Roots - growing thriving and on the rise

(April 10, 2018)

Is ‘roots music’ anything to do with folk or an integral element of folk, and if it is either, has it dropped into the same confusion of categorisation as folk music? The first contemporary use of the word ‘roots’ in a musical sense was to define traditional musical played by artists in the styles of their ancestors ... pretty close to an already accepted term for folk. This ‘roots’ definition covered music from Albania to Zimbabwe ... and rightly so, it’s not just music from ‘over there’. Roots was primarily but not necessarily in the folk culture or oral music vein, and although obscurely not referred to as music from the British Isles, it’s once again pretty close to one accepted definition of folk music. That is music from ‘the oral tradition of a particular region or country’.

The term ‘roots revival’ was more specific in that it described artists playing music that was all but extinct. Generally, the music being revived was not quite dead, although some branches of its tree were withered and others near to dying ... not too far once more from the British folk revival. Then again, many middle class British folkies of the 70s and 80s perceived ‘roots’ to be only ethnic music from third-world countries ... often patronisingly and incredibly insultingly described as ‘music played by foreign or ‘third-world’ people’.

Like folk, much roots music incorporates political lyrics, often critical of a government, a religion or the ruling authority or of a class or society in general. If that’s not close to British folk what is? Often, the lyrics of thus-defined roots music are from a class or sub-culture of a nation that uses music to express more than social unrest, injustice and human problems, it is often the embodiment of that nation's character or tradition. Roots music is all music that comes from that position ... the roots that ensure we all thrive ... and that includes British folk as much as that from outside these islands.

Take a look at ‘roots’ music today and much of it is categorised by national and regional boundaries. Boundaries that are often perceived as separate to ‘home grown’ folk. The folk that many call the 'British folk vein' includes all music from the British Isles and most of it owes a debt to its roots; wherever they thrive. There is a growing desire to classify and categorise ‘roots’ as there is with folk music and eventually it’s pointless. If musical history shows us anything then it demonstrates the roots derivative of all music, and if that’s not an accepted definition in what is increasingly a diverse mix of humanity then heaven help us all.

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