Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Hello all,

Wanting to know some of your opinions on artists such as Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver, and Ani DiFranco, as part of a project I’m currently working on.

The aim of my research is to understand if artists such as the ones stated above could be considered authentic folk. Please state the reasoning behind your answer.

I look forward to discussing this and exploring your opinions.

Cheers

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Folk is alive and growing, not a thing of museums. Modern styles of folk are still folk.

Until it technically turns into a different genre, that is - you wouldn’t call The Jimi Hendrix Experience a bluestrio, although they are very much influenced by the older style. This is where it turns semantical - how much change does a genre need before it warrants a new name (and who decides?)?

Authentic is a tricky word here, though: "of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine." - according to who? Stemming from which origin? Rather subjective - and in my subjective opinion, the word authentic has more to do with the artistic integrity of the artist than with the history of a genre he happens to draw from.

Not that I mentioned it, the word ‘folk’ doesn’t have a singular definition, either. Do you know what you’re getting yourself into here? ;)

In any case, what kind of a project are you working on? It sounds interesting.

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*NOW that I mentioned it, that is.

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You’re going to find it a challenge to operationalize ‘authentic.’ A more functional term would be ‘traditional.’ Then, everything is contextual - dependent upon the lens through which one makes purview. For example, you can choose a period, say, the folk ‘revivalism’ of the 1960s - typically what folks have in mind when they think of ‘trad folk’ - and draw comparisons therein. What you’ve got, then = modernism has effected myriad variations on ‘trad’ (since ~1960). Etc.

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

‘Authentic’…. as opposed to what?

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Sure, I bet they’re authentic enough. Their music isn’t written by a couple of guys from Sweden, is it? I don’t listen to commercial pop music much, so these people are off my radar though. I’ve heard a few songs from Mumford and Sons. I like The Cave a lot. Can’t recall hearing any Ani DiFranco music although I recognize the name. I’ve never heard of Bon Iver. I really rarely listen to singer/songwriters. For me, it’s traditional Irish tunes tunes tunes! Hope this response helps.

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Ani’s great - saw her but once. If anything (problematic as imposing classification is), she’s rockin it - albeit, with an acoustic guitar.

Much ‘folk’ music (as with most genre) has been greatly infused with rock aesthetic (drums, electric instruments, etc) the past several decades. If one is involved with taxonomies, this will be a major aspect to sort among..

"Authentic?" Sure. But - ‘what’..? ‘Alternative’ could mean anything..

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Can’t help you out as my interest, and the reason I look at this site, is in traditional music.

If you have no sense of the ways in which ‘folk’ and ‘tradiional ’ are used to describe music then I think you have some groundwork to do before addressing the internet with your question.

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I like Bon Iver but it is not traditional music. It might be acoustic, it might be folk, might be ambient / blues / alt-rock music. Vocals are falsetto, breathless, unlike folk music.
Mum ford & Sons: metro social pop pulp.

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Fwiw, I think it’s fine to hit the net first with elementary questions - I for one don’t mind the inquiries - presuming it will contribute to someone’s edification.

Bear in mind, student95 - it’s a very broad question, whose value may be enhanced by refining your terms and methods - make them as meaningful as possible..

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I second catty’s point above: if your question is "what is your opinion"…a valid response might just be "nice shoes". You’ll get better information faster by asking more precise questions.

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I think it was only natural for Ani DiFranco and Utah Phillips to collaborate. I don’t presume to speak for them but I doubt either considered anything they did as something authentic. Each are alternative depending on what you consider alternative. I think they loved swapping stories.

https://righteousbabe.com/blogs/ani-difranco-news

All the best with your project.

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I looked up a few definitions of the word ‘authentic’ and it is a difficult word in this context. IMHO authentic generally means that something is what it purports to be. In a musical sense, if a well trained jazz or classical musician said he was going to play some Irish Trad it would not be authentic. But if someone writes a song and sings it without attributing a label/genre then you can’t say its not authentic because there is no reference point. I don’t know what any of these artists try to pass off their material as in terms of label/genre.

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Donough has it.

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Something can only be considered authentic if it is compared to something to which its authenticity can be determined. So an original concept cannot be authentic, but something that is done in the mold of that concept can be, to the degree that one agrees adherence to that concept was successful. Bear in mind that I am not using "authentic" in the context of, for example, whether or not an instrument made to a certain maker’s specification is authentic in the sense of having actually been made by that maker.

