Ten great documentaries about folk music around the world

13 de setembre de 2021

Whether in the southern lands of the Mississippi, in the cold Swiss mountains or in the deserts of Africa, the concept of Folk Music has a transcendental meaning for people all over the world.

This genre concerns the musical roots of any community and how in today's times those melodies are adapted to the new sounds of the current generation.

Beyond the renowned English-speaking folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Harry Belafonte, Guidedoc invites you to watch the following 10 documentaries on world folk music to discover a vast universe of singers around the world who use their traditional sounds to send a powerful message to humanity.

Why is folk music so popular?


Bob Dylan smoking a cigarette and playing a guitar while a camera man shoots him


The term Folk Music refers to the chords and harmonies of the first peoples in charge of giving some music to life in the middle of a territory yet to explore.

Just as the songs of the black slaves in the south of the United States inspired were the beginning of the Blues, in the territory called "El Chacho", in South America, the mixture of indigenous songs and European instruments, such as the guitar, made possible the nostalgic traditional music of this place.

Artists such as Nelly Furtado and Oscar nominee composer Sufjan Stevens are seen as contemporary exponents of American folk sounds. That's why Folk music goes beyond an era or a territory.

It is all over the planet and will continue to be one of the main ways for the people of the world to dialogue about their dilemmas and hopes.

What are the best world folk music documentaries?

The Toumast band on stage



The Last Waltz


Bob Dylan and The Band on stage in their last concert


Filmed by Martin Scorsese and his loyal cinematographer Michael Chapman, this rare gem in the filmography of the renowned American director immortalized the famous last concert of the mythical quartet "The Band".

Occurred in 1976, the concert that put an end to the Canadian band featured a select group of folk stars such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison, Neil Young and other great musicians of the genre.


Lowdown Tracks


Street musicians play folk music in Toronto


Folk music is in the most remote rural areas, the most splendid urban scenarios, but also in the nooks and crannies of the most cosmopolitan cities.

In this independent documentary, filmmaker Shelley Saywell takes to the streets of Toronto to discover the heartfelt music of Toronto's street musicians. An adventure inspired by Depression-era folk songs.

Late Blossom Blues


Leo "Bud" Welch plays a harmonica


Leo says he composed all his songs while working in the cotton fields that stretch along the Mississippi, but he says he's grateful not to be working there anymore.

At his seventy-something years of age, Leo "Bud" Welch went from being an anonymous man to one of the new voices of independent blues in the United States. This is his incredible story.


Balkan Melodie


Balkan violinist play music in the documentary Balkan Melodie


Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier devoted much of his life to exploring the Balkans and recording its fascinating music thus making it known around the world.

At the beginning of this serene musical documentary, Cellier's 85th birthday is announced on the radio inside the comfortable house in which he lives with his wife at the foot of a mountain.

The occasion presents the perfect excuse to review the rich repertoire of musical themes that he taped with his sound recording equipment in the fields of Romania and Bulgaria.

"The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices", the renowned women's choir, has a special participation in the documentary. The choir´s music, released for the first time worldwide by Cellier's record label, are a living example of how the prestige of the musical producer and the talented performer could not exist without each other.


Balkan Blues


A Balkan musician in the documentary Balkan Blues


Still in the Balkan zone, this short documentary follows a group of Yugoslavian migrants on their return to Mostar, their hometown in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, these talented musicians created the band Mostar Sevdah Reunion with the idea of mixing Balkan sounds with traditional blues to promote ethnic tolerance in their home territory.  

Through various jamming sessions, the band manages to raise folk music to its full potential: to be a meeting point between different cultures.




Singer Moussa Ag Keyna sings on stage


As nomadic people of the Sahara desert, in Africa, the Tuareg people have been fighting for their political independence for decades.

To this end, they have even used their weapons against both the French settlers and the new Malian state. In this important documentary, we accompany musician Moussa Ag Keyna, a former Tuareg rebel, in his inexhaustible itinerant tour to express with melodies and poetry the dignifying social struggle of his people.

The film uses several of Ag Keyna's compositions to spin its images, pieces in which Arab folkloric laments are fused with grooves of rock and pop, and whose lyrics offer a convenient contextualization of the historical episodes that are explained in the own director's voice. 


No Business Like Showbusiness

A group of Yodelers from Wiesenberg on stage


This is the amazing story of how a quintet of Yodelers (singers of popular Swiss vocal music) from a small mountain village become musical stars in China.

After being local musical idols, they now have to face worldwide fame and prepare for their first concert outside Europe: Shanghai.


In Search for Myself


Serbian violinist Lejlo Felix plays his violin in the nature

The renowned Serbian violinist Lejlo Felix returns to Volvodine, his hometown, to tell us about the origins of his repertoire.

Whether sailing in a canoe on a calm river or among the fruitful grounds of sunny provincial fields, Felix plays his beautiful pieces where folkloric melodies merge with academic music to construct a whole vehicle of emotions and human roots.

In a kind of journey back to the seed, Serbian director Seljko Mirkovic propitiates a repeated image of Felix, whom we see duplicated on the screen while executing with his violin a series of beautiful pieces accompanied by himself


Ramon Ayala


Argentinian singer Ramon Ayala plays his guitar


In this film, one of the great jugglers of Argentina tells his own story. More than a documentary portrait, this documentary is a musical journey through the life of Ramón Ayala, one of the most acclaimed popular singers in South America.

The melodies and lyrics of his songs flow in a simple way, like the rivers in which he is inspired, and his melodies expand as they are repeated by millions, just like the cotton fields of the northern province where he was born.

Common people, CD vendors, music critics and other fellow musicians complement with their testimonies the story of this unforgettable singer.


Echoes of Home



The small Alpine village of Appensell is the place that renowned director Stephan Schwietert has chosen to show us one of the most curious musical traditions of the Swiss mountains.

The Yodeling is a musical expression in which the voice of the mountaineers is the only instrument to create harmonies and even to communicate information.

The film focuses on three artists who have made Yodeling a recognized genre throughout Europe, Erika Stucky, Noldi Alder and Christian Zehnder.

The singing “a cappella”, whether in the open air or inside a cozy bar, becomes a symbol of life on the heights, an echo that extends through the air and travels miles to communicate a sense of belonging.

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