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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Amazing Invisibility of Dutch Indigenous Music

I owe you a sequel to an entry of some time ago.In that entry, "Defining World Music", I defined World music as "the kind of music that, due to statements on the possibility to identify its sound as connected to a certain specific geographic origin, offers itself as being referred to as exotic and sold as such in some part of the western(ized) world". (I already admitted it was a definition that needed some tidying up, yes, thank you.) And I stressed the exoticizing element in the definition, which makes it possible to for instance sell the English folk revival as World music in the rest of the world - and as a consequence in England as well.

As I wrote earlier, I am a reader of the World music magazine Songlines. I remember that in one of the editorials some time ago, the editor was amazed that there was no such thing as a noticeable Dutch folk music revival within the World music scene, whereas in England the third folk music revival is well on its way by now. Someone specialized in the English folk scene whom I asked whence this difference suggested that it might be explained by the different situations in the Netherlands and the UK - in the UK the English feel kind of marginalised, with the recent installment of Scottish parliament and things like that, so they badly need their proper music. The Dutch don't have comparable problems. Dutch music is ideologically useless, therefor it doesn't exist (the same used to be true of "Dutch identity", by the way, but Geert Wilders is capitalizing on that by now).

Be that as it may be, it is indeed a fact that Dutch indigenou smusic is notably absent in the World music scene. Of course such Dutch music exists, or better: there are many musics that might be candidates to be dubbed "Dutch indigenous music", including the Dutch folk revival which actually lingers on (but rather hidden, seen from a comercial standpoint), the very popular pop-music-in-regiolect, or the enormously popular Dutch-language songs (I mentioned in another blog De 3J's as an interesting example). And I am not going into Louis Andriessen and AndrĂ© Rieu. But the fact is that all this is invisible in the World music scene. I am not criticizing, or stating that something should be different. There is apparently no need to define those musics as being part of what is called World music.

That immediately becomes apparent if you listen to the recent Dutch World music sampler "Dutch Delta Sounds", a Dutch World music marketing cd distrubuted together with the Songlines magazine of november 2011. Its opening song is a great song by NO blues, a cooperation between a Dutch Americana-singer with Arab musicians, and sung in both English and Arab. Follow musical examples from Turkey, Ethiopia, Klezmer, Tango, the Dutch Antilles, Surinam, the Moluccas (formerly Dutch East-Indies), et cetera. All great music, great musicians, many interesting cross-overs, and some indeed very Dutch, given the specific characteristics and history of Dutch society. But what amazes the innocent audience: no Dutch language to be heard here, and no reference to something slightly more indigenous than klezmer or kroncong.

Again: I am not argueing in favor or against this. I notice this is happening, here and now. And I wonder why in the Netherlands the pattern seems to be that Dutch folk revivals never really make it into the mainstream. There is a history to tell. In the 19th and early 20th century, in the slipstream of the invention of the idea of folk music (Herder c.s.), there was a strong turn towards singing some kind of national songs, but gradually this was kidnapped by the national socialist movement, and after world war II it fell in disgrace. In the seventies and eighties, through a U-turn via mainly Irish folk music, attention for Dutch songs again burgeoned, but now in left-wing/alternative circles, and again that has fallen from grace.

As World music is not only an ideological term filled with inventions of traditions but also an economical category, it is interesting to note that the Dutch folk revival of the seventies and eighties never really came to a professional status. Not that the musicians did not have the potention or quality for that - some of the singers and instrumentalists were outstanding musicians. It probably has more to do with the fact that the Dutch folk revival was a "communal" revival (I borrow that term from Jos Konings, who wrote a dissertation on the Dutch folk revival decades ago), geared towards community music making, audience participation et cetera. Professional musicianship did not really fit into that idea. So when general attention for the genre dwindled, there were not many strong musicians keeping up the genre through hard times. And in any case there are no professional Dutch folk musicians now struggling to have their work recognized and brought before a greater international audience through including it on a Dutch World music sampler.

So there we are.The compilers of the cd are not wrong - it is their task to battle for recognition of music professionals on the international market, and Dutch folk music is not in that category. The result, however, is a cd which may give the innocent listener the idea that there exists no indigenous Dutch music, no equivalent of English folk, or Spanish flamenco - only migrant music. That is of course not the case.

Personally, I think De 3J's (or at least half of what they do) might be closest to something very recognizable Dutch, very professional, very popular in the home country. Here again a funny thing happens: they are completely outside the Dutch World music circuit (logically - nothing to be earned there) and have nested themselves in the Dutch-language popular music circuit. When I see them playing at "Piratenfestijnen" ("Pirate festivities" dedicated to Dutch-language popular music)  I can't help thinking they are actually a misfit in that genre - and when I see there faces playing their songs for an audience of thousands that can't wait to join in with the chorus and wave their cigarette lighters in the air I think they sometimes feel the same.

And to make this very clear: I am a huge fan of Piratenfestijnen and will never ever say anything negative about all those who love the musicking going on there. It is just that I feel De 3J's are slightly out of place.

Ironic: in the most recent Songlines issue a Dutch cd with free-reed music (squeeze-boxes and the like) was reviewed positively. Again this cd is a melting pot, and rightly so - but this time it does include also some indigenous music from this little wet country. Interestingly, the reviewer finds it "entirely wonderful" that "there are some pieces and performances distinguished by being, well, average".

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