I define folk music as music indigenous to a region that can be played on available instruments without academic training. The music, if sung, reflects the experiences of the region, although it is possible to write a song informed by the style and experience from a region not one’s own and still be considered a folk song. The sentiments may be universal, but is usually expressed in a manner typical of the composer’s region.

If you accept the foregoing, then I submit that a song or tune can be considered folk without being authentic if it is played in a manner inconsistent with its origins. Authenticity is not inherently a virtue, unless such is the intent. Taking a folk song or tune and reinterpreting it can be absolutely wonderful, and even if it is not, the attempt can be healthy. In any case, a folk song is still a folk song no matter how it is played, but a change of style means it is no longer authentic - or so I contend. It may be based on an authentic folk song or tune, but while it is still folk in terms of its origin, it is no longer authentic in terms of the alteration of style.

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"Authentic….. as opposed to what ?" - "Fakefolk" !!

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There would, logically, be a very simple way of determining whether Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver, and Ani DiFranco are "authentic folk". Tell us what you mean by "folk". Then we’ll tell you whether they match the description.

But that’s the complicated part. We’re into the "what is folk?" question.

I would personally reply with an emphatic no. They are most definitely not authentic examples of traditional folk. Traditional is the key word here. That’s the word I use when I say play folk music. People often say, "oh you mean like Mumford and Sons?". No, I sing traditional folk songs and I play traditional folk tunes.

For a song to enter the canon of traditional folk, it has to be old enough to have stood a test of time, to have entered the culture at an almost primordial level: like the way nursery rhymes and lullabies have.

Granted, you could argue that a lot of traditional folk songs are no longer in that position, from that point of view, whereas plenty of modern-day pop songs are, and I would concede that many of the old songs folksingers sing today are I suppose being forcibly resurrected when folksingers sing them. But, crucially, they were sung by hundreds of people over hundreds of years: they entered the oral tradition and were passed down the generations. I don’t think the songs of Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver, and Ani DiFranco will be being routinely being sung in 100 years time: that’s partly because their music isn’t very good (just my opinion etc etc) but most importantly it is because we live in a new, information-saturated age that does not give popular music the same hyper-intense importance. I just can’t see songs "being folk" in the same way in 100 years time: songs just aren’t that central to culture anymore.

There are other criteria than time, I suppose, in which you might consider some contemporary music to be "authentically folky". For instance, new songs that are written according to models of traditional folksongs. Inauthentic folksongs, but songs that follow the folk model, written and sung by singers that have an excellent understanding of traditional folk song repertoire. The Scottish folksinger Alasdair Roberts writes quite a few of these. A good example might be ‘The Herring Girl’ by Bella Hardy, a very self-conscious mimicking of traditional form. But the Mumfords, Bon Iver and Ani DiFranco don’t fall into that category either.

A singer-songwriter who happens to use acoustic instruments is no more "traditional folk" than a singer-songwriter who uses hip-hop music. So you may as well ask, "could you call Jay-Z, Eminem or Lady Gaga authentic folk?".

(Caveat: some of Ani DiFranco’s songs arguably come close to a tradition of political-protest songwriting that was a bedfellow of the traditional folk song revival. She did also make an album with Bruce Utah Phillips, who I would call "authentic folk" – or at least I would if I used the term "authentic", which I don’t!)

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Yes it gets into the distinction between "folk music" and "traditional music".

I heard a Mumford & Sons album and it didn’t strike me as either. But everyone defines those words differently I suppose.

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There’s one way in which it needn’t be that complicated. Here’s three broad categories:

1. People who play Traditional Music
2. Singer-songwriters who write their own songs, and who don’t play Traditional Music, but whose music nevertheless demonstrates a deep influence and understanding of Traditional Music
3. Singer-songwriters who write their own songs but whose music has nothing in common with Traditional Music and only gets called folk cos they’re playing an acoustic guitar

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For me, ‘folk’ and ‘traditional’ categorize music in two different ways:
‘Traditional’ indicates a link with the past, and it can be further subdivided - into traditional tunes and traditional music - a traditional tune is still traditional even if you play it on synthesizer and flugelhorn, a band playing traditional instruments in a traditional style are still making traditional music even if they are playing new compositions.

