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MUSIC Covid meets its musical match

Musician HOLLY BRANDON reports on a unique global initiative to promote folk music during and beyond the pandemic

THE MUSIC industry is currently facing one of the greatest crises it has ever seen. But a silver lining in the bleak cloud of the current climate is the launch of a world-first collaborative project between 96 artists from around the world.

In the face of travel restrictions and the cancellation of international showcase events, Global Music Match is bringing artists together to share their music with each other and their audiences.

Their work will be presented via social networks internationally and the aim is to develop new audience bases for artists in different international locations, laying the groundwork for future international tours.

Representing England are Jon Boden, Sam Carter, Jackie Oates, Luke Concannon, Edgelarks, Lady Nade, Lucy Ward, The Shackleton Trio, Harbottle and Jonas, Captain of the Lost Waves, Daisy Chute and The Magpies. I’m immensely flattered to be on the end of that list as a representative of a thriving English folk scene.

Each artist or group has been matched with five others and over the coming weeks I'll be introducing you to the five artists with which my band, The Magpies, have been partnered.  

Global Music Match might sound like the World Cup meets Eurovision but it’s really the opposite, if there is such a thing. The project is a coming together of people from all around the world, with one thing in common — music and, specifically, folk music.

But first, a quick introduction to The Magpies. We are a folk band, hailing — for the most part — from Yorkshire. My Hertfordshire roots won’t quite allow me to self-identify as a true native of Yorkshire yet, in spite of six years the wrong side of the north-south divide and the odd drifting vowel.

But my fellow band members, award-winning singer-songwriter Bella Gaffney, mandolin virtuoso Polly Bolton and acclaimed cellist Sarah Smout, have strong Yorkshire roots and the vowels to match.

With myself on fiddle, we draw on the traditions and folklore of Yorkshire as well as further-flung Celtic, Appalachian and Balkan influences.

The Global Matchmakers have set us up with a phenomenal array of musicians, from Estonian folktronica to Taiwanese rock. That eclecticism might call into question the very nature of the term “folk.” What actually is it? In spite of growing up in the folk scene, I’m coming to realise that I’m not really sure I know what it is.

I know it sometimes gets a bad reputation, particularly in England — handkerchief-wielding Morris Dancers and tankard-sporting finger-in-ear sea shanty singers spring to mind. They’re certainly an important part of our heritage. But there’s more to it than that.

Folk is widely acknowledged to be the music of the people, and perhaps in the past that definition has been apt. But today, isn’t all music “of the people”?  I don’t see how that definition distinguishes folk from hip-hop.

At first glance, an all-female folk band from Yorkshire appear to have little in common with Taiwanese rock or Baltic folktronica. But the overarching commonalities in our music seem a good place to start in the search for the core of folk.

First and foremost, folk music centres itself around storytelling, particularly the oral transmission of these songs and stories. Taiwanese band Outlet Drift learnt their songs from their indigenous elders, we from our local folk clubs in the back rooms of pubs.

They sing in their native Amis language about their traditional trades — farming and fishing — topics that certainly wouldn’t be out of place in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Their mission to revive their language and heritage through their music is much like those on the British folk scene who sing in Welsh, Gaelic and Scots.

Linguistic and political activism is certainly an important part of the genre. Australian blues and roots band Hussy Hicks explore many of the issues at the forefront of the global consciousness in their latest album Gather Up the People.

The pushing of boundaries is an important facet of folk, both socially and musically. Canadian band Vishten blend Celtic and Acadian music with modern rock and indie-folk, while Zapammat combine Finnish folk music with Senegalese, Malian, Afro-Cuban and flamenco.

And Estonian band Oopus use bagpipes, flute, hulusi, overtone whistle and jew’s harp in combination with light installations, visuals and modern electronic sounds and rhythms.

So the rebirth of tradition with each generation and the fusion of genres to reflect the movement of people is also a huge part of what makes folk what it is.

As the boundaries continue to be pushed, a musical definition becomes harder to come by. So perhaps the definition is more of a cultural one — an exploration of heritage, tradition and humanity.

I said that all music is music of the people. But maybe Louis Armstrong was right. Maybe all music is folk music.

You can follow Global Music Match at globalmusicmatch.com and the Magpies are on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?time_continue=177&v=YJgHEQHzuO8&feature=emb_logo and youtube.com/watch?time_continue=48&v=j4kPOdmsfDs&feature=emb_logo

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