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volume 2
july 1999

The traditional musics in Europe


  The modernity of traditional music
  by Jany Rouger and Jean-François Dutertre
  In September 1996 the European Music Office published its report on "Music in Europe". The second part of this study was titled "Music, Culture and Society in Europe" and edited by Paul Rutten. It contains six critical essays and five case studies on the cultural value of music in the European Union. This treatise on all traditional music, now commonly labeled as "world music", was written for the occasion by Jany Rouger and Jean-François Dutertre.
  It was modern times that invented the very concept of traditional music, as we know it today. The term has evolved over the years: we have moved successively from country to popular, from popular to folk, then from folk to traditional. At the beginning of the nineties, the traditional music movement was caught up by another musical wave which has its origins in England: the "world-music" phenomenon.

1 Introduction. As part of the identity of each region and as a universal artistic language, traditional music lies at the heart of European stakes. For, indeed, if its deep roots in a localized culture, in a historical tradition, enable it to contribute to the blossoming of cultural diversity, its plasticity renders it capable of nourishing the richest of dialogues between the various cultures.
  It therefore forms one of the cultural areas that is best adapted to achieving the objectives set out in the Treaty on European Union (Article 128 on culture), in other words, to contribute "to the blossoming of the cultures of the Member States with respect for their national and regional diversity, while bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore" and to the creation of an "increasingly closer union between the peoples of Europe".
  Developing co-operation at a European level in this area seems all the more necessary to us since European cultural diversity (and therefore the vitality of traditional music) is increasingly under threat from the growing rule of economism (which transforms any culture into saleable goods) and its corollary, cultural standardization.
  In an attempt to convince you of the importance of this area, of the stakes involved and the urgency to devote an ambitious European policy to it, I will divide my presentation into four parts, with assistance from Jean-François Dutertre, General Secretary of the FTMDA in one of them:
  • A few figures illustrating the importance of the sector.
  • A short historical account of traditional music in France.
  • The modernity of traditional music (Jean-François Dutertre).
  • In favour of a European policy in this area.
2 A little known sector. All agree on this point: in France the traditional music and dance domain is little-known. Let us judge its importance through these few figures:
  • 5,000,000 records and cassettes sold in one year (through ten or so specialized labels, and several tens of private productions).
  • 2,500,000 annual spectators.
  • 10,000 annual stagings (from the café-concert, to the City of Paris Theatre show, via Occitan dance and Breton "fest-noz").
  • 2,500 associations, spread throughout the land (from the village hall folk group to the folk-rock band, via "country", or immigrant community associations, contributing to the maintenance of social cohesion and cultural vitality.
  • 2,500 professional musicians (800 groups), and 400 accompanying jobs.
  • Several tens of thousands of amateur musicians, and several hundreds of thousands of dancers.
  • A turnover generated of 700 million francs.
  • In total, a sector chosen by 11% of the public, i.e. in the forefront of the cultural domain (survey by the French Culture ministry on culture enthusiasts).
  A sector, furthermore, in the process of genuine growth: carried on the crest of the wave of the so-called "world" musicians, and by the increasing need of the public to put down roots, today it must respond to strong demand (whether it be in the area of education or distribution, support for research or for creativity), without having the means to react in a satisfactory manner.
  Paradoxically, however, despite being the breeding ground for musical diversity, cheerfully exploited by all other musical forms, its success remains muted: little disseminated by the broadcasting media (no radio or television programme being specifically dedicated to it), it does indeed benefit from state institutional recognition which, however, struggles to be translated into hard cash: for example, it is the recipient of a budget granted by the French Culture ministry which is the equivalent of 1% of the budget dedicated to the Paris 1 Opera house alone.
  No doubt the specific history of the development of the French nation plays a certain role in this paradox ... in the land of "Enlightenment", a taste for traditions is always suspect. And the champions of official culture, typically Parisian, have always pigeon-holed the defenders of popular culture, provincial by nature, under the obscurantist label! It is therefore not unhelpful to carry out a historical account of this field, as well as of the various interest movements in terms of traditional music.
3 A bit of history. The diversity of the terms used to qualify "traditional popular music" reveals a complex history and a variety of ideologies: folklore, ethnic music, traditional, popular, folk-music, world-music, are all terms that bear the mark of the times in which they were born. Even if popular cultures were never really absent from learned culture, they took on renewed vigour with the arrival of romanticism. Furthermore, popular environments in their "original primitiveness" were at the heart of the concerns, sources of inspiration and objects of research. In France, this movement appeared late and imitated German romantics who had already broken away from French classicism. Just like Herder's "naturpoésie" ideal, the XIX century was to abound in a wealth of literary production which contributed to the creation of regional stereotypes, that are still relevant today. At the same time, research became more organized: the publication of collections of songs, sometimes largely altered by their authors, delivered the treasures of "popular myth" to a wide public. From 1852, the date of the FORTOUL decree that organized a vast collection of popular works from all over France, to the birth of recorded archives, numerous debates took place concerning the true nature of these collections.
