Friday, 20 April 2012

The Great Pretender

I'm currently trying to cajole my tiny little mind into learning Norwegian...again. It's my severalth attempt and, yes, I am indeed pretty hopeless at any/all languages that aren't from around these parts, but then you can't have your cake and gather moss. Or count your basket(s) after all your chickens have been put into it/them (whether this happens before, after, or even during the egg may be relevant). Something of that sort, anyway.

Alongside this linguistic self-flagellation, for an upcoming noise-making project I'm doing my best to become an approximately-competent Norwegian folk musician, compressing a lifetime of immersion in a complex cultural tradition into roughly three weeks. Which, as this video clip aimed at rhythm fetishists shows, is going to be interesting:

Thankfully I neither have to display my own (utterly abject) dancing skills, nor wear the
impressive skirt-come-emergency-parachute. 

Which brings me on to a question that's been bumbling around my head for a while now - when we delve into musically-unfamiliar areas, where is the dividing line between achieving an acceptable measure of "authenticity" & mere pastiche? And what the hell does "authentic" mean, anyway?

Let me put it another way - "Who Can Really Be 'Jazz'..?"

As I've mentioned here previously, I'm a Mr. McSkinny-Whiteass guy (in a McWorryingly-obese-whiteass country). I'm not American. I didn't grow up in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. My background was originally in pre-C20th classical music, not Charlie Parker & Miles Davis. In my early teens I found prog-rock, not "Giant Steps". I've never had any inclination to try heroin. And yet, like many of my fellow whiteass (skinny or otherwise) Europeans, along the way I've been seduced by the be-bop, hard bop, post-bop, boppity-bop-doo-baaa-bop-bop, fusion, collusion - collision? Confusion!

A reasonable portion of my own noises would certainly fit into the category "ECM jazz", (although whether much of ECM's diverse output could be categorised more honestly as "muzak" is an issue I'd rather steer clear of for now).

But can I ever be "authentic" as a jazz musician? I haven't learned 400 standards in 12 different keys, or spent years "hanging" with "certified jazzers", paid my dues at midnight bandstand jams...

The same goes for "folk" music - and for the purposes of this post I mean traditional Scottish/Irish/Welsh/English/wherever, not nasal Americans with banjos, or Bob Dylan. Never Bob Dylan. (He should have been arrested for crimes against harmonicas decades ago.)

The White Heather Club: the sheer
awfulness still causes pain to millions.
I wasn't brought up with Scottish "trad" music around the house (apart from occasional "White Heather Club"-style, Jimmy Shand & Moira Anderson TV nightmares), and wasn't even vaguely interested apart from the "folk-rock" of Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and the like. Then (mostly by accident) I ended-up in a ceilidh band for nearly a decade, and nowadays thoroughly enjoy BBC Radio Scotland's "Pipeline". Oh yes. But am I "authentic"..? And what about those office managers, surveyors, lawyers, etc, who head down to their local folk club one night a week, pick up a guitar and sing (in voices which are patently not their own) about being coalminers (usually dying in pit disasters), soldiers (usually dying in battles), and/or jacobites (usually dying in disastrous battles)? Or, indeed, those who perform traditional gaelic waulking songs as emotive, breathy solo pieces, relying on PA systems & cunning sound engineers to compensate for their own vocal deficiencies..? Not that I have anyone in particular in mind..

Of course, does it really matter what other people think? After all, as long as you aren't letting anyone down, musically, then where's the harm in some folk regarding you as a bit of a dilettante?

It's not as if I've never tried my hand at it before.

Maybe it's all down to personal insecurities. Maybe if I'd had more easily-quantifiable "success" in one genre, I wouldn't be so concerned when venturing into the unknown..?

Maybe...ach, well. Time to get back to the bouzouki-as-hardingfele studies.

As for "authenticity"? Vi skal se...