The annual Auckland Folk Music Festival has come and gone for another year. As always it was a fascinating mix of song and story, and song as story. I posted a link on Folk Music and Writing in December. It's as much a gathering of storytellers as it is a gathering of musicians. One of the highlights is to wander among the tents in the early evening where you can hear songs from all over the world and from several different folk traditions getting new airings. In many rural societies of migrants music was a form of currency, something to bring to the table. It reflected either the differences in tradition of different migrant groups and cultures or often a shared heritage. That shared heritage could cross many national boundaries and periods of time. An Appalachian folk ballad would carry strains of Celtic music, so people who had no everyday knowledge of its tradition and the people who crafted it would carry that tradition within their music, within them, all the while building a new tradition.There are performers now who combine cultural traditions. A trio from Christchurch Emeralds and Greenstone played a fusion of Celtic and Maori music in contemporary interpretations of those forms.
For me one of the highpoints of each festival is the concert with amateur performers. This is music stripped of all pretense, of all tainting by marketing imperatives. People play music because they like it, or because they grew up with it. There's a floating community between songster and audience as the audience recognizes the songs from their own cultural heritage. Music as whakapapa. I was on a Maori writers tour a few years back where we had some First Nations writers from Canada and they smiled at the fact that when our troupe had finished reading and singing the local community audience would do the same in return. A swapping of story and song. The First Nations visitors noted how the same tradition lived in their own culture.
I recently watched a documentary on the 1951 Waterfront Strike where the government banned all public discussion and viewpoints from the workers (watersiders, miners) so only one narrative - the government's narrative - could be heard. The 'media' of the ordinary people moved underground, via pamphlets, bills posted on walls, meetings in peoples' homes (all of which were declared illegal under Emergency Powers.) Folk music has often played the same role, of keeping the ordinary people's narrative alive.
Long may it continue to do so.