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Let’s take a deep dive into “indie folk” music. What is it? Well, first we really need to know it’s origins. For starters let’s look at folk music, which is any kind of music that can be performed using whatever instruments are available. It is passed down through generations orally, like stories. The term “folk” comes from the German word “volk,” which means the people as a whole. Every country and culture’s folk music sounds very different, but can be recognized due to its ability to capture a cultural event, be passed down through oral tradition, and can commemorate specific people. Many folk songs are public domain, as an original writer can be hard to cite. In North America today, people often use the term “folk music” to refer to the folk revival of the 1960s.
From Native American songs, to the music of the American Frontier, the work songs of enslaved Africans, and what we recognize as folk today, North American folk music has quite a range. With the invention of audio recording, people began recording and preserving these arts so that they would not be forgotten. Whatever happened in history was reflected in the songs. For example, during the Great Depression, the folk songs of the 1930s often discussed financial hardship, long work days, and moving. Also known as roots music, North American folk music encapsulates genres including bluegrass, country, gospel, Appalachian folk, blues, Native American music, and blues.
Popular European folk genres include polka, klezmer, Celtic music, Balkan folk music, Nordic folk, and many others. This music is frequently played on a fiddle or sung, and can be accompanied by dance traditions. Many advancements in acoustic string instruments took place in Europe, creating a rich musical landscape throughout the continent. For example, the lute and other early relatives of the guitar can be found in early Europe.
Different countries in Africa have very different folk traditions. We can credit most American pop music, as well as the genres popularized in the Caribbean as adaptations of African folk music. In many African folk music traditions, songs place a lot of emphasis on percussive instruments like the djembe or thumb piano. By playing rhythms on top of one another, polyrhythms are created. The music is difficult to notate using Western and Common Practice Period techniques, as many of the pitches exist outside of those systems.