  The musical material, thus gathered together, gave birth at the beginning of this century, to a specific musical genre in charge of " maintaining " traditions; it was the golden age of folk groups that asserted the identity of their territory, a link between the past and the present. Closer to us, in the 1970's, a new generation of researchers-musicians gave new life to the collections and to this music. Sometimes inspired by American folk songs, the folk movement brought together a young population, more interested in new musical sensations than in authenticity. Finally, modern distribution methods and the explosion of the record industry at the time, authorized hitherto unheard of sound combinations and unexpected encounters. Even if world-music sometimes appears as a new humanism that avoids the crystallization of identities, it may also seem dangerous to others, since it levels out specific characteristics and leads to cultural standardization.
  Thus, traditional music has always managed to survive through the ages, thanks to its prodigious vitality. Jean-François Dutertre, Director of the TMIC (Traditional Music Information Centre) / CIMT (Centre d'Information des Musiques Traditionnelles) is now going to show us how much they are at the heart of modernity.
  Traditional music — Topical music?
  by Jean-François Dutertre
4 From folk to world-music. After having been confined for a long time to the confidentiality of scientific studies or to the regional practices of folk groups, traditional music came very much back into fashion from the 1970's onwards and was pushed to the fore of the artistic scene. Alongside particularly lively amateur playing, it developed a professional industry that brought together artists and groups, show and label producers. Combined today with other popular forms, under the " world-music " label, it benefits from the burst of interest for this heterogeneous ensemble of musical expression that is characteristic of the 1990's. It is now classified along with " modern music " in the same way as jazz, rock or popular song. This proximity with decidedly contemporary musical genres means that traditional music has been endowed with an unexpected modern character.
5 Traditional music and modernity. It may seem strange to accord to traditional music a recognized degree of topicality and even more so to associate it with modernity. Topicality defines a form that is appropriate to its period. Modernity identifies inventive research, which, although situated in the continuation of the previous forms, claims to be innovative, or even in contradiction with or in revolt against previous approaches. The term traditional, on the other hand, refers to a concept that is deliberately anchored in the past. It is developed around an inheritance and therefore around a heritage that is scrupulously passed on — or at least in the illusion of it being scrupulously passed on.
  However, it was modern times that invented the very concept of traditional music, as we know it today. The term has evolved over the years: we have moved successively from country to popular, from popular to folk, then from folk to traditional. Each of these terms covers an episode in cultural history and follows the dictates of the specific concerns of the period that uses them. Initially strictly limited to ancient popular expressions, the term used during each period has grown today into a more heterogeneous concept. It now includes popular oral traditions, but also learned traditions from beyond the Occident — and as much the native traditions as the non native expression from other countries, transported to a different social context by the constraints of immigration.
6 The folk movement. At the end of the 1960's, in the wake of the American folk song, French youth discovered its own traditional music. At the time Paris was the dwelling place of numerous American musicians, often at odds with their country due to their opposition to the Vietnam war. They served as a vehicle for an entire repertoire of traditional and political songs, the protest-songs, which were the work of a school of young singers from whence emerged Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs.
  All of them were influenced by their elders in the political struggle, singers who grew up with American socialism, such as Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger — grouped together around the emblematic figure of Woody Guthrie. Campuses trembled at the sound of the subversive texts denouncing the "masters of war". They had their Madonna in Joan Baez, whose warm voice interpreted both the ancient British ballads found in Kentucky and Dylan's most recent verses. The political struggle soon merged with the rediscovery of traditional song.
  In France, at the time, the movement benefited from an exceptional social context. Traditional song was first perceived as popular. Its content was of little importance, what counted was to show the recall of an authentic art belonging to the people. This popular form of expression was even more highly regarded since it came from all areas of France and therefore stood in opposition to centralizing "bourgeois" culture. Furthermore, its rural origins reflected the myth of Nature, the movement where people returned to the countryside and the emergence of the ecological trend. The return to nature and sexual freedom resided together in it with the traditional instruments brought into keeping with the style of the day and the ancient ballads sung around the fire.
  The general atmosphere of libertarian protest spread to the music. Learning took place through lending one's ear in the warm atmosphere of the "workshops" and training courses. Emphasis was placed on how easy it was to access and to implement: at last it was a true popular practice that had rid itself of the models of learned music and its inevitable notation.
