Friday, December 10, 2010

Folk music and writing...

The weekend of January 28-31 will see the 2011 version of the Auckland Folk Festival. This annual event has been going since the early 1970's and showcases folk music and the many forms of narrative storytelling contained within. The festival features traveling musicians from Europe, the U.S.A. and New Zealand and many other points. It's music at its purest and well worth a look. We've made an annual pilgrimage (the most appropriate word in the circumstances) to the event for years. Keep checking the website for dates/times/line-ups.

Folk music has a whakapapa stretching back to oral storytelling and the earliest forms of music that cataloged and celebrated early peoples' lives, in both pragmatic (birth, hunting, family) and spiritual/mythological ways. I recall seeing buffalo hides in the museum in Calgary, Canada with artistic renderings of symbols of the rites and rituals of people's entire lives, created by members of the Blackfoot nation. Folk music also carries this breadth and intimacy of narrative.

Folk music has always been a tool for bringing together communities, and has such has been used by working class people the world over. You can listen to folk musicians from Central Otago and hear Celtic origins, both melodic and in storytelling style. Appalachian folk music from the U.S.A. is filled with the sounds of Ireland, Scotland and England. Early 20th Century folk musician Dock Boggs is now recognized as a progenitor of American Folk, Country and Blues, and by extension - modern rock. That's a lot of different roads for one ol' coal miner from the Virginia mountains.

There has always been a crossover and cross-pollination between folk music and writing. In the 1930's in the U.S.A. for example novelists John Steinbeck, photographer Dorothea Lange and folk singer Woody Guthrie were all telling stories of the plight of the rural poor drifting westward in the Great Depression.

Dorothea Lange's famous photograph 'Migrant Mother' (pictured - right) helped raise awareness of the plight of the migrant workers across America, as did Guthrie's musical ballads and Steinbeck's writing.

Many novelists in various cultures write community derived narratives which are true in design and effect to the fundamentals of folk music. (Stories of family/village/provincial survival, working songs, parent/child songs to be handed down, songs of history and genealogy.) Writers whose narratives for me are reminiscent of folk music would be: Kent Haruf, Toni Morrison, Patricia Grace, Ben Okri, Roddy Doyle, even someone like Raymond Carver.

For me, one of the basics statements of folk music and any other form of narrative that carries its breath would be something like:  this is my stake in the ground. I have survived to write this. For this moment, if in no other, I was here.

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