Saturday, February 23, 2008

Regional Folk Music

To my mind and to my ear, there is something remarkable about regional folk musics, music passed down from father to son, father to daughter mother to son mother to daughter. This is often music played according to specific conventions or sets of rules - the things that define the music.

Here where I live in Toronto, I can't say we have a regional music at all, yet not so far away, there is a tradition of fiddle music in the Ottawa Valley that has a very unique sound. Recently, I posted a video tribute to Ward Allen, which exemplifies this style. Not far further east, there is a wonderfully rich tradition of Quebecois folk music. Last fall, we had the pleasure of hearing Yves Lambert at the International Accordion Festival down in San Antonio, Texas.

There are fiddle traditions throughout the Maritimes and of course there is the music of Newfoundland. Why is it that folk traditions endure in some places but disappear in others?

Some areas of the Southern United States have spawned fantastic musical traditions. There is the blues, jug band music, and in Texas the fantastic hybrid of German and Mexican traditions we call Conjunto, Norteno or just plain Tex-Mex. Louisiana, with a multiplicity of influences - Acadian, African, Aboriginal, Spanish, French, Italian and so on, is the home of numerous distinctive musical traditions that have developed alongside one another.

Here is a remarkable excerpt from Yasha Aginsky's documentary "Les Blues de Balfa". It features Dewey Balfa talking to school children about what is a Cajun. You'll see Zydeco accordionist Rockin Dopsie near the start, and later, Cajun accordion great Nathan Abshire play and sing Jolie Blon.

Dewey Balfa was an amazing ambassador for Cajun music and Cajun culture. Here are a few quotes from Mr. Balfa:

"I've often said that if Daddy had left us the money to travel and see the world I would probably have never bought the first plane ticket. But what he left me musically, nobody can steal it from me; and it's one of the most wonderful things he could have left me- no matter how much money he would have left me, I could never buy what the knowledge of music has given me."

"A culture can not be kept alive under glass in a museum."

"When we first started going to the festivals, I can remember people saying, "They're going to get laughed at." But when the echo came back, I think it brought a message to the people... but a lot of people don't realize that they have a good cornbread on the table until somebody tells them."

"My culture is not better than anyone else's culture. My people were no better than anyone else. And yet I will not accept it as a second-class culture. It's the best culture for me. Now, I would expect, if you have a different culture, that you would feel the same about yours as I feel about mine."

"My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, they all played the fiddle, and you see, through my music I feel they are still alive."

...and my very favourite: "I refuse to be just another American plastic card with a number on it."

I'll close this post with some more clips featuring the Balfa Brothers, which I found on Youtube:


Anonymous said...

Damn you, that made me cry.

Bridget Jones said...

What a GREAT post!!!!!!!!! Thanks Mr. A!!!

Candy Minx said...

"A culture can not be kept alive under glass in a museum."

And this is exactly what I was saying regarding music on my blog about seclusive fans...

For upcoming regional music of your area you could check with this organization:

Here is an opportunity to listen to music regional music from around your area. It's not till November but should be a great event.

Gardenia said...

Sounds like a wise man.

sp said...

Great video clips and quotes.

I think there is a strong First People's music that has survived.

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