  Preference was given to group work where the musical arrangements were the result of unwritten collective creation. The public was encouraged to intervene directly in concerts by taking part in them, or even by dancing and their immediate reaction also determined how the show was put together. The anti-concert idea was predominant, thus linking the folk movement to contemporary theatre research at the time — let us remember the work carried out by the Living Theatre — as well as to the trend of complete shows, happenings, that mix music, theatre plastic arts, light shows, dance and cinema.
7 The institution's card. At the beginning of the 1980's, the public began to desert the movement and turned towards other forms of music. Concert halls became empty and less records were sold. Musical associations reacted to the situation, which led to the appearance, amongst others, of a movement organized mainly around collecting and broadcasting musical traditions from Central France, "Les Musiciens Routiniers / The Routine Musicians". The movement started in Lyon, expanded and became a federation. It was later responsible for a detailed study of traditions revolving around bagpipes and violins and for the creation of the Modal magazine. The period was characterized by work that led to an increased awareness of the sector and its institutionalization.
  Indeed, the State finally took an interest in the sector. Meetings held in Ris-Orangis in 1981 led to the creation of an advisory Commission within the Ministry of Culture (Directorate of Music and Dance). The Commission included musical associations — and in particular the large regional associations, such as Dastum for Brittany, the UPCP for Poitou-Charentes or the Conservatoire of the Langue d'Oc region in Toulouse — musicians and researchers. A post for an inspector in charge of regional music was created. From this time onwards, the sector was therefore recognized by the authorities and disposed of a representative at the Ministry of Culture.
  In 1985, the Commission led to the foundation of the Federation of Traditional Music Associations (FTMA that has today become the FTMDA, due to the essential addition of dance) as well as to the creation of traditional music centres in the regions. The latter came into existence by relying on structures that already existed and were labelled by the Ministry and signed an "objectives agreement" with the State. Research, training and distribution are all part of the regional centres' programme of activities. The creation, in 1992, of the Traditional Music Information Centre completes the picture.
  Little by little, the network was built up on French territory, directed according to a north-west / south-west axis and determined by the regions that had kept up a strong practice of traditional music and dance. The most urban regions have also seen a fast development of musical practices. The Rhône-Alpes region, but in particular the Ile de France (Paris region) have the strongest concentrations of artists devoted to world-music and intense distribution, thanks to both the large cultural facilities and the smaller places. It may be said that this is the result of a deliberate policy "of territorial development" through a network that is unique in Europe and that continues to pursue its actions today.
8 The world-music wave. But at the beginning of the nineties, the traditional music movement was caught up by another musical wave which has its origins in England: the "world-music" phenomenon. The movement originally masked an economic concept, a marketing operation led by record companies that were determined to open up and protect a new market.
  Today, traditional music is to be found under the "world-music" label, a notion that is even more heterogeneous than all of those that have been defined previously. This centrifugal current carries along in a jumble, ethnic and traditional music, learned traditional music from outside Europe, genres derived from traditional forms, popular urban music from five continents, light music and song coloured by local traditions ... all of this musical imbroglio arranged according to geographical origin. Traditional music however forms the core of this wave, and remains a source that is still intact and where all of these genres can come to find inspiration.
  The "world-music" phenomenon carries with it the apology of "interbreeding". A mixture of styles and genres, repertoires and forms, in the image of a society that dreams of ridding itself of its conflicts through the merger of cultures. Yet traditional music remains strongly impregnated with the theme of identity. Drowned in the anonymity of large towns, people from the same community often use their traditional music and dance to perpetuate, in order to hold back the centrifugal movement of the community. It is very tempting to withdraw into the awakened dream, to cut oneself off from social and economic reality, or even to awaken old hostile feelings. Although it is a wonderful tool for achieving social cohesion, traditional music may also turn out to be a factor that aggravates the feeling of isolation instead of serving as a lever for integration into the host community.
  We will not forget that the appearance of the first folk groups in large French towns is linked to the development of regional "solidarity", the associations for helping people from the same province. The risk of shutting oneself off that I underlined above, has as its counterpart that of diluting traditional culture into a servile adaptation of the musical forms imposed by the market. Certain promoters of world-music seem occasionally to succumb to the temptation of recovering all the richness of traditional world music in order to exploit it in their interest and force it into the musical format of light western music. Erasing the harsh tones of its scales, and planing down the roughness of the instruments and the voices by wrapping them in a harmonious layer very different from their initial function, very often they do nothing more than recreate another model that is just as insipid and standardized.
