Lynette Fay: Folk awards offer a chance to celebrate one of our best assets – our music

I absolutely love traditional music. It marks and celebrates historical events, historical periods, social history and social justice. Our songs in particular give us a great sense of place – celebration of place and longing to be back in a particular place... 'the shore I left behind'

Reflecting the high regard in which Irish music and musicians are held around the world, Dungiven's Cara Dillon is musical royalty in Japan

NEXT Wednesday Belfast will be awash with folk and traditional musicians from every corner of these islands. The BBC Radio 2 Folk awards are rolling into town for the first time ever. To say that I am excited is an understatement.

I am not a musician but I love all types of music. I respect those who play and compose music and believe that it must be promoted at every opportunity. Music has an incredible power to unite and bring people together, to provide so much celebration.

I absolutely love traditional music, folk music – it is the very essence of our being. It marks and celebrates historical events, historical periods, social history and social justice. Our songs, in particular, give us a great sense of place – celebration of place and longing to be back in a particular place... ‘the shore I left behind'.

I don’t profess to be an expert and I wouldn’t dare try to educate – in fact there’s nothing I like better than getting into a conversation with some of the great carriers of the tradition that we have. The rounded understanding and depth of knowledge of music, historical and social context carried by so many never ceases to amaze me. I enjoy having the chance to tap into that.

When I was a child, I missed out on the opportunity of playing the cello because I had to go into hospital for an operation. There was no way we could have afforded an instrument. I sang a lot when I was younger, carried that through to my teenage years, but retired when I began working in broadcasting because I was in awe of the great singers I was surrounded by day and daily. I still am.

Working in radio and television has given me a wonderful opportunity to gain invaluable insight into the world of traditional music.

For the most part, its promotion and preservation depends on volunteers and people who aren’t afraid to go above and beyond the call of duty. Cold Winter nights spent teaching children, lifting and laying them to classes, listening to the screeches of fiddles, tin whistles, banjos and pipes all pay off when parents and teachers see their children join in a session for the first time. I have witnessed this happen, and to say that it’s a special moment is an understatement.

As well as giving us a greater understanding of who we are, where we come from and how we fit into this world, traditional/folk music is a community. A worldwide community. Irish music is revered globally.

Cara Dillon, from Dungiven, will be playing live in the Waterfront on Wednesday night. In Japan, her image in on billboards – she is music royalty. Most of Cara’s songs celebrate her native Co Derry and they have worldwide appeal. Cara is only one example; Americans go crazy for Irish traditional music, German audiences are mad for trad and Australia's folk festivals host dozens of our top musicians.

We haven’t been so good on celebrating and supporting our own music over the years, but I think that's changing. Some still perceive trad to be the preserve of Aran jumper-wearing, shillelagh-wielding, skiddle-de-dee fiddle players. The reality is quite the opposite. The world of traditional music is trendy, contemporary, fresh, relevant.

It is also my experience that understanding and appreciation of one’s own culture means that the same principle applies to other cultures.

Traditional and folk music are enjoying incredible popularity at present and it’s great to see.

As we prepare to welcome the Radio 2 Folk Awards to Belfast, it’s a time to congregate and celebrate. On the night, Dónal Lunny, who has been at the heart of groundbreaking traditional music for decades, including in Planxty, the Bothy Band and Coolfin, will receive a lifetime achievement award.

The Armagh Pipers Club will receive the Good Tradition award for their amazing promotion and progression of traditional music and Nick Drake will be inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame.

Nine other awards will be presented; the winners will be announced on the night. The

awards will give us an opportunity to promote what we have on our doorstep to a much wider audience. Tune in!

:: The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards will be broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster and Radio 2 on Wednesday April 4, 7.30-9pm. Lynette will present a special preview programme live from the Waterfront on Radio Ulster at 6.30pm that evening.

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