Folk music draws on the ancient tradition of humble men and women tunes, work songs, the misfortunes and aspirations of those people who survived in difficult conditions, at any time.
The history of Folk. Origins of the genre
Also called contemporary folk music, modern Folk is a musical style generally developed in urban settings, but heir to rural music and folk forms, which brought together popular and vindictive issues, rhythms and melodies in its songs.
In this context, Folk music was at the service of a collective, an idea shared by a community or a social class with common problems.
This artistic phenomenon, although with deep roots in the community, in the tribe, was led by the so-called “singer-songwriters”: the singers who wrote their songs .
Protest song, singer-songwriters
As their name indicates, they were authors and performers of their own compositions, although it was also very common for them to play songs by other authors or adaptations of well-known melodies.
In the tradition of the troubadours and minstrels of the European Middle Ages, the bards of the northern towns, the work and war songs or the trade union associations, among others, Buffalo rose music, the singer-songwriters brought together these popular aspirations, the concerns and daily problems of the humble people in their songs.
Common themes in them were pacifism, love or lack of love, social injustices and the multiple shortcomings of the life of the most disadvantaged classes.
North American Folk
In the 1950s and 1960s, following the model of traditional music that had come to America by European immigrants, this type of simple and vindictive songs became popular as part of the rebellious environment of a good part of the country’s working class.
In the wake of Joe Hill, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, there were, among others, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan leading the gender and social protest that represented the fight for civil rights and the dignity of all human beings, regardless of their race, sex or social status.
The new song
In Latin America, in the same way, the increasing industrialization, the poor living conditions of the workers in the cities and the dictatorial political regimes provoked a musical response throughout the continent.
From Argentina, where following Atahualpa Yupanqui appeared Mercedes Sosa or Armando Tejada in the so-called New Song Book Movement; or Uruguay, with Alfredo Zitarrosa; passing through Chile, from Violeta Parra to Víctor Jara; or Brazil, with Chico Buarque using the rich rhythms of the country or, also, Cuba where Silvio Rodríguez or Pablo Milanés promoted the Nueva Trova, to Mexico and other Latin American countries, the Folk singer-songwriters took the social denunciations and the feelings of the people on foot to the stages, the discs and the demonstrations.
El Folk in Europe
Folk music also emerged in Europe in the 1960s, with a role equivalent to the Latin American and American genres.
With antecedents in World War II such as “Bella ciao”, an Italian popular song used as a hymn by the anti-fascist resistance, and even earlier, such as trade union songs, variants of the protest song Folk were appearing in practically all the countries of the continent.
Also called “author’s song”, it was developed with the peculiarities of each country and made the model of the protest song one of the pillars of his compositions.
In France, Édith Piaf, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel or Léo Ferré practiced this type of combative music and also gave ample space in them to romantic relationships, satire and humor.
In Spain, Chicho Sánchez Ferlosio or Paco Ibáñez, the Catalan-speaking Raimon, Lluís Llach, Ovidi Motllor or Joan Manel Serrat, and many more in other regions, such as the Ez Dok Amairu, Voces Ceibes or the Manifiesto Canción del Sur collectives, gained popularity and commercial success mixing protest, irony and sentimental matters.
Jose Afonso in Portugal, for example, Ewan MacColl in Great Britain, along with the rich musical traditions of Ireland and Scotland, Fausto Amodei, among others, in Italy or Mikis Theodorakis in Greece were some of the artists who used the song at some point. Folk protest as a form of expression.
Contemporary folk music
At the same time, a current of modern Folk appeared that did not participate in the same way, explicitly, as an agent of protest and social denunciation.
This modality of Folk made its way focused on recovering and adapting traditional folk music to the technical possibilities offered by the 20th century, with a greater interest in instrumental music and dances.
Over time, this concept or trend is the one that has ended up being associated with the term Folk music, and the most rebellious aspect evolved and was permeating other genres such as Rock , Pop or Hiphop music and some others.
Lyrics in Folk music
The words and the message are protagonists in the writing of the lyrics of the Folk songs . Love, human relationships and the claiming or denouncing message constitute the main themes of this style and, unlike most other genres, they leave music in a secondary, accompanying role.
In addition, this special care for the verbal often leads these songs to seek some kind of sophistication, let’s say poetic, to further elevate their impact and communicative effectiveness.
It was customary to quote or directly put melody and accompaniment to texts by poets whose works fit the purposes of the style. In addition, many singer-songwriters had a literary journey independent of their musical side.
Music in Folk
The musical aspect in Folk songs was not the most important thing and, therefore, it has often been criticized over time in that aspect. As I said, that was not his main focus of attention and it is logical that he had a limited presence in songs of this style.
Each genre, in fact, when conforming as such, does the same and highlights some elements of its compositions over others to adapt to the objective or personal or social function that it intends to achieve.
Folk, moreover, was ideal for a type of instrumentation and harmonization without great technical demonstrations or unnecessary ornaments, since it was a style that was intended to be accessible to large audiences without a refined or cultured musical education.
The melody could have a moment of prominence, being linked to the lyrics, and sometimes a musical twist was allowed to emphasize a certain word or part, to make it more memorable, but always with discretion and measure.
Accompaniment with a few instruments or only one, especially the guitar, and simple musical arrangements were very common. They were the framework or the background or the atmosphere of the songs, while the lyrics and the melody concentrated all the attention.
The Folk after the protest
Over time, Folk music as a device for social and political struggle, as I have already mentioned, was diluted and messages of collective or revolutionary protest appeared in other musical genres or subgenres, especially Rock , Hip hop , Music mestizo or some styles called World Music.
World Music, is a contemporary musical term created in order to bring together in a broad concept all the traditional or folk music, ethnic music and other local genres present in the various cultures of the world, for the general public.
It has a very close relationship with globalization and its commercial consequences: it tries to present as a whole the very varied forms of musical expression in communities, often less known or exploited by the music industry.