Jovano, Jovanke: Songs from the old times, sounds of today

I own a copy of an album called “Adio querida” by a Czech group, “Gothart”. It’s about ten years old, we bought it at a medieval fair when I was still a kid. It is full of songs from Macedonia and Bulgaria, of Romani and Sephardim. Old, traditional folk songs that have been sung by generations over generations.

I love this album very much. Not only because of the melancholy and the lightness of its songs, but because it is handcrafted music. It is music from another age. An age when music was not a self-contained record, but an ever-changing process of singing and listening, dancing and whistling.

Simply put, it’s music from a read/write culture. For someone grown up in a society still dominated by the paradigms of the industrial era, the era of pop stars being hyped, their faces staring at us millionfold from ad spaces and CD racks, their music repeated every minute on top 40 radio stations, this age-old music is a revelation.

And today, there’s hope to get it back. An article on Global Voices reports on efforts to preserve Macedonian folk music. It is a great project, but to preserve folk music, we must subject it to an endless cycle of renewal, must sing it, changing its lyrics according to our mood, injecting in its melody the beat of our days.

Folk music is a commons: Its rhythms and tunes and lyrics are free for everybody to use. There is no copyright restricting what we do with it, its authors are dead and long forgotten. It’s non-competitive, one can’t use it up. You got nothing to lose.

The songs of today, in the contrary, are “owned” by labels. But the youth is reclaiming the music. Every cover on Youtube, recorded in a messy room by a 15 year old on a cheap guitar, brings us a step farther from a read-only culture to a read/write one. The old communities in which music would be lived together have vanished, but new ones are springing up on the Web every day.

A “cult of the amateur”? Indeed: An everyday celebration of music by people who love what they do. And don’t dare to think about monetization. You wouldn’t pay a friend for accompanying you to a party, would you? Music is there to be sung and played. Do it!

Video: “Jovano, Jovanke“, a Macedonian folk song, performed by an (apparently Brazilian) enthusiast. Lyrics on, the project introduced in the Global Voices post.

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