But ‘folk’ isn’t about the music itself, it’s about the ethos and motive for playing. Folk music is music that folk make for their own (and possibly their local community’s) amusement, not for financial gain. So people like Altan and Planxty are traditional musicians, but they aren’t folk musicians, the guys having a session down the pub are both traditional and folk. The singer/strummer down the pub is a folk musician even if they play pop covers, Bob Dylan isn’t.

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Hi guys,

Thanks for all your comments.

I understand my questions were quite vague - I’m very new to this and still trying to find my feet and understand folk music myself. I feel much more informed after reading through your answers and now have a better understanding of the word ‘authentic’ (I realise this is a tricky one to define), and also how the public views alternative/indie folk artists. Alternative/indie folk being modern folk music with rock and country influences.

I specifically mentioned Mumford and Sons as I have noticed very mixed opinions of them in the folk community, and it makes me wonder if people see their incredible mainstream success as ”selling out”..?

Thanks again for your help!

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Here is a book review in The Journal of Music which might give some perspective on your subject.
The review is by Steve Coleman.
The book is by Fintan Vallely.
Tuned Out: Traditional Music and Identity in Northern Ireland ~ Cork University Press

"Tuned Out will be valued for its concise and lively presentation of musical history, illuminating both the continuity and the slippage of identifications between musical forms and social categories."
http://journalofmusic.com/focus/book-tuned-out

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"I specifically mentioned Mumford and Sons as I have noticed very mixed opinions of them in the folk community, and it makes me wonder if people see their incredible mainstream success as ”selling out”..?"

I don’t see their success as selling out, because they’ve never done anything else. I think that in order to sell out, you have to have been in a non-mainstream position at some point: you have to have something to sell out from. It’s not like they were a traditional bluegrass band who then decided to go all "Coldplay with banjos". They always were Coldplay with banjos.

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Personally I don’t see them as sell outs either, just musical 5h1te. They’re are as relevant to traditional music as Beyonce, for all the times she has topped the R&B charts, is to Howlin’ Wolf.

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I really like Mark M’s definition of folk music. Sounds about right. As for the word ‘authentic’ I think more often than not it’s just a loaded, arbitrary label. When it’s not judgmental posturing it comes off sounding patronizing.
And I don’t begrudge musicians being successful. You can only do that by connecting with a lot of people. An amazing gift. I may not like the music myself, but the world doesn’t need to revolve around my preferences.

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"…They’re are as relevant to traditional music as Beyonce, for all the times she has topped the R&B charts, is to Howlin’ Wolf"

Therein lies our problem. Perspective/context. Well done student95 in expanding your breadth on the matter - the wider you investigate the subject, you may find, the more diffuse it becomes! :)

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Somewhere years ago I saw "traditional" defined as (and I’m paraphrasing)

"A traditional thing is a living, current thing that goes back through an unbroken chain of evolution to an unknown origin."

So, if you go back and parse out one of the links of that unbroken evolutionary chain, and re-create it, this re-created thing is a ‘revivial’ rather than ‘traditional’.

So for example our modern men’s suit evolved over the centuries and is traditional. We can go back and pluck out one of the past forms from some period and re-create it, say a sack coat from the mid-19th century, if we wish to dress in a re-created historical costume. But it would look odd if worn to a modern business meeting where the other men are in ordinary modern suits.

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"Alternative/indie folk being modern folk music with rock and country influences."

Please be aware that you are using the term ‘folk music’ in a way that is perhaps shared by members of some certain group, but is unlikely to be universally accepted or even understood by people who are, for instance, members of a forum such as this.

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I have come across a definition of, "folk music" as being that which is played by people who are self taught. Personally I think that it is rubbish. There wouldn’t be any common themes to folk music if it had developed this way and there certainly wouldn’t be identifiable national or regional characteristics, someone has to be learning from someone else for that I’d suggest.
I’m not sure what I’d class as, " alternative folk", certainly Pentangle in their day, maybe Treacherous Orchestra these. Still don’t see much of a link to Mumford, they have more in common with Val Doonican if you ask me. Pure middle of the road. Was Val Doonican a folk act?

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The Levelers I’d certainly class as an alternative folk act. The "Drop Kick Murphy’s" I would not though, they’re just punk with bagpipes. Thinking about the difference between those 2 groups for me is hinting at an interesting point of personally made distinction, if nothing else.

