- 17 Sep 19
Sam Amidon discusses the quite untraditional influences of traditional music ahead of his performance at the National Concert Hall next month.
The crazy thing is how ALIVE folk music still is. I never was raised to think of folk music as something that needed a revival, or that had ever gone away in any meaningful way. The songs are the songs. They still feel good to sing, they still resonate, they still hit hard. I love the odd loping way that traditional music has woven in and out of pop and rock music at large, sometimes hiding in the background, sometimes off to the side, sometimes right in the middle, over the last 70 years.
I grew up playing a lot of fiddle tunes and in the midst of a community that was filled with folk music of the gentle '70s and '80s New England variety (shape note songs, Irish and French Canadian fiddle tunes, folk dancing etc).
When I was 12, I decided I should try and listen to some cool music that my friends were listening to, in order to be less of a folk music dork. I went to the local cassette/record/CD store and bought "Nirvana Unplugged" on cassette. I brought it back home and listened to the final track, Kurt Cobain's blistering performance of a Leadbelly song, who he refers to as his 'favourite performer' right beforehand. My mom overheard me listening to it and started singing along, because she knew it from the Leadbelly recordings. Kurt's voice always reminded me of a shape note singer.
Fast forward to when I was at university circa 2002/3 when Missy Elliott was coming out with all of those incredible collaborations with Timbaland. I had just discovered the Black fife and drum recordings from Senatobia Mississippi, notably Otha Turner and his family members. I'm sure Timbaland was listening to that music when he made the beats for Missy's album This Is Not A Test.
And of course these connections go in both directions. Walk into any traditional music pub in Ireland and you are likely to hear an acoustic guitarist, possibly in an open tuning such as DADGAD, accompanying the fiddler. To many ears, this sounds like classic, timeless, traditional Irish music, and in many ways it is. But it’s also true that this guitar style and its related open tunings were brought into and adapted for Irish music in the 1960s by young Irish musicians who were inspired by Keith Richards and Joni Mitchell, and the tunings they used. And Keith and Joni’s tunings were in turn from old blues records, a style and tuning that is very connected to the original African-American style of clawhammer banjo playing. And yet now, nothing sounds more traditional to our ears than that combination of fiddle and open-tuned acoustic guitar, for what we think of as traditional Irish music.
So the flow is there... it weaves in and around.
- Sam Amidon’s Extended Ensemble play the National Concert Hall on Sunday October 6 as part of the Tradition Now series. Tickets start at €20 and can be purchased here.