History of the Collection  

Canadian Traditional Music Collection, Fall 2008
by Devon Léger, Festival Programs Coordinator, Northwest Folklife

Devon Léger is himself a fiddler following in the tradition of his Acadian heritage. “Though I came to Seattle with a passion to discover and experience musical traditions from around the world, what I found studying ethnomusicology at the U.W. was the music of my own heritage, the music of Canada."

Devon Léger graduated from the UW in 2005 with a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology. Originally planning to study Chinese music, his interests turned to Acadian music after taking a Canadian Studies course with Center founder, Professor Douglas Jackson. After graduating, Devon was offered a position as Festival Programs Coordinator by Northwest Folklife, a local non-profit that produces the annual Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. Devon’s work with Northwest Folklife has allowed him to continue to focus on his passion for Canadian traditional music, including engaging in field research and bringing many Canadian artists and musicians to Seattle. In 2007 Devon created a Canadian Traditional Music Collection for the U.W. Libraries that he introduces here.

Canadian Studies is proud to announce the opening of the Canadian Traditional Music Collection. This special collection comprises over 200 items, ranging from CDs and DVDs to books and LPs. The goal of the Collection is to enable students, scholars and professors at the University to explore the rich diversity of Canadian musical traditions and to raise awareness of modern Canadian culture and well as to shed light on its musical roots.

For the purposes of the Collection, the term ‘traditional’ has been loosely defined. Rather than limit the scope of the project, it was deemed better to let the term be a starting point for discourse in thinking and talking about tradition. Canadian musicians are aware of the roots of their music and frequently return to these roots. The classic example is Ashley MacIsaac, a Cape Breton fiddling sensation. In the mid-1990s, MacIsaac joined the alternative rock revolution with an innovative blend of punk rock and close-to-the-floor Cape Breton fiddling and stepdancing. He appered on the David Letterman show, toured as part of Lollapalooza and was considered either a rebel or a pioneer. MacIsaac, however, came out of the rich tradition of Cape Breton fiddling and was never shy about his respect for this tradition. For every experimental fusion album he released, he also released a purely traditional album of fiddle tunes.

Canadian artists often display what is known as “bimusicality,” musical competency in two different genres in music, in their blendings of tradition and modernity. For some, the link to tradition is less readily apparent. Somalian-Canadian rapper K’naan is an MC of unparalleled talent, bringing home a JUNO award for best rap album with his debut release in 2005. Though his vocal flow is reminiscent of Eminem and he raps over heavy, dancefloor beats, K’naan is closely connected to the culture of poetry in Somalia. Just as witty and clever poets are highly respected in Somalian culture, so too are they respected in hip-hop culture, and K’naan has been able to adapt the poetry of his upbringing (his grandfather was a famous Somali poet) to the beats and rhythms of Toronto.

The Canadian Traditional Music Collection is located primarily in the Odegaard Media Center and the Music Library Listening Center. The best way to browse the holdings is to visit the webpage at http://jsis.washington.edu/canada/collections/music_traditional.shtml. Users can search alphabetically, by province, or by culture area. Culture areas include Celtic, Québecois, Acadian, Métis, Cape Breton and First Nations music. Each culture area webpage has an interpretive essay that can serve as an introduction to the music of that culture as well as a Top 5 Albums list that can serve as a starting point.

The Collection is a work in progress and has been designed as a continuing project for graduate students of ethnomusicology at the U.W. who wish to specialize in Canadian music. It is hoped that the individual knowledge and specialties of these students will continually broaden the scope of the Collection, bringing new and innovative musical cultures to light and exposing this music to the rest of the University.

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