Using the ‘folk word’ … and using it correctly

(March 17, 2015)

Increasingly, the 'folk word' appears, often inaccurately, in more and more press releases. That may be a selective strategy that adds or subtracts vogue or pertinent words depending on where the PR agency sends the release, or it’s a poor attempt to impart some sort of legacy and credentials an album doesn’t really warrant. Using the 'folk word' is seen by many as implying sense of ‘heritage’ to give increased artistic credibility … and that’s just bizarre. The same observation applies to any number of ‘fashionable’ words used in press releases. Just because a PR agent increases the list of words used to describe an album or assumes that one word is the ‘magic one’ doesn’t mean anyone is fooled.

The growing need to chuck ‘folk’ into the mix is equally as strong as the need to throw in ‘roots’, no doubt hoping that using such descriptions will ensure an album wider appeal. Naturally, the words ‘folk’ and ‘roots’ are workable definitions to categorise genre, they allow artists to hang labels on what they’re doing and help describe their music. However, the tendency for ‘folk’ and other buzz-words to be thrown around with abandon and without much thought, achieves little or nothing. Unless they actually mean something such usage should stop before it becomes a habit. Thankfully, that other worn out expression ‘ethnic’ seems to have had its day and faded … although given the way words tend resurface as fashions change, it may return. Hopefully it’s finally been recognised for what it always was - a patronising non-descript epithet.

The other word that flows glibly from the press release is ‘fusion’. When used correctly to identify the blending of styles it works well to describe the strength of the blend, but when lobbed in with limited thought, it doesn’t. It simply becomes an excuse to build yet another category ‘folk – plus anything else you care to mention - fusion’. The process of description that throws in as many words as possible still appears with monotonous regularity, again with little clear thought about the music. It’s more about including as many words as possible in a verbal ‘daisy chain’ either to widen the spread of potential attraction or because it’s unforgiveable to state something along the lines of ‘classification is pointless, make up your own mind’.

Unfortunately, when you listen to an album laden with noun and adjective overload, it often bears little or no resemblance to any parts of the description. I’ve used ‘fusion’ in a context where the joining together is clear and the word adds something, but too often it’s used an erroneous ‘catch all’.

The most recent piece of ‘folk plus anything else’ to come my way and the one that primarily prompted this line of thought was: ‘… progressive mountain-tinged hip-hop with original folk roots and a gathering of gypsy-jazz to build an ethno-classic fusion’. Oh please! This is nothing more than tedious endeavour to find enough words to bracket an album in the vague hope that one of those words or any selected pairing, will attract reviews or audiences. The seeming need for a ‘folk’ pedigree is now used to describe music that doesn’t even make a wayward nod in the direction of folk … the panacea has become pick the style and add the ‘folk word’ to it. And what’s more in the majority of cases, when you break it down, this rarely describes the music.

The watchword remains ‘listen’ and stop using words simply to ‘sell’ the album. Think about what the music is saying and how it’s pulling together its messages and from where. If it’s fusing styles and genres, that’s fine, if there are obvious folk or roots influences, that’s fine too. If you can hear something ‘going on’ in the music then make it clear why and state what it is. Promote an album through describing what you hear, not to prove you’re good at using Peter Mark Roget’s handy reference work. On the other hand, if you persist on indulging in nothing more than a car-crash of nouns and adjectives to achieve a wash of hyperbole, go ahead if you must … just don’t send them to me.

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