  Light music is continually in search of new genres in order to make them available to the market. This thirst for novelty periodically seizes one or other of the artistic expressions of Western culture. In order to produce, the latter constantly requires new sources and material. It often searches for them outside its field. In the past, the outside world was able to situate itself in its own peoples. Today, the whole world is forced to contribute, or robbed, in other words. A world-wide standard imposed by western production is emerging, but at the same time "local" musical forms (as described in the awful jargon of the "majors") succeeds in re-emerging and diverts this imposed standardization in their interest. I am referring here to reggae or to the new emerging African genres.
9 Useless regrets. There is no point regretting this movement that now carries traditional music along in its wake in the initial meaning of the word. In the same way as the folk movement plunged into the folk song trend, as I described above, traditional music can but deliberately launch itself into this new adventure. Even though this appellation masks heterogeneous forms, "world-music" nevertheless proposes a first approach to cultural multiplicity.
  Today we can no longer stick firmly to our own roots and show disinterest or hostility to other cultures or other musical genres. Curiosity is becoming the main quality necessary for traditional music players and is joined along the way by that of supporters of other aesthetics. New forms are in gestation. This germination is without a doubt the sign of a real intense life, a determination to impose itself as "topical".
10 Putting modernity to good use. It does not therefore matter that we note, once again, that traditional music appears at the front of the stage as soon as a modern cultural object is under construction. But the essential contribution that it makes to contemporary creation is of no interest, in my opinion, unless it operates and respects its original authentic forms. This is where modernity lies. Contenting oneself with the standardization that I mentioned previously leads to the ephemeral — whereas a creative act is built up in time and resists against time. Modernity is not about reducing a traditional melody to the even temperament of a synthesizer or to a scale of chords in keeping with the treaties of harmony or a binary rhythm that is a sign of modernity. The modernity of traditional music lies in the very heart of the forms and lessons that it offers us. The extraordinary variety of its rhythms, from the African polyrhythms to the asynchronous rhythms of central Europe has the power to shatter our controlled classical beat. The universally known modality, its thousand-year-old systems with an unrivalled number of combinations can give free rein to the uniformity of our two unique styles. The sumptuous richness of the popular polyphonies from beyond the west, from the Corsican paghjella to the learned counterpoints of the pygmies, has the power to shatter this learned harmony, which, not so very long ago, lived under the illusion that polyphony was the distinctive privilege and mark of European "classical music".
  The unexpected side of the multiple temperaments and musical scales have the strength to finally twist the predictable even temperament that imprisons all our instruments.
  Traditional music now has its place amongst "topical music" and its presence, alongside jazz or rock, gives an insight into the demands of those who play and the understanding that is predominant today. Although traditional music brings with it age-old inheritances and archaic traits, it is still considered as a unique source of revival of artistic forms and practices. At the same time, it appears as the clearest demonstration of each culture's identity without necessarily relinquishing what is universal. And it is precisely this anchorage in the past and this investment in the present that gives it its resolutely modern character.
  For a policy in favour of traditional music
  by Jany Rouger
11 Traditional music, a testimony to its era. If it is the case that traditional music lies at the heart of current cultural and political European debate, as these contributions will have convinced you, it is because they reflect, in their own way, the crisis which is affecting our civilization, a crisis which is, above all, a crisis of meaning.
The solution to this crisis is therefore no doubt of a cultural nature (or even "religious" in the initial sense of the term — "that which binds together", — for the loss of meaning is, first and foremost, a loss of bonding). (Re)endowment of meaning, firstly involves the (re)discovery of the links with one's memory, one's history, not denying one's special characteristics under the pretext of increasing globalization, but rather updating them in their role as tools for dialogue and exchange. [1] It does not involve opposition to the various heritages with which we have been invested (family, local, regional, national, European, ...), but rather the acceptance of their complementarity and harmony, [2] turning them into tools which "bridge" the diverse cultures which nourish us, thereby living our "Creolité" (borrowing a word from Raphaël Confiant) as a source of richness, and not as a handicap.
At the service of these objectives, traditional music has an essential role to play. Music from the memory, cultural expression, deeply rooted, assign a place for all in terms of a specific history, or region. [3] A universal artistic language, its aesthetics, spreading beyond the single framework which witnessed its birth, render dialogue possible with different musical traditions from elsewhere in the world, thus linking each to other histories, other lands. Endowed with a flexibility which has enabled it to span the centuries, in a state of permanent rebirth, it induces a form of cultural action which can serve as an example, being founded on the fruitful reconciliation of values perceived to be contradictory.
12 An organization by way of example. Thus, in France, we have tried to structure a development policy for this sector, with the assistance of the Minister of Culture, and the support of the regional centres, forming a network within our Federation.