Both identify musically with elements of trad folk, both believe a common cultural heritage to such. Both protest and are politically assertive and both celebrate their identified culture in their music. They are also both mostly a traditional rock band line up with a "folk" instrument chucked in, a violin for the Levelers, Pipes for the Murphys. What makes the difference then to me? As I read and write this I am struggling to maintain my heartfelt but harder proved distinction. The good thing for me is I can fall back on good old fashioned prejudice, I haven’t got a dissertation to write :-) !

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More contemporary "alternative folk acts" come to mind where once was a blank, Shooglenifty, Peat Bog Fairies, Afro Celts, Edward The Second, Sketch. I am leaving out some obvious others, such as Rura, as it seems to me they might just be more a contemporary expression of the direction of travel of the "tradition" today. The other acts I have mentioned here are different in some much as they play with and morph that tradition rather than follow. Thin ice perhaps…

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I just don’t ‘get’ the Mumfords I’ve listened to various of their songs on youtube over the last few years
to find out what all the fuss was about and not a single tune has remained in my head. Take away the banjo,
which is never featured much anyway, and you have just another indie pop band with no connection to folk or trad. - if there is I cant hear it.

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"A traditional thing is a living, current thing that goes back through an unbroken chain of evolution to an unknown origin."

Just because someone once said suggested that, doesn’t mean that that is what a tradition is. Strikes me as a bizarre and untenable definition of a tradition.

What about all the traditions that have had breaks in them?
And what about all the traditions whose origins are known and documented?

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Yep these days the very concept of authenticity is a very dodgy ground indeed. Can a middle class geography teacher sing a coal miner’s song and be authentic? Can a teenager in Yucatan play an Irish reel and be authentic or a bunch of computer scientists create authentic trad with an "intelligent" algorithm? There’s no such thing as authentic anymore, everywhere is nowhere and anything not permitted is not allowed. The only authenticity is entirely personally perceived and there’s so much influence of the outside world that there’s little cause to believe in that either. S.N.A.F.U.

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Yes. But if I wanted to try to rescue the word ‘authentic’ (which I don’t, especially) I’d say I detect something like it on those rare occasions where you hear a middle-class geography teacher sing a coal miner’s song and unexpectedly they get it totally right, and you get goosebumps. You can’t measure that with an authenticity-o-meter and other people in the audience might find exactly the same performance completely rubbish. But there’s something there, all the same. It’s usually when someone puts aside notions of performing and emoting, and just lets the song speak for itself. That’s a notion very alien to pop performance - in pop the vocal delivery is all about drama and theatre and emoting (that’s another way in which Mumfords, Bon Iver etc aren’t very ‘folk’). All the folk I like is dead straight.

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I agree Matt and picked that example because of my encounters with just as said who happened to be equally at home with whaler’s songs, mill working and farm labouring too! All in all a pleasure to listen too but very hard to define as authentic in any concrete manner, more as a collection of sensory experiences which by nature are entirely subjective.

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Matt; I find it interesting that you say that this authenticity can’t be measured and other people might feel completely different, then go on to say that there is "something there all the same" as if you hadn’t just explained how subjective it all is.

On another note - so many high horses here! Most arguments I read here against a certain band being folk or authentic can be roughly translated as "I don’t like it, hence…". Pfah! Traditions grow and expand because rebels do new things with old material. There’s always the nay-sayers who hate on new developments, of course (and not all developments are created equal), but give it a 100 years and some of those ‘kids these days!’ will have changed the course of music history and be respected as a part of musical canon.

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It’s not entirely subjective – and it might not even be subjective at all. Because I can point to certain defining qualities that are common to all my favourite folk singers: Shirley Collins, Alasdair Roberts, Sarah Makem, Cath & Phil Tyler, Len Graham, Paddy Tunney, to name a few. Equally I could write a list of folk singers who really get my goat, who have qualities in common that I really dislike.

I could, I suppose, compile a manifesto of ways of singing, and ways not to sing. It would be to according to my taste, according to my own preferences, but that’s not quite the same thing as subjectivity: it is arguably textbook objectivity – methodical, scientific, empirical. That other people tended to like singers who sing in very different ways - the kind of singers I really don’t like - only makes my preferences more objective, not less so.

And I suspect if I were to chat to some of the singers I mentioned, at least some of them would express similar preferences. (In fact, I know this to be true of Shirley Collins, cos I’ve been to a singing workshop with her and chatted to her about singing styles and delivery). You can identify a consensus, a tendency, an aesthetic, a common practice: these are the things that build up traditions.

