25 Songs: Feufollet

Over the past several years, there’s been an explosion of energetic, young Cajun bands coming out of the Lafayette, Louisiana area. Feufollet is a perfect example: 20-somethings raised on Cajun jam sessions, now reviving and revamping the old styles for a new generation of listeners. Like fellow local bands the Pine Leaf Boys, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Lafayette Rhythm Devils and others, they demonstrate a deep respect and awareness of their roots, but with a drive to keep moving the music and culture forward.

2009 Grammy Nominees Announced

It’s that time of year again. The nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards were announced yesterday and, as usual, accordions dominated at least two categories. First up, the nominees for Best Polka Album:

It’s many of the same nominees we’ve seen in previous years including LynnMarie, Walter Ostanek and, of course, 17-time winner Jimmy Sturr. But I’m excited to see conjunto legend Paulino Bernal in the mix this year; he’s certainly long overdue for this recognition.

This is the second year for the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album award; here are the nominees:

Meanwhile, our daughter’s favorite album — Here Come the 123s by They Might Be Giants — was nominated for Best Musical Album For Children. It’s certainly been played enough at our house to earn some sort of award.

We’ll post clips and reviews of many of these albums between now and the awards ceremony, which takes place February 8th in Los Angeles.

Election ’08: Palin Polka & Obama Zydeco

Back in February, we noted how both the Clinton and Obama campaigns courted Hispanic voters in Texas through cumbia and mariachi tunes. In the wake of last week’s presidential election, we found a couple of grassroots, accordion-fueled videos paying homage to presidential and vice presidential candidates alike.

First up is the “I’m in Love with Sarah Palin Polka”, from a band called “Joe and the Plumbers.” Led by Joe Rodgers — who some may recognize from posts on alt.music.polkas — the band uses classic Cleveland-style polka instrumentation including the accordion, banjo, and plunger:

On a more serious note, a group of Zydeco musicans came together in Opelousas, Louisiana, to record “Oui, On Peut” (“Yes, We Can”) — a tribute to Barack Obama (and his campaign slogan). The all-star band includes Jeffrey Broussard (of the Creole Cowboys) on accordion:

Five Questions: Bradley Jaye Williams

Bradley Jaye WilliamsHang on tight — it’s another edition of “Five Questions”, our interview series with noteworthy accordion personalities from around the globe.

Few accordionists can cross genres as comfortably as Bradley Jaye Williams. Born in Michigan, Williams moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to Austin, where his music career really took off, playing with the likes of Flaco Jimenez and Mingo Saldivar. He currently plays in three bands: an authentic Texas-style conjunto called Conjunto Los Pinkys, a Cajun/Zydeco dance band known as The Gulf Coast Playboys, and The Fabulous Polkasonics, a combo that plays Polish-American “honky style” polkas, waltzes, and obereks.

When and why did you first start playing the accordion?

In 1986, I started playing the 2-row button accordion while living in a tiny studio apartment in Berkeley, California. My neighbors listened to me struggle with “La Cucaracha” and “La Nopalera” for a few months! Why did I start playing? I love accordion music! It was the natural thing to do. It felt right. To me, the accordion was always cool and it’s at the heart of many styles of dance music I love. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan around all kinds of music… Motown, country, Dixieland, jazz, rock n’ roll and polka music… mainly the Polish-American and German music of Marv Herzog and Lawrence Welk (of course).

Living in the Bay Area in my 20’s, I experienced the music of Flaco Jimenez and it really struck a chord with me. Here was good old polka music being chopped and customized in a new and different way. I loved it. Ultimately, I think I was drawn to the international and cross-cultural appeal of accordion music and polka… the songs, customs, dance, food and pure FUN we all share. Of course, there is also something very compelling about the accordion itself: a magnificent machine…beautifully designed…and a challenge to play.

Be a Big Squeeze!

Texas Folklife has extended the deadline for its second annual Big Squeeze contest until next Friday, April 19. The contest is open to accordion players under 25 who will compete for a $500 prize and a day of recording time at the historic SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston. Four semi-finalists will be chosen to perform live on May 11 at Austin’s new Mexican American Cultural Center. Two finalists will then perform at the 19th annual Accordion Kings & Queens concert featuring Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws and La Tropa F.

Here’s a clip of last year’s winner, Juan Longoria, Jr.:

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Les Blank and the Accordion

Les BlankDocumentary filmmaker Les Blank offers glimpses into the lives and music of passionate people on the periphery of American society. Over the past forty years, he’s covered a wide variety of ethnic cultures, from rural Louisiana French musicians to Mexican-Americans in border towns to polka nuts in the Midwest. And these aren’t stilted, Travel Channel-esque accounts; his films are warm and intimate, deftly capturing the context (food, faces, scenery) from which the music originates.

