Monday, July 19, 2010

Reflections on Folk Music and Culture

Disclaimer: This post is the result of an assignment for a study program I am participating in. My regular readers may not feel that interested in it and that's ok.
Photocredit: Sara Hillal's photostream

Anyway, so here I am sitting on UCLA campus, trying very hard to write a blogpost, it's more difficult than you think, so the first session we attended was given by William Roy, and was titled Folk Music and Culture.

At first, I thought it would mainly be about Bob Dylan and Co. (with all due respect to Bob Dylan and all those who love the dude), but it wasn't especially that Roy took a very philosophical perspective about folk music, and you know how much I love philosophizing the simple things in life.

Leaving many details aside, how would you define folk music? Let's say, American folk music? According to Ro, folk music is defined as:

The music of the folk, it is simple, anonymous, passed orally. But most importantly it is defined by those who do it.

I honestly never thought of a definition of folk music. I guess if I ever thought about it I would have come to a similar view of it, except for the part about it being defined by the people who do it.

But it is important and it fits perfectly well with the rest of the presentation, because as Mr. Roy defined it, folk music has always existed without being defined and restricted to the boundaries of a definition, but the study of folk music was a rather socio-political effort, it is intimately linked to the construction of the European national identities, which started in the 18th century.

In a sense, one can argue (I would for sure argue) that the rest of the presentation was basically supporting this idea, making the connection between the study of folk music in the states and the changes in social attitudes towards the different constituents of the American society.

By the end of the presentation, Bob Dylan and Co. were rendered into a small brick in the wall of American folk music, side-to-side with other forms of grassroot music, like let's say Punk, Hip-Hop, Rock, etc.

That's all cool and can be assimilated quite passively (especially that the presentation was a traditional one-to-all form of learning), but then the tricky part is when we try to compare what we are hearing about the American folk music and our own folk music.

And that is when the debate turns really intense, where we couldn't really agree on anything. The debate that got my heart beating the most was an interesting comment made by a friend (won't name her until I ask for her permission) who rightfully noted that the frame of American folk music seems to be fluid and evolving, whereas our definition folk music seems more dogmatic and stable.

I strongly disagreed, not because I didn't see where her remark came from, I totally see it. But in my opinion, the difference is more of a social issue, where we the arabs still have a long way to go when it comes to social inclusiveness and the acknowledgment of our ethnic, historical, and social diversity.

In fact, I would still want to reflect on that issue with that friend and others. What do you think?

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