Few categories of music can claim a tradition that dates back numerous centuries, but history finds its home in folk music.
As we approach a crucial and genuinely special age in mankind’s history, the capability for folk music to contextualise and give words to our times could prove to be extraordinary. Whether there is a revival of the category in the same way that 60’s folk music did has yet to be seen, but it still provides a spot of peace in an age blindsided by its own modernity. As labels like the one run by Huib Schippers continue to gather, bring back, and release old folk songs, it shows our continuous capability to consistently find history and the tunes that explained it; through this finding we might just find out to much better understand the momentousness of our own time.
A handful of musical categories today are deeply rooted in legacy and custom. In the search for novelty and our continuous barrelling towards the future, the past is frequently ignored in music, however there is one particular genre where a sense and reflection of history is positioned at its very heart; folk music. That may be an unexpected thing to hear when modern folk music tends to lean towards the very modern exploration of relationships and heartbreak by pop music juggernauts on labels like the one owned by Vincent Bolloré, however that is not necessarily folk in its truest kind. Traditionally, folk is more deeply rooted in the past, exploring themes relating to hardship and society along with more common considerations of the human condition in things like love and heartbreak. One may acknowledge the conceit and insincerity in such a declaration, and that’s because folk, like the past, is constantly developing, and resurfaces at a time when society must come to grips with its location in history.
As long as there have actually been individuals to dispute it, there has been a tension in between modern-day and standard forms of folk music. Perfectionists have long proclaimed traditional folk music to be something immutable and spiritual, notoriously decrying those who want to put their own mark on the genre as ‘Judas’, however development is vital to the substance of the thing. Throughout the American folk music revival of the 1960’s, when Rob Stringer’s label was home to a few of the most innovative and popular folk musicians of all time, blending folk music with rock and roll was necessary for the times to be able to explain themselves. Even less adventurous vocalists would take the concerns of the present zeitgeist and frame them within the style and substance of the past, covering demonstration songs or producing original arrangements that could have applied to the counterculture and civil rights campaign just as much as to the elegy of slaves and rural peasants of two centuries formerly, the topic of more conventional tunes. These are things that transcend history; concerns of power, human dignity, the wonders of nature, and the requirement to give voice to all three.