Given the subject matter, it’s no surprise his films are a treasure trove for accordion lovers. Several of his films focus on Cajun and Creole musicians in Louisiana, following legends like Bois Sec Ardoin (Dry Wood), Clifton Chenier (Hot Pepper), and the Savoys (Marc & Ann). His 1989 documentary, J’ai Été Au Bal / I Went to the Dance is considered the definitive film on the history of dance music in French Southwest Louisiana.

Chulas Fronteras was one of the first films to document traditional conjunto music, including rare footage of artists like Lydia Mendoza and Santiago Jimenez Sr. (The film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” enough to be included in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.) The clip below comes from his 1984 polka documentary, In Heaven There Is No Beer (1984); it features a colorful performance of “Who Stole the Kiszka?” by Walt Solek and his band.

You can easily lose an afternoon watching clips of Blank’s films on YouTube or at UC Berkeley’s Media Resource Center and — my apologies to your boss — I highly recommend it. Or you can order the full-length films directly from Les Blank’s website.

Sturr, Simien, Tigres Win Grammys

Okay, I promise this will be the last Grammy post (at least until next year). No big surprises, but here’s a quick rundown of the accordion-related winners from tonight’s ceremony:

  • Best Polka Album: Come Share the Wine by Jimmy Sturr
    Surprise, surprise. This gives Sturr 17 wins in the 23 years that the polka category has existed. Maybe the Grammys need a system like some county fairs I know, where if you win for several years in a row, you’re taken off the ballot and given permanent “hall of fame” status.
  • Best Zydeco or Cajun Album: Live! Worldwide by Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience
    It’s fitting that the person who campaigned for this category’s creation would win its first-ever award. There were a lot of deserving albums nominated, though, and I’m sorry I didn’t finish my Cajun/Zydeco Grammy preview in time. (I’ll explain why very soon!)
  • Best Norteño Album: Detalles Y Emociones by Los Tigres del Norte
    Already recipients of a lifetime achievement award at the Latin Grammys, the Norteño legends collect this particular award for the second year in a row.

Check the full list of winners and let me know if there’s anyone (carrying an accordion) I missed.

Quick Links: Young Accordionists Edition

This edition of “Quick Links” is focused entirely on the future — some young accordionists making their mark on the music world.

  • Kalei Dodson
    Kalei is a 9-year-old up-and-coming conjunto accordionist who has already played with the likes of Joel Guzman, Los Padrinos, Los Texmaniacs, and more. Check out a video of Kalei jamming at home.
  • Phillip Nadvesnik
    Phillip is a young accordionist and polka enthusiast from Melbourne, Australia, who even runs his own online polka radio show. Again, check YouTube for videos of Philip in action.
  • Hunter Hayes
    Hunter is a 16-year-old Cajun singer/songwriter/accordionist. Hunter is probably best known for this performance with Hank Williams Jr. back when he was just five years old.

Quick Links: Clifton, Creosote, Accordion Man

  • Honoring Zydeco’s King
    Remembering the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, on the 20th anniversary of his death. “Sometimes, if I’m stuck on one of his songs and I can’t figure it out, I’ll go out there [to Chenier’s tomb] and just kind of play it,” said Corey Ledet. “In about 30 minutes, I’ll be playing it.”
  • Grand Royal: King Creosote Charms Up a Storm
    San Francisco Bay Guardian’s music blog profiles Scottish singer/songwriter King Creosote, known for “graceful accordion-and-piano-driven tearjerkers and quirky ’60s-inspired pop.” Check out the video clip, “My Favourite Girl.”
  • Mr. Accordion Man
    At age five, Walter Lawrence received an accordion for Christmas. More than fifty years later, he’s still playing — now serenading customers four nights a week at a local restaurant. “By day, he shuffles paper at an office job. ‘But this is what I am,’ he says. ‘This is my love.'”

Polka and Cajun/Zydeco Grammy Nominees Announced

The nominations for the 50th annual Grammy Awards were announced this morning and there are plenty of accordions in the mix. (Really!) First, the nominees for Best Polka Album:

It’s no surprise to see 16-time winner Jimmy Sturr nominated again, but he’ll face stiff competition from one of the few non-Sturr artists to take home the polka Grammy, Brave Combo.

Meanwhile, this year marks the first time the Best Cajun/Zydeco Album Grammy will be awarded. Here are the nominees:

Seven great albums and it’s especially fitting that Terrance Simien — who worked so hard to make the Cajun/Zydeco Grammy reality — is one of the inaugural nominees.

In other categories, Tejano accordionist Sunny Sauceda is up for Best Tejano Album, while the legendary Los Tigres Del Norte are nominated for Best Norteño Album again after winning last year. They’ll square off against Intocable, Conjunto Primavera, Pesado, and Los Rieleros del Norte.

Just like last year, we’ll have reviews and clips from each of the nominated albums in the weeks leading up the awards ceremony, which will be held on February 10 in Los Angeles.

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