Folk Music on the American Continent

American Folk music is the coming together of different brands of music from all over the world. As the continent was being colonized by people from different countries, different genres of music were introduced depending on where the people had originated from. There was already the indigenous population already settled on the continent and so one part of the traditional music is the Native American Music. This music pays a big role in roots music which is seen as the base from which all of the other genres of music have developed from. Other roots music includes bluegrass, gospel, jug bands, blues and Cajun.

Tanya Tadaq the Inuit performer

Native American music is the music that had been produced by the indigenous people of the American continent and so this includes Canada and Mexico. The music is a combination of vocals, flutes and percussion, although fiddles were introduced from 1800 onwards. As the songs get longer the pace gets quicker and there are songs for different events such as marriage and harvest. Some songs recount the histories of the various tribes and people.

There are artists who today are performing this music with probably Tanya Tagaq being the most famous as she has already performed with Bjork and the Kronos Quartet. The Canadian artist has made her name reconstructing a game called the “Inuit throat song”. By doing this the words in her songs highlight native art and native rights. The major issues covered in her new album are the damages to the environment and women’s rights among the First Nation tribes.

Bluegrass music originated from the UK settlers arriving in Appalachia during the 18th century. They arrived with their own forms of folk music. Overtime the influence of the British Isles has gradually disappeared and has been replaced by influences such as African Americans. The traditional ballads and dances have evolved into some songs being accompanied by electric instruments. There is also “Bluegrass gospel” which has Christian lyrics. Perhaps the most famous bluegrass performer is Bill Monroe.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys

Monroe was known as the “father of bluegrass” and with his band the Blue Grass Boys they played traditional folk songs accompanied by acoustic instruments. Monroe play the guitar and the mandolin and within the band there was also a fiddler and a bassist. The band was formed in 1939 and Monroe was still recording records in the 1980s.

Cajun music was centred in the heart of Louisiana and was based on the French speaking Acadians of Canada. The accordion is at the centre of Cajun music and it is quite a quick tempo. The only other instruments to be heard are the fiddle and a triangle. Cajun’s has influenced other music genres over time and between 1934 and 1941 there was Country and Western Cajun. This was when Cajun mixed with Texas country music. The accordion was not needed and was replaced by the piano. There was a swinging feel to the music and the famous Cajun dance the jig emerged with this form of music.

Folk music on the American Continent has a rich history. Over time it has been able to take the original indigenous music and then mix it with other genres that have come onto the continent as a result of migration. It has laid the base for all music that has developed in the 20th and 21st centuries.


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