We are talking about life-giving diversity

(June 18, 2014)

Folk music is something entirely malleable and ductile. And so it should be. Morphing and mutating, adapting to place and practice as either dictate. The transmutation of tunes and lyrics from one time to another carried with consummate ease and fervent respect but tinged with the freedom to innovate and augment. For some years now, the always-accommodating foundation of the folk genre has fluctuated through an ever-widening ethnic shift as increasing cultural influences and innovations contribute to the depth of its soul. The end result is an ever-increasing richness that contributes as much to the individual elements as it does to the whole.

Naturally, this cross fertilisation of stimuli and inspiration changes the master-recipe, however that does not mean that the original is lost. Far from it, the mould is not shattered, it simply feeds the creation of hybrids that thrive in different and sometimes the same spaces. The ‘child’ exists alongside the ‘parent’, both growing through their own strength and taking whatever direction feeds their expansion. The development of something new and different from existing roots does not mean those roots are neglected or that they will suffer some form of slow death. The true beauty of folk is its ability to grow new shoots and have them exist alongside the rest of the branches, trunk and roots.

There is unfortunately, an alliance or two that equates any cultural exchange or symbiosis of influence with a level of sacrilege that verges on heresy. This group of “it’s always been that way” believers range from the common or garden ‘not in my back yard and not over there either’ reactionaries to out and out zealots who would excommunicate anyone who had the temerity and impertinence to profane the unmovable lyric or tune. They hold strong to the belief that what was good enough 300 years ago cannot benefit from supplement or addition … or dare one say improvement?

The points they miss are many. The so-called musical desecration many purport to stand against has gone on for so long that most ‘originals’ are lost in time and space. Those ‘sacred songs’ they desire to defend, bear little or no relation to the prototype. Also, there are so many mongrels floating around that have in their own time become accepted as the ‘real thing’ who is to arbitrate on which is which? Another attempted rallying cry that erupts more frequently is “there is more corrupting input”. What a load of rubbish. The so-called corrupting influences have always been there, it’s just that contemporary communication makes them more accessible and easier to assimilate. And I return to the point made earlier, this is not one facet of a genre replacing another it is the ever-widening scope open to all of us.

So next time I’m asked if I think an increasing number of ethnic musical and cultural influences are corrupting folk music you know the answer. We are not talking corruption or distortion, we’re talking life-giving diversity.

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