The beat goes on: Louisiana musicians keep the faith
Today's Louisiana musical artists are making their own history by fusing tradition with bold new steps.
There’s no doubt Louisiana boasts an amazingly rich musical history. That said, today’s musical artists have refused to merely ride on the coat tails of Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Clifton Chenier and countless other titans of Louisiana music. They’re making their own history.
Many of Louisiana’s most popular contemporary acts work proudly off the foundation laid by their musical forefathers, with one leg rooted in tradition and the other taking bold new creative steps. The funk powerhouse band Galactic remains an unabashed acolyte of The Meters, yet they have incorporated bits of electronica and hip hop into their sound.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews grew up in the city’s storied brass band tradition (he led his own outfit at the tender age of 6), but has integrated modern jazz, R&B and rock elements to create a heady sonic mix that has made him one of the most prominent New Orleans musical ambassadors in the world. There’s long been a tradition of bluesy roots music in Louisiana, and it continues with talented New Orleans singer/guitarist Eric Lindell. His soulful vocals and vintage R&B sound have made Lindell a mainstay on the national festival circuit and on AAA radio stations.
Out in bayou country, Tab Benoit has redefined swamp blues for the 21st century, taking his lead from legends like Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester and Lightnin’ Slim, while adding his own country and soul leanings. The past few years have seen a remarkable revival of Cajun music, centered around the two-stepping hotspot of Lafayette. At the heart of the renaissance are the Red Stick Ramblers, an incredibly polished quintet that infuse Western swing and gypsy jazz into their traditional Cajun stylings. Grammy-nominated fiddler Cedric Watson is another young artist bringing classic southwestern Louisiana sounds to a younger generation, in particular the sounds of the black Creole tradition. Even with all this overwhelmingly powerful musical history to draw from, some of Louisiana’s most interesting new artists aren’t so clearly beholden to the past. Massive buzz surrounds the New Orleans indie rock duo called Generationals, who deftly mix psychedelia with an uncanny pop sensibility.
In the heart of Cajun Country, the band Givers has been garnering heaps of attention and critical praise for their joyous hybrid of Afropop and electronic music. The most well-known contemporary Louisiana musical artists have actually come from the world of hip hop, where New Orleans has developed the highly infectious subgenre known as bounce. Rappers like Juvenile and Lil Wayne have brought the club-targeted bounce style, with its skittering drum machine beats and heavily synthesized production, to the top of the pop charts and directly into mainstream America. From hip hop to rock to blues and funk, today’s Louisiana music is writing a new chapter in the state’s illustrious musical heritage.