Festival season is upon us and there are plenty of opportunities to boogie down to Louisiana music - both old and new. Some new artists bringing a different sound to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this year are Luke Winslow-King, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and Alexis and the Samurai.
Alex Rawls, a New Orleans-based writer and editor who runs the music and culture website MySpiltMilk.com, was the guest editor of The Oxford American magazine’s 2012 Southern Music Issue, which was entirely dedicated to all things Louisiana music. He also helped put together its accompanying album.
And Rawls tells WRKF’s Ashley Westerman that even though this new music comes from a younger generation and may sound a little different - it is still authentically Louisiana.
RAWLS: I think about authenticity as part of a dynamic and that I don’t believe that we can put our finger on one thing and say “this is authentic”. The things that we now consider authentic people a hundred years ago wouldn’t recognize as authentic. So authenticity is always moving. Authenticity I think is sort of a construction that we tell ourselves and how we define ourselves and how we define our culture versus the things we think are inauthentic and so we’re constantly reinventing authenticity, I believe.
WESTERMAN: So what is it about Louisiana music that makes it so timeless and authentic, even in the year 2013?
RAWLS: I think what’s really important is that the music here, a lot of it, is made for social reasons not for commercial reasons. Certainly, so much Cajun music was made not to sale something and in a lot of cases not even to make money but more to simply entertain people on a Saturday night. And certainly so much New Orleans music is fundamentally social. It was culture-based first, commercial second.
The Album: The Music of Louisiana
WESTERMAN: Tell me about putting together the album that goes with the Oxford American issue. What were you going for?
RAWLS: One of the things that was important to me was that is had a strong sense of place. Some of the CDs that the Oxford American has done, I thought that while there was a lot of music I was really excited to hear and a lot of music I was being turned on to, it was music that sounds like it could have come from any number of states. And I thought that there’s so much distinctive music in Louisiana that I thought it was important that most of it sound like it could only come from Louisiana.
WESTERMAN: One of the songs I really liked on the album was “Shake For Ya Hood” by Ricky B. Tell me the story behind this song and how it made the album.
RAWLS: I’m really glad you picked that song. I’ve actually had a few people tell me that that was their favorite track on it and working with Ricky B has been a real pleasure. That was one of those that, again, that I wanted on Day One. I thought it was really important that we represent Bounce and that we represent the first generation of Bounce. It’s become so much better known since Katrina and since the success of Big Freedia and of course Katey Red and Sissy Nobby. And so to a great degree we known Bounce for its hyperactive, high-impact quality and I wanted to go back to something that was old school where it was very much about shout-outs to your neighborhoods.
WESTERMAN: There’s another song on the album by 25-year-old Chris Stafford and I know you just mentioned that song. You’re going to have to help me a bit with the title though.
RAWLS: I’m going “Parlez-Nouse A’ Boire”.
WESTERMAN: That song really got me thinking about the younger generation here in Louisiana and you said you’re seeing a lot of them taking up the music of the past and sort of making it their own.
RAWLS: Right. In this case, this was a song that was made popular by The Balfa Brothers and so this is deeply traditional, but I’ve never heard a farfisa organ played on a piece of Louisiana Cajun music and I thought that addition - and also the sax break, which I think is Dickie Landry if memory serves. Having a sax break like that is, I thought, just genius. That to make Cajun music into garage music was completely compelling.
WESTERMAN: And so are you seeing these younger people taking the music and bringing it into 2013, do you think that they’re doing that effectively?
RAWLS: Very much so. I think that’s actually one of the most exciting things about Louisiana music right now is hearing people find ways to make traditional music contemporary. I mean, if our music only exists as marks of the past, if it only exists as something that ultimately belongs as sort of a museum piece, then to a great degree we’re failing.