Q&A: Birgit Ellinghaus

Name: Birgit Ellinghaus

Company: alba KULTUR

Title: Director

Based in: Cologne, Germany

What was your purpose for participating at Folk Spot 2023?

After the pandemic I was very glad about the opportunity to update the inside view of what is bubbling in the Danish folk music scene and what are the actual developments for shaping the future of folk music in general and in Denmark/ in the Nordic region.

What trends and tendencies do you see in folk music right now?

Since I participated in Folk Spot last time in 2016 I was surprised not to see really new trends or tendencies. It seems to me that the Danish folk scene is still – like in 2016 – primarily concerned with preserving the aesthetic status quo of a musical practice in an easy going, purely entertaining, almost museum-like way. At least in the showcases and by the presented artists 2023 lacked the courage here and there for a thematically committed folk repertoire, that refers to the current reality of the world (climate crisis, wars, closed borders, economical challenges for the arts, identity debates, migration, political populism etc.). Folk music is traditionally close and committed to the people. I found a huge discrepancy between the presented showcase programs and what I hear and read about Denmark.


What is your impression of the Danish folk scene versus folk music in Germany? (Differences and similarities)

The Danish and German folk scenes are not really comparable, as both countries have different geographical and population sizes and history. After World War II, the folk scene in Germany was asleep for a long time. Only from the mid-1970s onwards the historical reappraisal of the appropriation of folk music by the Nazis was in the center of the folk music movement. And the activists wanted clearly to distance themselves from the previous generation in terms of sound, lyrics and stage presence. That still has an impact today. In addition, Germany is a federal country in which there are enormous differences in local musical traditions: the spectrum ranges from Bavarian/Franconian folk in the south, Rhenish carnival song tradition (on the national list of intangible cultural heritage), Sorbian folk dances, shanty choirs in Hamburg to the political singer-songwriters of Waldeck Castle & their grandchildren up to the songs of the miners in the Ruhr area and much more. There is the raw, the political, the finely chiseled, the danceable, the humorous and many other themes and emotions – depending on the region and cultural context and the identity.

Folk music in Denmark seems to me to be much more culturally homogeneous and historically “unbroken” and naive. And this homogeneity of the melodies, the themes, the instruments and the presentation seems to keep the musicians trapped in a bubble: they don’t dare to push the boundaries of a style or a theme or their presentation on stage, but rather stay in the safe waters of a contemplative folk tradition that is only nice to the audience.

This makes me quickly forget who played what, since everything sounds or appears a bit the same.


Did you make some new contacts relevant for your future work?

The exchange and the side debates with the Folk Spot team, with the Danish radio colleagues and as well as with some other delegates is a really valuable take away.
I very much hope we could continue the exchange to support and strengthen the developments for a living and creative folk scene in Europe.

Which were the best musical experiences during Folk Spot Denmark and Tønder Festival?

The only band from the showcase programme that might be of interest to one of our programs is Optur.