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Finding New Folk Music

Monday, November 03, 2008

Without Moe Asch, folk-music collections would look – and sound – very different. The founder of Folkways Records (later Smithsonian Folkways) captured the sounds of cultures throughout America and around the world. But 60 years after he started the influential label in New York, the search for traditional music and culture still continues. Richard Carlin, author of "World of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways" and New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger join us to talk about how Asch’s work continues in the digital age.

Soundcheck blog: John Schaefer asks: "What's a folk song, anyway?"


Burkhard Bilger and Richard Carlin

Comments [4]

Andrew Puntel from Riga, Latvia

I'm a US Fulbrighter living in Riga studying folk Music, choral traditions, and cultural identity in the Baltic Sea region. In participating in the massive Latvian National Song and Dance festival this summer, I was struck by the intersection of folk materials collected at the end of the 19th century, European art song form (choral arrangements), now part of a mass singing tradition that negotiates issues of independent national identity and 50 yrs of Soviet occupation.

The below was posted at the bottom of the recent New York Times review of The Singing Revolution, a documentary film about the anti-soviet protest movements in Estonia in the 1980s.

Correction: December 29, 2007

A brief film review in Weekend on Dec. 14 about “The Singing Revolution,” a documentary about Estonia’s struggle to end Soviet occupation, misidentified the site of the Estonian song festival. It is in Tallinn, the capital — not Tartu, where some festivals were held in the 19th century. The review also referred incorrectly to the songs performed at the festival that are shown in the film. They were written by composers; they are not folk songs.

To see a full discussion of the problematic nature of folklorism in this region, please check out another Fulbrighter's blog posting on the subject:

Nov. 06 2008 07:26 PM
David Horgan from Washingon D.C.

Thanks John for a great show and website, and Richard for the wonderful book. For those interested in learning more, attending a book signing, or purchasing a copy, please visit

All book orders from the Smithsonian Folkways website include an exclusive 26-track CD sampler free.


David Horgan
Smithsonian Folkways

Nov. 04 2008 10:07 AM
Richard Carlin from NJ

Thanks for your comment, Stuart, and memories of Moe. If you find a copy of that interview tape, I'd love to have it to give to the Smithsonian to add to their collection. I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to talk to you when preparing the book -- it was prepared fairly quickly because we wanted it to come out during the 60th anniversary of Folkways!

Nov. 03 2008 05:20 PM
Stuart Leigh from Manhattan

I;m a former WNYC on-air person and producer as well as a recordist/producer of a Folkways record (FE4330 Music of Sierra Leone: Kono Mende Farmers' Songs) and recall well my conversations with Moses Asch. I also did an interview with him for EAR magazine in the early 80's. There were some very interesting personal remarks made in that interview - one about his inspiration for his work. As I recall, his dad was author Sholem Asch who traveled around the US lecturing about his writing (including a book called "The Nazarene")and he used to send back to Moe from libraries all over the midwest and other places the broadsheets that were available there. These had lots of local information including songs, cultural notes, etc. I have the audio of our interview on tape somewhere ....

Nov. 03 2008 02:21 PM

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