One of the most interesting developments in folk music over the past ten or fifteen years has been the cross-pollination of folk music from different cultures as a result of increased globalism, the internet, and the efforts of individual musicians who make it a point to incorporate influences from other cultures into their art.
This trend is more evident than ever at this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival, where the definition of “folk” music is being stretched about as far as it can go. On the opening night of the festival, for example, Dobet Gnahoré from the Ivory Coast sang her infectious form of African pop, followed by Michael Franti and Spearhead, a group out of San Francisco that blends reggae, hip-hop, funk, blues, and half a dozen other musical idioms. Groups with such names as Tres Chicas, Calexico, Les Chauffeurs à pieds, Shtreiml, Balkan Beat Box, DJ Rekha, Seun Kuti and Egyptian 80 are a big part of this year’s festival.
On the other side of the cultural coin are American artists who travel around the world and bring their cultural discoveries back with them. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two such musicians. On Friday, they conducted a workshop with Shtreiml and blues crossover guitarist/dobro player Harry Manx. The group played folk songs from Turkey, Tanzania, Israel, and several other countries. Check out this video of Bela Fleck playing a middle-Eastern tune with oud player Ismail Hakki Fencioglu.
Abigail Washburn is another artist to watch in this regard. She lived in China for several years, speaks fluent Mandarin, and even writes songs in Mandarin. On the mainstage Friday, she and her group, the Sparrow Quartet, played a “Chinese” tune actually written by Washburn.
Here’s the two of them playing together on the song, “Nobody’s Fault but My Own.”
There’s no doubt that Washburn and Fleck are two artists who are paving the way for a new kind of global folk music, one that welcomes and embraces influences from around the world.