Weirdness abounds in this year’s Zydeco/Cajun category for the annual Grammy Awards. Josh Caffery was in Breaux Bridge recently when he ran into a local musician who had just been nominated for a Grammy Award. A musician himself, Caffery congratulated his friend (whom he refuses to identify), but he didn’t know what Caffery was talking about. The friend said he’d received a text message informing him he had been nominated for a Grammy but thought it was a joke.
But the Grammys are no joke. They’re strictly business. Those who have them kiss them and caress them — and are sure to make mention of them whenever possible. It looks great in a press release and announces to everyone that you’ve not only been recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (or “The Recording Academy” as they’re calling it now), but that you’re bona fide, singled out by your musical peers for your excellence. This year’s Grammy Awards are Sunday, Feb. 8, in Los Angeles and will broadcast live on CBS.
Last year was the first year for the Grammys to carve out a niche specifically for Cajun and zydeco music. But there was a bit of grumbling that went along with the excitement. In fairness, every year with the Grammys, regardless of the category or the nominees, there’s moaning and groaning — like when Jethro Tull won for best Metal band (over Metallica) and Bruce Hornsby (“That’s Just The Way It Is”) won for his accomplishments in bluegrass. The Cajun and zydeco category has likewise had its own peculiarities.
Last year, instead of the standard five nominees, there were seven, with a three-way tie for one of the slots. (No one seems to know which nominees were tied in that last slot or how three acts got precisely enough votes each to put them all neck and neck as contenders.) The nominees included Terrance Simien, Geno Delafose, the Pine Leaf Boys, the Racines, Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, and Lisa Haley.
Haley, a Los Angeles-based fiddler whose album King Cake was up for the honor, was the only nominee in the category not from Louisiana. She campaigned aggressively by way of e-mail and postcards, asking voting NARAS members to place a check mark next to her album on their ballot. There was a real concern among some Louisiana musicians that Haley might walk away with the first C/Z Grammy.
But in the end, the award went to zydeco musician and Mallet Playboy Terrance Simien, whose wife, Cynthia, waged a six-year battle to get The Recording Academy to recognize that Cajun and zydeco musicians warranted their own category.
This year, there’s the standard five nominees, all from Louisiana, except for Cedric Watson, a Texas native who has made Lafayette his home. Watson’s nominated for his self-titled release, along with BeauSoleil & Michael Doucet (Live At The 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival), Michael Doucet (From Now On), the Pine Leaf Boys (Homage Au Passé), and Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys (Live At The 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival).
But here’s the rundown of this year’s mix of weirdness:
• Michael Doucet is up against himself, one for his solo album and another for his work with his band of 35 years, BeauSoleil.
• Two of the albums — BeauSoleil’s and The Mamou Playboys’ — are live recordings from the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival released by MunckMix. Sources close to both bands indicate that when the nominees were announced, neither band had even heard the recordings that garnered them the nomination.
• Most of the albums are of Cajun music. The album by Watson, a former member of the Pine Leaf Boys, is the only one that could remotely be considered zydeco, and even that’s arguable. Most of what Watson does lies somewhere in between the worlds of Cajun and old-time Creole music, with his own new spin on it.
• The Pine Leaf Boys’ Homage au Passe was nominated last year before the CD was even made — the physical CD, that is. The tracks themselves were released on iTunes last year for digital downloads, which put them in the running for a 2008 Grammy, even though the physical CD’s official release date was yesterday, less than a week from the Grammy Awards on Sunday.
Then there’s the issue of Feufollet, an issue raised by the Pine Leaf Boys’ Wilson Savoy. On the band’s Web site in early December, Savoy posted a message of thanks for the nomination followed by the question: “But what about Feufollet?” Savoy was dismayed that Feufollet’s impressive Cow Island Hop wasn’t one of the five nominees. “Feufollet’s latest CD is the most awesome album to be released in Louisiana in our genre. When you listen, you hear a bunch of young guys and a girl who have been influenced by all kinds of music and are not afraid to mix it with their Cajun roots and kick ass.”
Feufollet member Caffery says the band was just trying to make a good record and wasn’t aiming for a Grammy Award. “The Grammys aren’t about aesthetic valuations,” he says. “In an ideal world, we would like them to be. But it has little to do with the artistic quality of a recording project and more to do with the extent to which it reflects the music industry’s involvement.”
While he admits that, sure, a Grammy Award, or even a nod, would have been nice, he says neither he nor his bandmates are bitter or upset by the oversight. “That’s great if people can make a living playing music,” he says, “but that’s not really the important thing about the music here. It’s a form of communication between people. It’s not really something that’s solely motivated by economics.