Sara Le Menestrel
Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications (University Press of Mississippi, 2015)
Those of us who work in the music business use the terms Cajun and Zydeco frequently when referring to music from southern Louisiana. We normally identify Cajun as the music of the white descendants of Acadians and Zydeco as the music developed by the black musicians. A new book by cultural anthropologist Sara Le Menestrel titled Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications reveals fascinating details about the origin of Cajun and Zydeco music.
Le Menestrel brings to light a third genre called Creole music. Creole is used for any purposes referring to food, people, culture and the term Creole music is used in the context of southern Louisiana music to define the pre-Zydeco music created by French-speaking blacks.
Sara Le Menestrel’s book is not an extensive study of Louisiana musicians. Instead, she focuses on how the different racial and ethnic groups interact with other, creating cross-pollination across musical genres. Le Menestrel discusses the interactions between black and white artists, urban and rural, and other distinctions.
The hybridization in southern Louisiana’s music has materialized in past decades and continues today. We’ve seen recently how some modern southern Louisiana bands have incorporated rock, blues, western swing, country, bluegrass and Celtic music into traditional Cajun music.
The author spent time talking to musicians although this was not an easy task. Many of the artists who make a living from music are often busy, touring extensively. Sara Le Menestrel also gained additional knowledge by observing concertgoers and dancers.
Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music takes the reader from the early 20th Century to present times, providing abundant documentation about the evolution of music, the musicians involved, and the venues they performed. The author also provides helpful chronological charts and vintage photos of the artists and posters.
Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music is a 400 page-book with color and black and white illustrations, graphs and bibliography.
Sara Le Menestrel is currently based in Paris, France. She is a cultural anthropologist and a research fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. Her research concentration includes the anthropology of music and the anthropology of disaster through post-Katrina and post-Rita Louisiana. She is the co-editor of Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.
Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music is a must read for anyone interested in the development of southern Louisiana and an excellent resource for music journalists and scholars.