From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Folk music can have a number of different meanings, including:
- Traditional music: The original meaning of the term "folk music" was synonymous with the term "Traditional music", also often including World Music and Roots music; the term "Traditional music" was given its more specific meaning to distinguish it from the other definitions that "Folk music" is now considered to encompass.
- Folk music can also describe a particular kind of popular music which is based on traditional music. In contemporary times, this kind of folk music is often performed by professional musicians. Related genres include Folk rock and Progressive folk music.
- In American culture, folk music refers to the American folk music revival, music exemplified by such musicians as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, who popularized and encouraged the lyrical style in the 1950s and 1960s.
The blending of folk and popular genres
The experience of the 20th century suggests that as soon as a folk tradition comes to be marketed as popular music, its musical content will quickly be modified to become more like popular music. Such modified folk music often incorporates electric guitars, drum kit, or forms of rhythmic syncopation that are characteristic of popular music but were absent in the original.
One example of this sort is contemporary country music, which descends ultimately from a rural American folk tradition, but has evolved to become vastly different from its original model. Rap music evolved from an African-American inner-city folk tradition, but is likewise very different nowadays from its folk original. A third example is contemporary bluegrass, which is a professionalised development of American old time music, intermixed with blues and jazz.
Sometimes, however, the exponents of amplified music were bands such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Mr. Fox and Steeleye Span who saw the electrification of traditional musical forms as a means to reach a far wider audience, and their efforts have been largely recognised for what they were by even some of the most die-hard of purists. Traditional folk music forms also merged with rock and roll to form the hybrid generally known as folk rock which evolved through performers such as The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas. Since the 1970s a genre of "contemporary folk", fueled by new singer-songwriters, has continued to make the coffee-house circuit and keep the tradition of acoustic non-classical music alive in the United States. Such artists include Chris Castle, Steve Goodman, and John Prine. While from Ireland The Pogues and The Corrs brought traditional tunes back into the album charts.
In the 1980s a group of artists like Phranc and The Knitters propagated a form of folk music also called country punk, cowpunk or folk punk, which eventually evolved into alt country. More recently the same spirit has been embraced and expanded on by performers such as Dave Alvin, Miranda Stone and Steve Earle. At the same time, a line of singers from Joan Baez to Tom Paxton have continued to use traditional forms for original material.
The appropriation of folk has even continued into hard rock and heavy metal, with bands such as Korpiklaani, Skyclad, Waylander and Finntroll melding distinctive elements of folk styles from a wide variety of traditions, including in many cases traditional instruments such as fiddles, tin whistles, accordions and bagpipes as an element of their sound. Unlike other folk-related genres, folk metal shies away from monotheistic religion in favour of more ancient pagan inspired themes. Folk inspirations are a massive part of subgenres of black metal, with genres such as viking metal being defined on their folk stance, and many a band incorporating folk interludes into albums (eg, Bergtatt and Kveldssanger, the first two albums by once-black metal, now-experimental band Ulver). There is also a Metal band that uses medieval instruments along with guitars.
A similar stylistic shift, without using the "folk music" name, has occurred with the phenomenon of Celtic music, which in many cases is based on an amalgamation of Irish traditional music, Scottish traditional music, and other traditional musics associated with lands in which Celtic languages are or were spoken (a significant research showing that the musics have any genuine genetic relationship is still to be done - at this point, only a book in French written by Alan Stivell studies a bit the subject of Celtic Music-); so Breton music and Galician music are often included in the genre).
Most filk music can also be considered folk music both stylistically and culturally (though the 'community' it arose from, is an unusual and thoroughly modern one).
Neofolk music is a modern form of music that began in the 1980s. Fusing traditional European folk music with post-industrial music forms, historical topics, philosophical commentary, traditional songs and paganism, the genre is largely European. Although it is not uncommon for neofolk artists to be entirely acoustic, playing with entirely traditional instruments.
Another trend is "anti-folk", begun in New York City in the 1980s by Lach in response to the "confined" traditional folk music. It now has a home at the Antihootenany in the East Village, where artists like Beck, the Moldy Peaches and Nellie McKay got their starts, and artists continue to push the envelope of "folk."
Folk music is still popular among some audiences today, with folk music clubs meeting to share traditional-style songs, and there are major folk music festivals in many countries, eg the Port Fairy Folk Festival is a major annual event in Australia attracting top international folk performers as well as many local artists. Indeed, even for those who consider themselves hip, the arrival of Americana and the music of Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Devendra Banhart has shown that folk music can still be cutting edge.
The Cambridge Folk Festival in Cambridge, England is always sold out within days, and is noted for having a very wide definition of who can be invited as folk musicians. The "club tents" allow attendees to discover large numbers of unknown artists, who, for ten or 15 minutes each, present their work to the festival audience.
- Indigenous music
- Folk Is Not a Four Letter Word
- List of art music traditions
- Anthology of American Folk Music
- Folk process