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The "Unexpectable" Grammys

en français, s’il vous plaît

A friend drew a map once that he called, "I'm not sure, but I believe all music comes from Louisiana." The page was filled with images of artists associated with several locations across the state. Obviously Louis Armstrong in New Orleans and Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, but also practitioners of blues, gospel, classical music, zarico and Cajun music in many cities were there. It is as if the Mississippi delta earth nourished more than cotton and sugar cane. There is certainly a link between this agricultural work and flourishing musical creation. The map showed a strong concentration of talented musicians in and around Lafayette. The majority were mostly unknown people who never imagined that they were making an important cultural contribution. They would never have believed that the music they played to have fun after a hard work week would have earned special recognition, let alone its own Grammy category.

The 59th award ceremony for handing out gramophone statuettes will take place on Feb. 12, 2017. To date, only those who are competing for this coveted trophy are known. It is modeled upon one of Thomas Edison’s inventions, but the first device that transcribed sound was the "phonautograph" invented in 1857 by the Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. His machine could not reproduce the sound, only trace it on paper. But in 2008, a team of engineers was able to transform lines drawn in 1860 into sound to reveal the earliest known recording of the human voice, the classic children’s song, "Au clair de la lune." With all these cultural and historical connections, it is not surprising that Louisiana musicians dominate in several categories especially that of the Regional Roots which this year has some surprising records to say the least. Despite our rich musical tradition, it was not always clear that it would be recognized in its own right.

In 1996, the group Beausoleil with Michael Doucet won the Grammy in the category Traditional Folk, a sort of catch-all where one found famous artists like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger. To make the competition fairer, Terrance and Cynthia Simien led a tenacious battle that resulted in the creation of the category Zydeco and Cajun Music. It lasted only four years, but it was enough for Beausoleil to win a second time, as well as Simien, Chubby Carrier and the late Buckwheat Zydeco. Since the establishment in 2012 of the category Regional Roots, Cajun, Zydeco and other genres typical to Louisiana, but also others like the music of Hawaiians and Native Americans, come together. We dominate with the five winners to date being from Louisiana by birth or adoption: Rebirth Brass Band, Courtbouillon, Terrance Simien, Jo-El Sonnier and Jon Cleary. A beautiful palette of bright colors that show a wide range of talent.

Three of the five nominees this year are from Louisiana, but on closer inspection, there is a condensation of several musical influences and something "unexpectable" according to the selection committee. Curiously, there is no artist that can be strictly classified as Cajun or Zydeco. "I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country" a compilation of several artists, "Gulfstream" by Roddy Romero and Hub City All-Stars, and probably the most atypical of all, "Broken Promised Land" by Barry Jean Ancelet and Sam Broussard are going against Native American and Hawaiian nominees. “Sing Right” is based on traditional songs first recorded by Alan Lomax and re-envisioned by modern musicians under the aegis of Joshua Caffery and Joel Savoy. “Gulfstream” is more in the genre Americana with a good dose of Louisiana Saturday night. The latter is sui generis, hence the qualification of "unexpected". A bit of blues, a pinch of poetry, a lot of traditional ballads, it’s not quite like anything heard before. Although we should not be surprised. If the diversity of Louisiana culture has taught us anything, it is that we must expect the "unexpectable."

 

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