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Nah a manifesto is not scientific, merely a statement of intent. Consensus and aesthetic commonalities may indeed contribute to a tradition though but what if anything is a tradition in a global world? Just a niche marketing experience these days really…

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Anyway speaking of authenticity and tradition I thought it was both to contribute to a thread you’ve started?

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Student95 has already revisited the thread, and most appropriately I believe as it was acknowledged just what a bag of worms is involved - where the vicissitudes of 90% of the commentary reveal the challenge in such an endeavor, as brought forth by PhilipStone.

Just for counter-balance, "punk’ in many ways represents many elements of ‘folk’ (elements may be rearranged and forms changed yet essences may remain, as it were); Beyonce and the rest in fact are related to what has gone before through lineage, and so on. Reference/context is everything: because something is deemed contemporaneous ‘pop’ shouldn’t disqualify it from being viewed through informed, critical eye. It seems we’re often given to an inability to fairly assess what’s before us - with the same degree of faculty we seem to reserve for retrospect.

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"That’s a notion very alien to pop performance - in pop the vocal delivery is all about drama and theatre and emoting (that’s another way in which Mumfords, Bon Iver etc aren’t very ‘folk’). All the folk I like is dead straight."

Just a comment to ask for clarification, and a reply - are you suggesting that pop is more about the "performance" and folk is more about the "content"?

I was reading a somewhat recent book about Joe Heaney that points out that he was very much performing and his performance was different depending on the audience… I think most folk singers who perform worry about emoting, drama, theatre and such. That said, I recognize that there is a difference between something "big-stage" that includes "production" (whatever that means) and a folk singer who’s just brilliant at entertaining people with wit and song.

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(all that to say, I’m not really disagreeing with you - I just think Folk music is impossible to define with completely clear-cut delineations of things that are in and things that are out. Same as Irish Traditional Music really - any concrete list of must-haves will have exceptions that are considered to still be part of the tradition)

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Society has changed. Should we assess everything by the same measure as we did 50 years prior? It’s a handy method, but limits our facility, I think.

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How did you measure it 50 years ago?

50 years ago I was 11. I didnt get into playing traditional music until I was in my 40s although I remember seeing the Corries at the Glasgow City Halls well before then.

I can try and rummage through a pile of authenticity but can never prove it. I know folk songs from childhood which are tin pan alley imaginings of times gone by. They are as authentic as anythingelse.

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Punk at its best is DIY but in reality it was always a rich boys marketing tool and has survived as such. It wasn’t that influential really, the Ramones did most of the leg work and the real sea change in 70s music came from funk not rock. DIY is supposedly what folk is about and yep I’d salute the similarities if I really saw them. I don’t though just an ersatz approximation, we are all pretenders.

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Isn’t "authenticity" tied up with aesthetics? Doesn’t the listener have to judge whether its "authentic" just like they have to judge whether its any good? Each person brings their experience and their views and they decide for themselves.

I say this because you can have the exact same conversation about whether a bit of music is "beautiful" or not as you can with whether it is "authentic" or not

of course, I personally believe there is such a thing as "authentic" folk music, but all that really means when I say it is that it met my standard

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Commercial art is not art.

All art is commerce.

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Alrighty then, let me present to you for evaluation and critique: Tijn’s Time-Machine Definition of Trad.

Take a song, musician or band and magically teleport them to a ceili, session or other musical gathering in outback Ireland 100 years ago. Assume for the moment the people there are not freaked out by the sudden appearance. Let the teleportee(s) play their song. If they don’t get kicked out for playing rubbish, it’s trad.

To me that covers a lot of the points mentioned earlier.

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And how would you know whether or not they would " get kicked out for playing rubbish?"

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"And how would you know whether or not they would " get kicked out for playing rubbish?""

maybe we could just LIVE stream their butt-kicking on Facebook like everybody else?

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..what I mean by ‘pop’ - the total megalith - sorting out the vagaries (of culture, much less post-post modernist-) is an exercise in all disciplines. Not uninteresting, but could be approached with some validity.

Look at a guy like Prince, Bowie, the 40s cats, Rodgers, Gershwin, et al. Dating myself - but what are your favorite artists? Who ‘taught’ them?

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..what I mean by ‘pop’ - the total megalith - sorting out the vagaries (of culture, much less post-post-modernist-) is an exercise in all disciplines. Not uninteresting, but could be approached with some validity.

