Issue 12 12/99
Is the German folk music in danger of extinction? This fear was expressed already in the early 19th century, and is still today a common topic in the scene...
Reason for taking up this theme is a recent discussion in the German folk music mailing list "Folkmail" about German music traditions and Celtic music in Germany. As you might know, Germany has a quantity of folk musicians playing only Celtic music; and there is always the question: Are Germans legitimated to play Celtic music, while German folk music is starving? And why is German music so unpopular?
In this discussion different questions arose. Is for example the German history with the misuse of German songs (and German dances) during the Nazi-time a reason to play today no German Folkmusik? So sad it is, but this seems to be an important reason for many musicians - although of course it is not that all of the German folk music tradition is burdened with a possibly nationalist or rightist content. Connected to this problem, there are simultaneously still today many "Heimatverbände" (translate homeland societies), that maintain traditional song and dances, but with a "brown" nationalist background.
Another problem for a new generation of German folk musicians might be that there are today only very few positive examples in the German folk scene - almost all better known musicians play exclusively "foreign" Folkmusik.
More generally also, I do not really think that there is one comprehensive German folk music tradition. In a country with such a decentralised history as in Germany, it is clear that there are regionally huge differences within the music traditions. Perhaps German folk music should not be the goal, but rather music out of Germany's regions. This is also a much easier way to reach the people, as they have often a much closer relationship to their regional culture then to a German culture (if there is anything like this at all in the music scene). And in the dialect folk (Mundart) there are a lot of positive examples of successful folk bands (especially in Northern and Southern Germany).
Turning now to the second question, the Germans playing Celtic music - what reasons should there be that these people should not play the music which is closest to their hearts? It is much better to play the music from the heart then to play mainly out of duty consciousness German music. Which other scene has problems like this, to raise the question whether they are allowed to play music with roots outside of Germany? In Germany at least, no other music style. Is this maybe a problem which is only created by ourselves, and in reality no problem at all? Didn't they have the fear of the extinction of German folk music already 200 years ago? And is the danger today really much bigger than 200 years ago?
At least the discussion about the Continental Celts seems to become a bit ridicioulous - when you listen to the quality of recent Celtic recordings from the Continent, you will not get the idea to blame them for playing Celtic music.
Finally, what about all these Irish and Scottish people who live on the European continent, with quite a few of them having only here discovered Scottish or Irish music, even having learned the music only from German, Danish or whatever musicians? Are they allowed to play the music of their country, just because they have been born there, and their German collegues not? And do they play their own traditional music, or just an international style?
Anyway, to end up these thoughts, lets just stress again that FolkWorld likes the Continental Celts (and will feature them regularly), but of course love regional traditions as well...
Enough said, to all of you some pretty holidays, and much fun on the many Folkfestivals in the January!
Your FolkWorld editors.
Drawings by Annegret Haensel; more infos on the artist at her homepage
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