Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

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easily learned, but the words were strange, could not be readily translated, thus were replaced by a poem in the language of the sec­ond country. But since the tune did not fit perfectly into the reper­tory of the second country, since it did not have the characteristics of that country's preferred musical style, it was gradually changed in ways that would make it conform. If the styles of country num­ber one and country number two were tremendously different, the song would probably not take root at all in the second country but would be dropped. The various folk music styles of Europe are rather similar, and probably for this reason there are many tunes that spread from people to people until they pervade the entire continent. In contrast, when Spaniards and Englishmen settled North America, they did not absorb into their repertories many, or perhaps any, tunes of the American Indians, probably because these were too strange for absorption into their style.
We see that songs can be passed from culture to culture. The same is true, to an extent, of musical characteristics or, as we fre­quently call them, stylistic traits. A type of scale, a kind of rhythm, a way of singing can be passed from one people to another without a simultaneous passing of songs. If country number one has a particu­lar kind of technique—say, for example, antiphony, the alternation between two groups, each singing a phrase at a time—that technique can be taken up by the people in country number two, who may impose this way of performing on their own songs. There is some evidence that this actually happened in North America. Antiphonal technique is highly developed in some African cultures, and when Africans came to America as slaves, some began living with certain Southeastern Indians, both as slaves and as refugees from slavery. The Indians, who had some singing in which a leader and a chorus alternated, seem to have started using particularly the African style of this technique in their own songs. It is obvious that in spite of the national or tribal identity of a folk music style, there is much sharing of songs and ways of performing music among the peoples of the world.
Another facet of the identification of people and music is the idea that each culture has a primordial musical style of its own, and that songs and traits that are learned at a later date in history are not properly part of that people's music. The key word here is "authen­ticity." An authentic song is thought to be one truly belonging to *:he people who sing it, one that really reflects their spirit and per-

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III