The English and Irish settlers who first colonized Newfoundland brought their music with them: step dances and square sets performed to the accompaniment of the fiddle and the button accordion, followed by the unaccompanied singing of locally composed and “old country” songs. The music was never written down, so as it passed from one generation to the next a distinctive Newfoundland style evolved, whose rhymes and rhythms varied from outport to outport – though its Irish and English roots always remained pronounced.
This traditional style of folk music has lingered on, as exemplified by the island’s most famous fiddlers, Rufus Guinchard and Émile Benoit. The two died in the 1980s, but their approach was adopted by younger artists like singer-songwriters Jim Payne and Ron Hynes, musician-producer Kelly Russell and groups such as Figgy Duff (named after the traditional Newfoundland pudding). Currently, Celtic music is the big deal in the bars of St John’s (Shanneyganock is one of the biggest bands on the scene), but local musicians regularly perform in a more traditional idiom. In particular, look out for one of the most popular bands since the 1990s, the Irish Descendants, who still occasionally perform here. Other artists to watch out for include Duane Andrews, who blends traditional Newfoundland folk with Gypsy Jazz; Hey Rosetta!, one of the most popular indie bands; and local girl Amelia Curran, who has scored big since her 2000 debut. The best of the island’s dozen folk festivals, the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival (t 709 576 8508, w nlfolk.com), is held in Bannerman Park in St John’s in early August.