Look at a guy like Prince, Bowie, the early jazz cats, Rodgers, Gershwin, women before they were recorded* (before we ever heard them), et al , everyone purveying cultural hardware…dating myself - but who are your favorite artists? Who ‘taught’ them? Caiohmin O’raghallaigh said - impossible to ‘remain’ in ‘one’ these days (prphr).. Or is it - everyone after Bob Dylan/Michael Coleman is immediately eliminated. Next? (Maybe that’s correct, I don’t know :) )

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if you want to know "who taught" somebody, I can tell you that every musician I ever knew listened to other musicians. Since most pros start playing as kids, a lot of the guys listened to players older than they are. Usually from the preceding generation, but not always.

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…our fathers, their mothers, electricity in the air…

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I would think that Authentic folk music is created by people far from mass media and modern society and modern technology. like folk art, or folk architecture, or hand weaving, spinning, or furniture. Limited to what may be done without recourse to mass produced means, Or inspired by conditions apart from mainstream societal mores, based upon Older traditions of way of life. Maybe my definition means it’s not possible to create any new folk music.
If a want to be musician/songwriting-singer goes out into hills of Kentucky, and writes a song and sings it about their lesbian marriage partner, would it be folk music ? By my definition it would not, as modern societal mores have informed it. I don’t think Folk Music reflects Modern anything. Traditional is the word most often found in accompany meant of Folk Music. There is plenty of sordid and sundry behavioral perspectives to be found in Folk Music, but one must research that. Find the traditional treatment and you will find a way to express modern views, and still be Folk Music. I Think. ETC.

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My tuppence…

Based solely on my own observations - not any formal musicological education, I think there’s a clear definition between what’s folk and what’s not.

In folk music, the tune is the centre of attention. It doesn’t matter who wrote it or who plays it, the tune is the thing that has been handed down as part of a folk music tradition.

In the case of musicians like Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver and Ani DiFranco, something different is going on. The artist, or to be more cynical, the ‘brand’ is the focus. I doubt people will ‘pass their music down’ as part of an ‘aural tradition’ - instead, their records will continue to sell as long as people are willing to buy them. After that, they’ll disappear into obscurity.

Folk music is something that’s grown organically in it’s home culture. Today’s folk-style music is a product to be sold until it goes out of fashion. Arguably that *is* the culture it has grown in…

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"Just a comment to ask for clarification, and a reply - are you suggesting that pop is more about the ‘performance’ and folk is more about the "content"? … I was reading a somewhat recent book about Joe Heaney that points out that he was very much performing and his performance was different depending on the audience… "

I read that Joe Heaney quote too – I think it’s in the liner notes to his album on Topic records. There might even be of a recording of it on the actual Topic album. The thing is, Joe Heaney’s idea of ‘performance’ is still very very different from Adele’s or David Bowie’s or Ed Sheeran’s. Heaney recorded a lot of songs, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything on his recordings that demonstrate any radical shifts in delivery or performance style: if he really did significantly alter his performances for different audiences, then it wasn’t something he chose to record. Maybe Heaney’s choice of repertoire changed for different audiences, but I’d be surprised if his actual vocal delivery changed all that much: for the simple reason that when you listen to Joe Heaney singing a song about the tragic death of a family member, as compared to a happy-ending celebratory song about a courtship ending in marriage, as compared to a song about going rambling across the green fields of Erin’s Isle… there’s not a huge amount of difference in delivery.

There are differences in tempo, sure - I’m not saying Heaney sang a slow lament the same way he’d have diddled a tune. But it’s always very straight and direct. I would say the amount of emoting in folk is miniscule compared to the amount of emoting and drama and theatre you hear in any given pop song. Folk is more deadpan. Singers like Shirley Collins and Martin Carthy sing in a voice that’s not too far off their speaking voice. You can’t say that about Freddie Mercury.

There are some folk singers who take a very different approach - who will take a song about a big dramatic theme and give it a big dramatic musical arrangement and sing it with lots of urgency and all that. Tends to be contemporary acts. Really not my thing, and it’s not something you’ll hear from any of the source singers.

