon travels to apartheid-era South Africa for musical inspiration, in the process provoking the ire of anti-apartheid campaigners by endangering a UN cultural boycott. The resulting album - Graceland - sells 16 million copies and makes worldwide stars of the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Watch a clip of Paul Simon and others speaking about the Graceland controversy

Members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo talk about making Graceland

1986 – The Bhundu Boys take the UK by storm

The Bhundu Boys, the scintillating Zimbabwean beat combo, move to Britain and, thanks to their non-stop touring, become everyone's favourite African band. Radio 1's John Peel and Andy Kershaw are their most vociferous champions; Peel describes a live show of theirs as "one of the very best public performances I have ever witnessed".

1987 – 'World music' is invented

A group of record company bosses, broadcasters and journalists gather in an Islington pub to discuss how to promote music from various points across the globe. A new genre is born that night – 'world music', a marketing term that, although not without its critics, survives nearly 30 years later.

1994 – Youssou N'Dour goes top ten

Already well-known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel and for being part of Amnesty International's 1988 Human Rights Now! tour alongside Bruce Springsteen and Sting, Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour teams up with Neneh Cherry for the single 7 Seconds, a huge hit across Europe that reaches number three in the UK charts.

Listen to Youssou N'Dour at 50 from BBC Radio 4

1996 – The Buena Vista Social Club album becomes a dinner-party favourite

American guitarist Ry Cooder defies a US cultural boycott of Cuba and travels to Havana to record with a bunch of musicians in their twilight years. The results of the six-day recording session are nothing short of phenomenal, selling more than five million copies and winning awards by the bucketful.

Watch Buena Vista Social Club's Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa perform live on BBC Radio 3

Listen to 6Music's Cerys Matthews on 30 years of the Buena Vista Social Club

2001 – The Gotan Project revolutionise tango

La Revancha Del Tango, the debut album by the trio known as the Gotan Project, becomes the first must-have world music record of the new millennium. Its thrilling amalgam of tango and electronica ensures its use in a thousand TV car commercials. You might not know you've heard them, but you definitely have.

2007 – Tinariwen support the Rolling Stones

This band of nomadic, desert blues-playing former guerilla fighters are asked by the Rolling Stones to be their opening act at Slaine Castle in Ireland. It's the latest chapter in an extraordinary success story; three years later, Tinariwen perform at the World Cup opening ceremony in South Africa.

Listen to Tinariwen live in session on BBC Radio 3

Listen live to WOMAD 2015 with BBC Radio

More World Music from BBC Radio 3

More about acts featured here