  The eleven regional centres created as a result of this policy (in Aquitaine, Auvergne, Berry, Brittany, Ile de France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Midi-Pyrénées, Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Rhône-Alpes), and the associations of traditional music and dance under the umbrella of FAMDT, are making every effort to tackle all areas simultaneously: conservation, research, education, distribution and creativity, bringing about co-operation between professionals, amateurs and institutions, under constant quality constraints.
  This approach, with the public in mind, contributes to the provision of resources for, and to the improvement of a broader application ; open to other musical genres, it serves as a tool for the removal of barriers, and for the initiation of meetings. It furthermore plays an important role not only in the major urban centres (Paris, Lyons, Toulouse, Rennes, ...), but also in the rural environment, looking to establish its place in terms of overall "national development". With strong links to local culture, it permits the valorization of local cultural identity, at the same time as favouring openness, marrying self assertiveness and dialogue with others, leading to an encounter between Music From Here and Music From There. Both cosmopolitan and with individual identity, we believe that this approach inscribes itself within the ideal of cultural democracy.
13 Proposals for a European policy. With the benefit of this experience behind us, unique in Europe, of the networking, structuring and development of this sector, we propose the setting up of a co-operation agreement in this domain which, we believe, corresponds fully with the objectives of the European Union.
  This project necessitates an initial phase: the carrying out of a status report in each of the European countries, and the concerted presentation of these status reports, enabling exchange and debate on the structures and tools best suited for close co-operation. It will be the subject of the European Conference on Traditional Dance and Music which our federation is looking to organize in Autumn 1997 (31 October, 1 - 2 November, in Perpignan), in partnership with the various organizations of other European states (if the European Commission grants us the budget we have requested !).
  This conference will therefore have the goal of:
  • issuing a status report on the situation in each European state,
  • proposing directions for co-operation in terms of the following themes: research documentation, education, distribution of live events, information, publications, dance,
  • achieving the setting up of a European network for co-operation in the traditional music and dance domains.
  The network could then propose the drawing up of a development plan, utilizing a number of selected places/organizations (mirroring the French regional centres), in accordance with the following thematic approach;
  • research and documentation (inventory of researchers and information gatherers, and of the archives put together, digitalization programme of documentary works, ...),
  • education (initial, professional or further, encouragement towards the breaking down of barriers, ...),
  • support for the creation and distribution of live events,
  • support for written, sound or audio-visual publications,
  • the implementation of communication tools utilizing the new technologies.
  At the risk of becoming tedious, we must emphasize the extent to which we are convinced that the challenge represented by the development of this sector goes far beyond strict musical interests. At the close of this millennium, in a world which is losing its bearings, to deny the need of each individual or social grouping to put down firm roots would be pointless, and would on the contrary only lead to the reinforcement of the temptation to withdraw into a particular identity, occasionally leading to the worst of excesses, even to ethnic cleansing.
  Valorizing each individual's cultural identity, whilst at the same time revealing his share of the universal and his capacity for dialogue with others, such is the formidable challenge facing the concerted development of traditional music and dance, within a European co-operation network. For universality is not to be looked for through the negation of singularities, but is embodied in their expression. It is thus a question of "each digging his personal well, thereby attaining the water table which is common to all" (Anaïs Nin).
1. "... when one claims to defend globalization or the universal, attention must be paid to a great contradiction ; in reality, there are two kinds of "universal": that which corresponds to domination by a single law, a single model, and then the other, that which allows each person, as a singular individual, to be in contact with the other singularities. It is the nature of exchange itself to assume the preservation of singularity. If we spoke the same language, and shared the same culture, we would have nothing to exchange" (Michel Serres, Nouvel Observateur, 04/11/93). Return to text
2. The social order will regain its cohesion as soon as those collective identities which structure, and lay the foundations for ... the diverse human groupings, are able to express themselves mutually, and demonstrate mutual respect" (J.-M. Gerassi, ethnologist, "For an anthropological approach to regional development."). Return to text
3. Music from the memory must not be reduced to the status of objects destined to fill museums. Because "should the museum win, it is thus that the desert encroaches still further" (Jean Clair, Reflections on the fine arts, criticism of modernity. Paris: Gallimard, 1983). Never standing still as it is transmitted verbally, in a state of perpetual movement, at the whim of time and space, it is on the contrary a constituent part of a subjective heritage, a bridge linking tradition and creativity. Return to text
  This essay originally appeared in: Rutten, Paul (ed.), Music, culture and society in Europe. Part II of: European Music Office, Music in Europe. Brussels, 1996, 143-152.
  1999 © Soundscapes