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Northern Roots Live In Náměšť - FP 2008

Tim Eriksen and Folkové prázdniny

Indies Scope / 2009
Genres: acoustic, world music, live, jazz, ethno, folk
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Concert was recorded on July 24, 2008 within the Folk Holidays festival in Náměšť nad Oslavou, Czech Republic.

Northern Roots music springs from the rich soil of a rugged infant nation to nourish the leaves and branches of Americana. It laps the morning dew from rural graveyard flowers and spits it out as an itinerant preacher’s impassioned midnight sermon. It rushes forth with  the raw intensity of shape note  singing and the immediacy of murder balladry. It is New England gothic, the introspective precision of Emily Dickinson and the bloody grit of Henry David Thoreau. Northern Roots is "the best traditional ballad singer of his generation," the intensely gifted Tim Eriksen.
LA Times


Sacred Harp is a Christian four-part choral style. The name „Sacred Harp“ refers to the human voice and a songbook published in 1844 in Hamilton, Georgia. Nothing is weirder than Sacred Harp. Its favored subject matter – the pilgrim, the grave, Christ's blood – is stark; its style – severe fourths and otherwordly open fifths – has been obsolete for more than a century. Its notation, in which triangles, circles and squares indicate pitch, looks like cuneiform. Yet exudes power and integrity. Five people sound like a choir; a dozen like a hundred. It is one of the most democratic choral forms: no audience, no permanent conductor – just people addressing one another and God.

Shape notes are a music notation designed to facilitate congregational singing. Shape notes of various kinds have been used for over two centuries in a variety of sacred music traditions practiced primarily in the Southern region of the United States.

Northern Roots is the largely unknown, almost secret, music of New England. When people talk about "American roots music" they almost always mean old songs from the South, but there are many wonderful songs from the North as well. I use the term "northern roots" to make this distinction clear.
Tim Eriksen

Can you, please, shortly describe, what are Scared Harp songs about? Many people in our region consider country and blues to be the biggest American tradition in music…

---- The texts of Sacred Harp songs are sacred, of course, although the meaning of the music is also very much in the sound and the social experience of singing. Most people still don’t know about this music, even in the USA, but when they hear it they often feel it is like a „missing link“ in our music- it explains a lot about where these other styles came from.

You used to play punk rock and hard-core music… When did it turn for you and you started being interested in Sacred Harp stuff?

---- I still play punk! I just don’t have much time for it now. I have always been interested in traditional music since I was a little kid, but I started doing it at around the same time I started playing punk rock ca. 1980. I was interested in Sacred Harp then too, but I didn’t start singing regularly until several years later. 

North American traditional music has grown even bigger in last couple years all around the world. Also thanks to the soundtrack you co-wrote and co-produced (Cold Mountain for instance, to name one of the most known). How would you explain so many people get more into it lately?

---- There’s so much cool music, and it’s been hidden for so long. It still is actually. I think we’re just at the beginning of this renewed interest. Maybe the question is „how could such great music remain so obscure for so long?“ These things go in cycles of course- many people who are playing banjos now will be playing something else in a few years.

To my knowledge, you are also much interested in Balkan and Indian music? What attracts you on these?

---- I fell in love with South Indian music when I was about 16 but resisted studying it because I associated it with hippies and I was a punk (very superficial, I know). But I started studying veena in 1984 and got a university degree in South Indian music and have played ever since. I got into Bosnian music through Minja Lausevic who I met and formed a band with at Wesleyan University, and later married. I love both the rural and urban music from the former Yugoslavia- brass band, „new folk,“ traditional mountain singing, rock- there is so much great music in the region.

Alan Lomax is considered to be one of the greatest and complex musicologists. Did you come to use also his archives when searching for the old original tunes?

--- Yes, certainly. Lomax really was a complex character. He had some terrible ideas I think, but did so much important work recording American music.  He treated musicians rather badly, but also helped some of them in their careers.

You also teach music(ology) at several universities. What is the first sentence you sayour students? (Besides „hello”, of course)

--- Before I even say “hello” I always sing, usually with the students singing a drone.

Actually, how does it happen that a punk rocker like you becomes a university professor that teaches music? It seems like Time Eriksen has become one of the heroes of his own songs…

---- That’s funny! Actually I think I’m more useful as a student than a teacher. I am so interested in music beyond just how it sounds. I always want to know more, and I love helping other people satisfy their curiosity, or even become curious if they’re not already. Some things about the punk scene that I once believed in now seem silly to me. But there are other things that I really still believe, and I find that teaching is a good way to live some of those values- challenging myself and students to think more deeply about the world, act consciously, learn to listen better, make intense and beautiful music- things like that.

Taken from Michal Pařízek's interview for Aktualne.cz


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