Traditional music from the Netherlands Part IV:
Henk Scholte & Törf
For this edition of "Traditional music in the Netherlands" I interviewed Henk Scholte. He is the vocalist of the band Törf and, according to the latest edition of the Rough Guide for World Music, their cd Beukema is the best Dutch roots album made so far. Apart from being a singer, Henk has a very successful radio show in Groningen and also works for the house of culture in the same district. He can be regarded as a representative of the Groningen culture. Groningen is situated in the north of Holland, close to the German border. It's a part of the Netherlands with a vivid, characteristic culture and a very typical vernacular. With great enthusiasm, Henk told me about his "musical" life filled with music and his vision on the group Törf.
Interest for traditional music
As many people Henk was already interested in folkmusic in the 1970's. How did he become involved in the folk music scene?
Henk: ' I was rooted in the so-called youth movement NJN. We often met - being very different kinds of people - and, among other things, occupied ourselves with singing old folksongs. In those days we usually sang Joan Baez songs or songs like Donna Donna. Our orientation was mainly English/American and only occasionally did someone come up with a Dutch song. However, this American music just was not my style, my atmosphere. Then, in the years 1972-74, I discovered that there was something called folkrock. I discovered groups like Fairport and Steeleye Span. At the same time I had many contacts in Friesland (which is another northern province of the Netherlands). It was great to see how these people were busy with their own culture. The Friesians are proud of their own identity, their own language. The group Irolt started there and they did not sing in the Dutch language but in Friesian. That was the time I started thinking about making music from Groningen. I also discovered more and more new bands, of which the Belgian group RUM was the most impressive one. This band had much more in common with my own culture than all the English folk music I had heard. At least, that is how I felt then. Now, I think that there is not such a thing as tradition, but that we create our own tradition. In those days I also met some members of Törf. I went to one of their rehearsals and really enjoyed what they were doing: singing in our own vernacular. Again I had the feeling: This is what I want to do.'
Törf started in 1975 and was one of the first groups that sang in the Groningen language. Nowadays, besides Henk (who is their vocalist), the band includes musicians who play the bagpipe, the guitar, the violin, the accordion, the bass-guitar and all kinds of exotic instruments. I asked Henk to tell me something about the group's history.
Henk: 'After having visited the rehearsal I mentioned before, I kept in touch with Eddy (one of the founders of the band) and together we discovered that there existed quite a lot of material from Groningen. Already in 1930 a book was published with old songs in our own language. I also visited people to record the songs they could remember. Of course, I could sing in English, but I was not British. I felt that I wanted to stay close to my roots and this was my identity. Not only the songs interested me; I wanted to know the background of the songs as well. For instance: what was the importance of such a song in the time it was written? I also think that our (folk) music or, for example, songs from the famous singer Ede Staal, improved the emancipation of the Groningen language. (Ede Staal is a legendary singer, who sung a lot of songs in the Groningen language. He sold more than 1.000.000 copies of lp's, mc's and cd's). Our first lp was released in 1979. Before recording it, we played the songs many times before an audience. When they did not like a song, we knew it probably was not good enough yet. This way we chose the songs we wanted to use for the lp. The lp was called Kovvie kloar and was a great success. We toured a lot in Holland and also in other countries. Especially in Germany they seemed to recognise something in our music and we often toured there. In the eighties there were periods that 80% of our concerts were in Germany. In those days we started using poetry as lyrics and wrote our own music to quality poems from famous Groningen poets.'
As mentioned before, the Beukema cd is considered to be the best Dutch Roots album that has ever been made. One of the band members found the music in a manuscript on a piano in a museum. The special way in which the band plays the music makes it a remarkable cd.
Henk: ' This is unique! I mean how often in a lifetime do you find such an important manuscript just on a piano in an museum? The manuscript contains the (popular) music from the 1820's. The cd has impressed many people and we did not expect that. In addition to the cd, we also issued the manuscript as a book with our own comments to the tunes. All over the world, people have bought the book and now play the tunes on their own instruments. Apparently, people like such manuscripts and the Netherlands are a well-kept secret for many musicians throughout the world. Everybody knows French or British music, but music from a country like the Netherlands is rare and musicians like to discover such new tunes. However, in Holland itself the recognition is minimal. We often have no more than ten shows a year here and, if we perform in Holland, it usually is in the northern part of the country. At the moment we are working on a completely traditional project. I think we are now capable of interpreting traditional work in an adventurous way. To keep the band alive and kicking we often set ourselves new goals. It keeps us awake and encourages us to go on making music.
Visit www.torf.nl for more information about the group and their cd's
Photo Credit: Jur Bosboom
Do you have any questions about the article? Do you want more information? Are you interested in one of the albums mentioned above? Feel free to contact me any time; also with suggestions for future articles etc or comments on this article. Eelco Schilder
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