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Re Davey Jones: didn’t mean to use him as exemplary of ‘folk’ (although a tune like "God Knows I’m Good" sounds like Pete Seeger writing modern social disaffection :) ) - what I mean is, how do we sort among aspects? Or do we? Where does ‘authenticity’ stop and kitschy pastiche begin? Curious.

https://youtu.be/2mQyII-gkPU

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

"If a want to be musician/songwriting-singer goes out into hills of Kentucky, and writes a song and sings it about their lesbian marriage partner, would it be folk music ?"
Michelle Shocked, "Texas Campfire Tapes" ticks many of your boxes there reidh, and I highlight the point to say your distinctions don’t hold true for me. This is a folk album through and through. American not Irish and not what I’d call trad but certainly folk.

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

" I personally believe there is such a thing as "authentic" folk music, but all that really means when I say it is that it met my standard"
Nate’s comment is probably the truth of it, for what my opinion is worth.

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

what exactly defines ‘authenticity’? I [and presumably many other Session members] wasn’t raised in a household or community where traditional music was part of the culture, no visiting fiddlers, pipers or banjo pickers ever came by our village - does this make our involvement in ITM ‘inauthentic’?
I ‘m a great fan of Gillian Welch, her musical persona is that of a Depression era Appalachian coalminers daughter but she was born in New York and raised in California - does that render her songs ‘inauthentic’?
I don’t have any definitive answers here, I’m just throwing it open…………….

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

I came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, a few months ago having read so many threads that seemed so off the pace yet so representative that the "tradition", such as it is, has been subsumed. It now exists in the form of a genre, the expression of that genre may indeed contain genuinely tradition elements, mostly however it is really just a representative, artistic thing now, a certain kind of expression that can be recognised as pertaining to particular notions of artistic ideal and form.

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

It’s good to discuss music for the sake of discussion. But aside from what is folk vs traditional vs alternative it comes down to the music and what the folks doing it are doing. Having said that the folks in this video are doing music. YMMV

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmqr2y3TQxQ


Beyoncé Knowles & Jewel - Proud Mary [Live]

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

"Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t never heard no horse sing a song, have you? "- Louis Armstrong.

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Of course Bob Sturm would probably disagree…

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Over on mudcat.org, someone would have anticipated you by saying, "Pretty soon someone’s going to drag out the Louis Armstrong quote." And someone else would say, either earnestly or sarcastically, "According to the 1955 definition, …. " Even the question, "What is folk music?" has become a stale joke over there. Just sayin’, as they say. Or used to say.

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

It’s like the ‘Godwin’s Law’ of the de rigeuer ‘Is x authentic folk music?’ thread post. :)

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Anyway I don’t mean that or anything pejoratively - it’s all good spirit. Mine’s but only my approach to critique/theory et al. - can’t ignore the metaperspective :) .. could be entirely wrong and often am. I enjoy the discussion!

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

I came into this argument somewhere about 1964 - and it’s still going on …

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

Since folks are the ones that play music, all music is folk music. Except for some of the new stuff, which is more the product of computers and technicians and such.

Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

He says, on his computer.
:-P
You know I love ya’ AlBrown!

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Re: Alternative Folk and Authenticity

For me the crucial thing is that we have unquestionably ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ tunes and songs (and even recordings and musicians). If a modern tune is hard to distinguish from those (ideally if someone will swear blind they learned it from their grandfather/found it in O’Neills), then it pretty much belongs in the category. (Inasmuch as anything does and there’s any point categorising things anyway.)
Ditto with the musician. If someones playing or singing can be likened to the playing and singing of other trad musicians and singers, especially older ones, then they are probably trad too.
The other marker for me would be if songs and tunes have been passed on orally.
Like most people on here I suspect, these aren’t somehow vital to my own appreciation of the music, but there is something there.
I quite enjoy tunes that sound ‘modern’ and musicians who play with traditional sounds and repertoires in new or personal ways. If there’s enough of a connection with ‘traditional’ or ‘folk’ music I’ll categorise it that way. If there isn’t I won’t but I still might like it.
I don’t personally notice all that many trad threads running through Mumford and sons’ music. Maybe I’m just missing them, or they are from American traditions I know less about or something. I enjoy their music when I hear it but not necessarily enough to go looking for albums to buy etc…
Bonny iver (is that her name) I have only heard singing an old work song (John Henry I think). The song was trad and her style seemed ‘modern’ but with a degree of sensitivity and awareness of the tradition. I would probably classify that as folk or traditional singing or whatever. More importantly I’d classify it as nice singing I enjoyed listening to.