In medieval Gaelic and British culture (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Brittany and Cornwall) a bard was a professional poet, employed by a patron, such as a monarch or nobleman, to commemorate the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities.
Originally a specific class of poet, contrasting with another class known as fili in Ireland and Highland Scotland, the term "bard", with the decline of living bardic tradition in the modern period, acquired generic meanings of an epic author/singer/narrator, comparable with the terms in other cultures: minstrel, skald/scop, rhapsode, udgatar, griot, ashik) or any poets, especially famous ones. For example, William Shakespeare is known as The Bard.
The word is a loanword from descendant languages of Proto-Celtic *bardos, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *gwrh2-dh1-ó-, from the root *gwerh2 "to raise the voice; praise". The first recorded example in English is in 1449 from the Scottish Gaelic language into Lowland Scots, denoting an itinerant musician, usually with a contemptuous connotation. The word subsequently entered the English language via Scottish English.
Secondly, in medieval Gaelic and Welsh society, a bard (Scottish and Irish Gaelic) or bardd (Welsh) was a professional poet, employed to compose eulogies for his lord (see planxty). If the employer failed to pay the proper amount, the bard would then compose a satire. (c. f. fili, fáith). In other Indo-European societies, the same function was fulfilled by skalds, rhapsodes, minstrels and scops, among others, offices that may sometimes also be subsumed under the term "bard" by extension. A hereditary caste of professional poets in Proto-Indo-European society has been reconstructed by comparison of the position of poets in medieval Ireland and in ancient India in particular.
Bards (who are not the same as the Irish 'Filidh' or 'Fili') were those who sang the songs recalling the tribal warriors' deeds of bravery as well as the genealogies and family histories of the ruling strata among Celtic societies. The pre-Christian Celtic peoples recorded no written histories; however, Celtic peoples did maintain an intricate oral history committed to memory and transmitted by bards and filid. Bards facilitated the memorization of such materials by the use of poetic meter and rhyme.
During the era of Romanticism, when knowledge of Celtic culture was overlaid by legends and fictions, the word was reintroduced into the West Germanic languages, this time directly into the English language, in the sense of 'lyric poet', idealised by writers such as the Scottish romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott. The word was taken from Latin bardus, Greek bardos, in turn loanwords from the Gaulish language, describing a class of Celtic priest. From this romantic use came the epitheton The Bard applied to William Shakespeare and, in Scotland, Robert Burns.
A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories about distant places or about real or imaginary historical events. Though minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. Frequently they were retained by royalty and high society. As the courts became more sophisticated, minstrels were eventually replaced at court by the troubadours, and many became wandering minstrels, performing in the streets and became well liked until the middle of the Renaissance, despite a decline beginning in the late 15th century. Minstrelsy fed into later traditions of traveling entertainers, which continued to be moderately strong into the early 20th century, and which has some continuity down to today's buskers or street musicians.
The skald was a member of a group of poets, whose courtly poetry (Icelandic: dróttkvæði) is associated with the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking age, who composed and performed renditions of aspects of what we now characterise as Old Norse poetry (the complementary aspect being the anonymous Eddaic poetry).
The most prevalent metre of skaldic poetry is dróttkvætt. The subject is usually historical and eulogic, detailing the deeds of the skald's king.
The technical demands of the skaldic form were equal to the complicated verse forms mastered by the Welsh bards and Irish ollaves, and like those poets, much of the skaldic verse consisted of panegyrics to kings and aristocrats, or memorials and testimonials to their battles. The kings and nobles, for their part, were not only intelligent and appreciative audiences for gifted skalds; some of them were poets in their own right.
A scop was an Old English poet, the Anglo-Saxon counterpart of the Old Norse skald.
As far as we can tell from what has been preserved, the art of the scop was directed mostly towards epic poetry; the surviving verse in Old English consists of the epic Beowulf, religious verse in epic formats such as the Dream of the Rood, heroic lays of battle, and stern meditations on mortality and the transience of earthly glory. By contrast, the verse preserved from the skalds consists mostly of poems in praise of kings and incidental verse preserved in the sagas, often done up in the elaborate dróttkvætt metre, and the ballad-like forms that form most of the corpus of the Poetic Edda. Both, of course, wrote within the Germanic tradition of alliterative verse.
A rhapsode (Greek: ῥαψῳδός, rhapsōdos) or, in modern usage, rhapsodist, refers to a classical Greek professional performer of epic poetry in the fifth and fourth centuries BC (and perhaps earlier). Rhapsodes notably performed the epics of Homer (Iliad and Odyssey) but also the wisdom and catalogue poetry of Hesiod and the satires of Archilochus and others. Plato's dialogue Ion, in which Socrates confronts a star player rhapsode, remains our richest source of information on these artists. Often, rhapsodes are depicted in Greek art, wearing their signature cloak and carrying a staff. This equipment is also characteristic of travellers in general, implying that rhapsodes were itinerant performers, moving from town to town.
A griot (English pronunciation: /ˈɡri.oʊ/, French pronunciation: [ɡʁi.o], with a silent t) or jeli (djeli or djéli in French spelling) is a West African poet, praise singer, and wandering musician, considered a repository of oral tradition. As such, they are sometimes also called bards. According to Paul Oliver in his book Savannah Syncopators, "Though [the griot] has to know many traditional songs without error, he must also have the ability to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. His wit can be devastating and his knowledge of local history formidable." Although they are popularly known as 'praise singers', griots may also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment.
Griots today live in many parts of West Africa, including Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal, and are present among the Mande peoples (Mandinka, Malinké, Bambara, etc.), Fulɓe (Fula), Hausa, Songhai, Tukulóor, Wolof, Serer, Mossi, Dagomba, Sahrawis, Mauritanian Arabs and many other smaller groups. The word may derive from the French transliteration "guiriot" of the Portuguese word "criado," or masculine singular term for "servant."
In African languages, griots are referred to by a number of names: jeli in northern Mande areas, jali in southern Mande areas, guewel in Wolof, gawlo in Pulaar (Fula), and igiiw (or igawen) in Hassaniyya Arabic. Griots form an endogamous caste, meaning that most of them only marry fellow griots and that those who are not griots do not normally perform the same functions that they perform.
An Ashik (Azerbaijani: aşıq/Ashiq, Turkish: aşık, عاشیق, Armenian: Աշուղ, ashugh, Georgian: აშუღი, ashughi) is a mystic troubadour or traveling bard, in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran who sings and plays the saz, a form of lute. Ashiks' songs are semi-improvised around common bases. In September 2009, Azerbaijan’s ashik art was included into UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The Ashik tradition in Turkic cultures of Anatolia, Azerbaijan and Iran has its origin in the Shamanistic beliefs of ancient Turkic peoples.
The ancient ashiks were called by various names such as bakhshi (Baxşı), dede (dədə), and uzan or ozan. Among their various roles, they played a major part in perpetuation of oral tradition, promotion of communal value system and traditional culture of their people.
These wandering bards or troubadours are part of current rural and folk culture of Azerbaijan, and Iranian Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Turkmen Sahra (Iran) and Turkmenistan, where they are called bakshy.