Folk music is the music of a nation, culture or ethnic group. Each of these groups has its own characteristics, which include things like behavior, food, language, history, traditions, etc. Music and dance reflect these aspects and, as aesthetics, are communicated with the soul. Popular music is almost like a language that speaks of the various victories, difficulties, sadness and other factors of survival that have occurred, usually over the centuries. This is passed on from generation to generation, without academic formalities and, in most cases, not in writing. But it is rooted in the hearts of its people. It tends to apply to all people, regardless of status or social class, and is therefore comprehensive, but exclusive to your group.
The melodies are usually simple and cannot have more than four notes. They are often repetitive with very simple harmonies and little or no modulation for other keys. However, some may have complicated rhythmic patterns, such as folk music from West Africa and India. The instruments are unique, but often very similar or even the same in neighboring regions, such as Chinese Sanxian and Japanese Shamisen. However, the music essence of each culture has its own characteristic, as does the language. Although there are nuances of each microregion of a nation or area, as well as a language and its dialects, each has the unique essence of its nation or area.
Listen to traditional Persian folk music and then Irish music, or Mongolian music and then Balinese music. You will instantly notice the taste of each one.
Being simplistic does not mean that the artistic value of folk music is lost. It has its own intrinsic aesthetic value, as it comes from people’s souls and is carried out with emotion, spirit and meaning. Tell a story.
Many classical composers incorporated the folk tunes of their own cultures into their compositions of masterpieces, such as Alexander Borodin (Russian) or Aram Khatchaturian (Armenian). In that case, you can no longer look at that piece as folk music, but instead it becomes a more refined creation. It is sophisticated in something more refined and more mundane, as opposed to something just localized. Its aesthetic quality is of a different nature.
However, certain classic world-class composers have incorporated folk elements from cultures other than their own into their own compositions. We heard Russian, Chinese and Spanish elements from composers who do not belong to these ethnic groups. Inspired by several melodies, masterpieces were created. Again, we need to look at this from another perspective.
A great analogy would be Da Vinci’s Last Supper. This is strictly a work of art, but it is obviously inspired by ancient cultural phenomena. However, it does not reflect the customs and exact aspects of that culture in the way that popular art would. All figures in this work have characteristics of Western Europe. The bread on the table is shown as leavened. These are peculiarities, perhaps even anachronisms, included in the artist’s creative license, which immediately show that this work is a composition of fine arts and not just a cultural artifact. The same principle can happen in music too, as in any other form of art.
Folk music is one of the key essences of a people and it is the aesthetic beauty that unites a culture. And that has expanded to be a major influence on world-class music, which makes it even more special.