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Sunday, May 20, 2018

End of an Era - the Frisian folk music revival 1975-2018

In 1975, some Frisian musicians thought Frisian folk music deserved a revival, in line with the Irish, English, French and Dutch folk-music revival movement. For that reason, they created the group Irolt, which brought out its first album, the 'Gudrun Sêge' (the Gudrun Saga), in 1975. Because no such thing as Frisian folk music existed and therefor nothing could be revived, really, they invented it. The invention was successfull - they made six more albums until they disbanded in 1987.

In the meantime, folk music boomed in Friesland. In 1978, the Frisian Folk Festival 'Tsjoch' (literally: 'Cheers!') was organized for the first time. In 1979, the Association of Frisian Folk Musicians 'Tsjoch' saw the light. Groups and singers like Irolt, Doede Veeman, Roel Slofstra were the heroes of the time. Apart from the yearly Tsjoch festival, various towns had their own folk music festivals (Frjentsjip in Franker, for example).

I became attached to the Frisian folk revival movement quite early on. At the Tsjoch 3 festival, in 1980, I played for the first time with my band. I was 15, or maybe 16. Since then, I have been following it. Mostly from the sidelines, I must say - I moved out of Friesland when I was 18, and folk music has become one of the many musics I have been playing since then. Gamelan, the 'ud, tembang sunda, bluegrass and C&W, the shanty choir all have become part of my musical me in the past decades. But with my Frisian language band Butenom I kind of re-entered the still existing Tsjoch circles more than ten years ago, performing at various Tsjoch festivals and Tsjoch concerts.

And now, I feel, an end has come to all of that. Irolt, not active since 1987 apart from a couple of reunion concerts when their LPs were re-issued as CDs in 1994, did a new reunion tour in 2015, 40 years after the Gudrun Sêge had appeared. They  announced it would be the very very last time they would perform as Irolt. In 2017, the struggling Tsjoch festival - now called 'Tsjoch Nij' (Tsjoch New) - was organized for the last time. The renowned Tsjong evenings, organized by the Tsjoch Association for decades, closed its doors after a final evening in March 2018. And then, the Tsjoch Association was dissolved; its archive will be stored somewhere (I hope at Tresoar, the official Frisian archive), and its website has now ceased to exist.

Nearly 45 years of Frisian folk music revival. An arch beginning and ending with Irolt and one of its main members, Nanne Kalma, one of the most extraordinary musicians I happen to know. An arch I have been a witness of from the beginning to the end. I have been a member of the Tsjoch Association from nearly its very start until its finish; I have played at Tsjoch 3 in 1980 as well as at the final Tsjoch Nij festival in 2018; I heard Irolt perform live in the late 1970s and witnessed the final concert of the farewell tour in January 2016; I played at the final Tsjong evening in 2018.

And then it was over. I spoke with Nanne Kalma about it at the final Tsjong evening, where he, of course, was one of the central performers (although he would never describe it that way). I asked him if he was sad. He said there was no reason - things had been great, and life went on; the time of Tsjoch was over but music, including Frisian music, thrived, and new times need new forms. He was looking forward; on to the future!

And I feel the same. We had a great time, but we are still having a great time, and we will continue to have great times.

But at the same time, I hope this 45-year cycle of all those people active with music will be given the small monument it deserves. The Frisan folk music revival has been, right from its conception, an outright counter-movement in so many ways. (I was going to write a sentence now with all the things it countered against but I have decided not to write that sentence because it does not reflect the ethos of what I noticed.) But it was a counter-movement in a positive way. Many people were part of it because they were looking for wworthwhile alternatives: Frisian lyrics; an orientation towards open and friendly small-scale communities; an openness towards all forms of music making - anyone being able to play two chords on a guitar was welcome to perform, even at prime time on one of the festival stages. It was, to me, mostly a celebration of musical optimism and inclusiveness.

From an academic perspective, here is the unique opportunity to study a music revival movement from its very beginning to its very end. Many of the people involved, even from the beginning, are alive and kicking. Memories are fresh. Archival material still is accessible.

I have been doing a bit of academic work on it. I published a Dutch-language article on Irolt long ago, and hope to be able to rework it into an updated English-language version soon (including materials from a new interview with Nanne Kalma I hope to be able to do soon). I presented some papers at some international conferences on the topic. In he 1980s, I wrote a PhD proposal for a study on Frisian language music at the time - which was rejected, Some years ago, I went for a talk with the director of the academic institute the Fryske Akademy (the 'Frisian Academy', part of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences KNAW) to talk about a possibility to do research into Frisian music, but it was made very clear to me that the Fryske Akademy focused on different subjects and was not interested in studying Frisian music. That's about it - there has been some writing about the Frisian music scene, but that's more journalistic than academic.

No monument yet.

But I hope, at some point, I will find someone to take it on. To write the book on the Frisian folk music revival, 1975-2018. To show 'what the hell' (Geertz) has been going on these years. To show why it was so meaningful, back then until right now, for so many people. To show how it connected to context - to Frisian regional radio; to Frisan pop and rock; to the Frisian poets; to the upcoming shanty revival movement; to other 'regiolect music revivals'; et cetera. And how it will live on, in different forms, from 2018 onwards. Because the fact that the music institutions have died does, of course, not mean the music has died.

It's worth it.

So let's do it.

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