What is Traditional Music?

Traditional music are songs and tunes that have been played over a long period of time. They include folk music, country dance music and even classical music. There are even claims in the United States for the title to include traditional gospel and traditional jazz. It is difficult to find a precise definition, but it is basically the music that has passed through a number of generations in a society.

The traditional music of a country will depend where in the world is located and the age of that country. A newer country will not have such a rich history of traditional music, where as those countries that have generations dating back centuries should have rich examples of traditional music. Traditional music in European countries has been based around the change from classical to folk music. The rising popularity of folk music in France can be attributed to the youth finding their traditional music at the end of the 1960’s, at the same time as folk was gaining increasing popularity in the States.

French folk music and instruments

However, as the rise of folk in the States can be attributed to anti political feelings, in France the rise in popularity of the music can be linked to a view where there was a return to nature and sexual freedom. This was more of a libertarian protest with a move away from the centralising “bourgeois” culture, with people playing music in rural areas with traditional instruments, being a good way to implement this cultural change. France is a good example of a country always having folk music without ever really realising it was actually there. It had been taken for granted through the ages and the general population knew little about it, but now they wanted to know more. Workshops and concerts were organised for people to learn more about the music. There was a desire to educate the population in its traditional music history.

This new passion, that had been kick started by the country’s youth, was now carried forward by the government with the creation in 1981 of the country’s first Director of Music and Dance, and in 1985 with the formation of the Federation of Traditional Music Associations. France like many other countries were getting back in touch with their traditional music.

Whilst it would appear that Europe had for some time lost touch with its traditional music Africa has always been close to the music that previous generations had been playing and enjoying through the centuries. With it being such a large continent there is a wide diversity in the music that has been played.

The masinko being played

Looking at Ethiopia it is interesting to see how the music has reflected the country’s history. In a society that has witnessed many tragic events caused by war and famine, this has resulted in vast array of music, songs and associated dances. The music can be about war and patriotism, but does not ignore subjects such as love. The wonderful melodies and clever lyrics bring out Ethiopia’s spirituality, and the music plays an important role in the society. Ethiopia has never lost touch with either it music or the associated instruments. The masinko (fiddle), the Krar (lyre), the washint (flute), the begena (harp), the kebero(drum) and the tom tom (drum) are still played today as they were many centuries ago.

Musical skills have been passed down from generation to generation with certain regions specialising in certain instruments. People in the Ethiopian highlands, such as Gondar, learn to play the masinko from a very early age. The tradition is for an audience to give the performer a poem and then the artist will attempt to produce music alongside that poem. Traditional music can be found everywhere in the world today. In some areas the music is now as strong as it has ever been, while in other places there is a resurgence as societies become reacquainted with their traditional past.


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