Repeat Grammy nominee Roddie Romero & the Hub City All Stars was nominated in two categories this year for its album “Gulfstream”: Best Regional Roots Music Album and Best American Roots Song for the title track.
Cajun and zydeco music first traveled beyond Acadiana as recordings, letting local musicians like accordion virtuoso Amédé Ardoin inspire songwriters and musicians around the world. But while the sui generis sounds of the southwest Louisiana parishes have been adopted by some of the most celebrated artists (think The Band, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, and Paul Simon), Acadiana musicians, no doubt, do it best.
The genre’s acclaim is evidenced by repeated nominations of Acadiana-grown musicians for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences award—the Grammy. In fact, a Grammy category for Cajun and zydeco music, championed by Terrance and Cynthia Simien and other advocates, existed from 2008—2011; and, despite the short tenure of the category, Cajun and zydeco musicians have long been nominated for traditional, folk, and roots award categories, including four nominations this year.
One of Acadiana’s most famous musicians, Opelousas-born accordion player Clifton Chenier (aka The King of Zydeco), received the Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording Grammy in 1983 and was later recognized as a National Heritage Fellow and Blues Hall of Fame and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee. In 2014, the Grammys honored Chenier with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His vast musical influence endures in younger generations like zydeco newcomers Zydeco Radio and 2013 Best Regional Roots Album nominee Corey Ledet. This type of influence and adaptation is a fundamental theme for the survival of Cajun and zydeco music genres.
“[Acadians] have been adept at passing the torch,” said Dr. Joshua Caffery, 2017 Grammy nominee and a musician, writer, and producer who grew up on the Irish Bend of Bayou Teche between Franklin and Baldwin, Louisiana. “… Honestly, it has a lot to do with not only musicians but also people doing the hard work of cultural cultivation and revitalization, people like Alan and John Lomax, Barry Ancelet, Ann and Marc Savoy, Dewey Balfa, Zach Richard, Michael Doucet. We have a real, deep musical culture here where most of America has a sort of corporatized, cultural grey-out.”
The winner of the 2013 Best Regional Roots Music Album category, The Band Courtbouillon, an accordion super-group comprising Wayne Toups, Steve Riley, and Wilson Savoy, also hails from the Acadiana region. Subsequent years have seen Grammy nominations for The Revelers; Feufollet; Bonsoir, Catin; and more. In fact the Best Regional Roots Album category, which has only existed for five years, has included an Acadiana win in three of those years (and a Louisiana win for all five).
This year’s 2017 nominees native to Cajun and Creole country are repeat Grammy nominee Roddie Romero & the Hub City All Stars in two categories: Best Regional Roots Music Album for Gulfstream and Best American Roots Song for songwriters Roddie Romero and Eric Adcock’s title track. There are also nominations in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category for both Barry Jean Ancelet and Sam Broussard’s album Broken Promised Land and Caffery and Joel Savoy’s compilation I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country.
The latter project, based on John and Alan Lomax’s collection of South Louisiana folk songs recorded on their trip to the region, began as Caffery’s Ph.D. dissertation and later became a published work and finally a collection of English and French recordings featuring many of Acadiana’s finest musicians.
“The Lomax CD features a who’s who of contemporary Acadiana musicians reimagining songs from the historic 1934 John and Alan Lomax Library of Congress trip to the area,” said Caffery. “The Lomaxes are the most famous collectors of American folk songs, and their 1934 trip was the first major document of folk music in southern Louisiana. [They] captured a music … [from] non-professionals, and it gives a much broader picture of what the traditional music in the area was like.”
The importance of reflecting the region’s traditions is a theme carried in all three of this year’s Acadiana-born Grammy nominated albums. Gulfstream, produced by the fêted John Porter, is an album comprising bluesy, funk-filled swamp ballads telling stories of things quintessentially Creole and Cajun: the fabled blonde-beauty Jolie, the region’s endemic food, Catholicism, hurricanes, and other treacheries of the Gulf.
Broussard’s and Ancelet’s Broken Promised Land combines retired University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor Ancelet’s remarkable talent for poetic folklore and storytelling with musician Broussard’s aptitude for developing musical compositions and arrangements to match the cadenced and, at times, bluesy and haunting vocals and lyrical content. Like Gulfstream and I Wanna Sing Right, Broken Promised Land captures the sounds of a region long isolated by the vast wetlands of the Atchafalaya Basin and other large waters.
The albums—and their enormous local and national popularity—are a testament to Acadiana’s deep pride of place and its still-vital culture. But it’s important to emphasize that these albums are not only derivatives of Cajun and zydeco music but are demonstrations of how the music of this region has evolved with the times, while still paying appropriate homage to its roots.
“When we think about the music here, we think of Cajun and zydeco, but these three records are anything but that,” said Joel Savoy in a press statement. “To me, that indicates a sort of shift in the way that the people here perceive themselves and the way that we are perceived by the rest of the world. We’ve still got deep roots, but it seems like the constraints of what defines our music and our culture are fading away to make room for a whole new era of creativity in Acadiana.”
But it’s important to emphasize that these albums are not only derivatives of Cajun and zydeco music but are demonstrations of how the music of this region has evolved with the times, while still paying appropriate homage to its roots.
While the Best Regional Roots award is part of the pre-televised portion of the awards ceremony and will not receive national airtime, many throughout Acadiana will be tuned into news and social media on February 12 to learn if one of the three albums representing the region will win the category. In the meantime, all three albums can be downloaded online—another way to support local musicians and continue the rich musical legacy of the region.