If you are Canadian, you're lucky enough to live in a country with a long and eclectic tradition of folk music. In terms of traditional music that is associated with Canada's native population, there is a long history of drum circles and throat singing. Recently the Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, won the Polaris Music Prize with an experimental album called Animism. The Canadian group Tribe Called Red has also grown quite popular performing and recording traditional drum music paired with electronic samples; they even perform with live traditional dancers in headdress. Carrying traditional music into the contemporary age is an extremely challenging but worthwhile quest that helps us understand our roots.
In addition to the traditional music of Canada's native population, there is also a rich tradition of folk music that grew out of the music of Celtic settlers from Scotland and Ireland. Cape Breton style fiddle, in a particular is a well loved subgenre of world music that is famous the world over. Notable performers include The Rankin Family, Rita Macneiland Ashley MacIsaac, all of whom grew up in Nova Scotia and borrowed generously from the genre.
If you're interested in taking up an instrument as a hobby, traditional music is a great style to pursue, because there are so many grassroots festivals and cool traditions that go along with it. If you take weekly music lessons at Long & McQuade on the fiddle or guitar, you could eventually start attending festivals and sitting in on open jam sessions and songwriting circles.
One of the best loved festivals of this style in Canada is the Celtic Colours festival, which takes place from October 5th to 16th all over the island of Cape Breton. The festival takes its name from changing autumn leaves, which transform the island into a stunning explosion of colours during the month of October. The festival features individual performances with proper lineups and schedules and also shows called Ceilis, which are impromptu jams featuring several performers from the day's festivities.
Because all of the songs are based in tradition, artists who have never even met can get together and perform amazing sets featuring mind-blowing virtuoso improvisation. Celtic dance itself is an art to behold, and if you've never been to one of these festivals before you may be surprised how many attendees can throw down a Celtic jig. Other styles of music represented at the festival are solo bagpipe dancing and a syncopated Celtic style of playing the piano.
The benefit of learning how to play music in this style is that these festivals host so many inclusive activities and lectures in addition to square dances, milling frolics and Gaelic singing concerts. Even if you learn to play rock guitar, if you attend a big rock festival, chances are The Killers won't invite you up on stage to jam with them. By focusing on folk music, you can access a community of like minded people with a similar passion. Not to mention the fact that Cape Breton and the east coast of Canada is absolutely gorgeous – an extension of the incredible folk music that it is home to. So pick up an instrument today and get in touch with Canada's folk music tradition, you'll be glad you did!