Ecofolk as vague ritualism

The term "ecofolk" music was probably coined by David Kupfer, to describe ecologically oriented folk music, through befriending and traveling with a California-based group called the Clan Dyken. Kupfer (2002, Whole Earth) : “I heard them and other artists at protests against the Nevada Test Site and the Livermore Nuclear Lab, at Big Mountain benefits, at rallies against nuclear power and clear-cutting and for organic farming in rural California, against road building in Britain, for solar and against geothermal power in Hawai'i. As I repeatedly heard the same groups, with similar messages, I sensed that I was witnessing the evolution of a new genre, which I've called ecofolk.”
Ecofolk has been the resurgence of folk music with a green message, “often spiritual, sometimes quite touching, and at other times wonderfully witty. Its roots can be found in the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Malvina Reynolds, Country Joe McDonald, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Phil Ochs, Kate Wolf, Jackson Browne, Bruce Cockburn, and Tom Lehrer. The No Nukes Festival album and film (1977) were early ecofolk, but quite mainstream.” (Kupfer, 2002)
Kupfer saw three threads in this emerging genre. The first was activist, informing audiences and fostering community. The second thread comprised “songs reflecting the beauty, power, impact, and stature of wildness and wilderness, the geography of our home”. The third thread was educational ecofolk for kids. “This is music from the vernacular of community, rallies, and demonstrations. You can hear it at small clubs and regional festivals. So far, these are fringe artists. Mainstream media has not discovered any of them. Their CDs are often available only by mail order or from websites.”
Still, that might change in the near future. In Belgium, one of the newest summer folkfestivals is called “Thumbs up for Doel”, it calls itself explicitly an eco-folkfestival. “Though the government wants to destroy the Belgian village of Doel, this eco-folkfestival shows that it is a good spot to live and to feast.” Doel is a village near Antwerp city that is threatened by the expansion of the Antwerp harbor. It is well-known for the nuclear power station near the village (the power station is also often called “Doel”). In order to prevent the disappearance of the village Doel, a coalition of left-leaning people and right-wingers has arisen to prevent that from happening. Neoprimitive, paganist or catholic thoughts and other forms of traditionalism have inspired this campaign. Even politicians from the Far Right in the region have been supporting the struggle for the village conservation. The ecofolk festival has been a way for right-wingers and left-leaning people to get this struggle more known.

In the meantime Belgium has more and more musicians, they pop up everywhere. The biggest festival organiser has compared the situation this year with the scene in Seattle (when grunge music became so much succesful there). The situation often leads to arising nationalist feelings about the music scene in Flanders (the northern region of Belgium, where people usually speak Dutch). The ecofolk group Laïs is one of the most known bands in and outside Flanders. One of their well-known songs is called “After the goldrush”, originally a song from the nowadays excellent artist Neil Young. But just like one of the early band members of Laïs, Young has been criticized for supporting the Right a long time ago.

after the goldrush

well, I dreamed I saw the knights
in armour come
saying something about a queen
there were peasants singing and
drummers drumming
and the archer split the tree
there was a fanfare blowing
to the sun
that was floating on the breeze
look at Mother Nature on the run
in the twenty first century

well I was lying in a burned out basement
with the full moon in my eyes
I was hoping for replacement
when the sun burst through the sky
there was a band playing in my head
and I felt like getting high
I was thinking about what a
friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie
thinking about what a
friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie

well I dreamed I saw the silver
space ships flying
in the yellow haze of the sun
there were children crying
and colours flying
all around the chosen one
all in a dream, all in a dream
the loading had begun
flying Mother Nature's
silver seed to a new home in the sun
flying Mother Nature's
silver seed to a new home

The website of the band shows that Laïs' music has crossed the borders of Belgium many times. “The group has been on the bill of festivals from southern Europe to South-Africa, and moved spectators from Toronto to Shanghai.”
“Those international tours showed us that we can get anywhere”, says Nathalie (one of the band members). “The people experience our voices as an instrument. And if we succeed in passing on a certain mood, in fact the words lose their importance.”
“It is striking how even an audience that doesn't understand us, instinctively feels what we're talking about”, continues Jorunn (another band member). “But for those who do understand Dutch or French, the lyrics are a nice bonus.”
Laïs was a part of a new generation of folk artists in Belgium that set out from a traditional base, but then added influences from rock, jazz and sometimes world music. It was in the summer of 1998 that Laïs recorded its first album, entitled simply, “Laïs”. "All the material on the album was traditional, but all the songs were rearranged by us. None of it was produced really. We recorded the songs as we sung them in concert. This was really raw stuff. But it's been our best-selling album." In 2005, the album had already sold 80,000 copies.
As Sabina Ispas (director of Bucharest's museum of Romanian folklore), has said in 1999 (in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian) , ecofolk is “a style of life, a system that demonstrates and embodies the fundamental ritual concepts of life and death and how to live on earth." She called ecofolk a combination of ecology and popular culture, but I rather think of it as vague ritualism.
Ispas said we had much to learn from the Romanian peasant and was therefore fighting to keep alive what she termed "ecofolk". "There is a real danger that the peasants are being eclipsed by the modern world and we ignore that at our peril", she said. These peasants “have their own cosmology, demonology and 'angelology', mixing orthodox religion with superstition and meteorology. Wedding ceremonies, set in autumn, include dances round wells and the primitive ritual of hanging out the bloodied wedding sheet. At funeral services, bocitoare (voices) are hired to wail for three days to drive away spirits, a piece of wax as long as the corpse is set to burn for three days, and the coffin's nails are pounded in with a stone to ensure that the vampire can't claim another recruit.”