Beyond Cajun country
Beyond Cajun country

Last summer NPR mused about a new wave of musical popularity, pinning its hopes on string bands—the likes of Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers and Joy Kills Sorrow—and just maybe their South Louisiana brethren, who for generations have been keepers of a Zydeco spin on a similar American roots sound.

While the national media was looking ahead for the next big thing, Lafayette’s GIVERS were busy living it, touring the world and lighting up both a fickle blogosphere and the tastemakers of late-night television. The success of GIVERS, who began life on independent Louisiana-based label Valcour Records and whose sound is built upon Creole-rooted African rhythms, proves the joyful spirit and energetic instrumental acumen of Louisiana’s indigenous music can transcend its Acadian environs. It can be packaged and promoted and amplified to tap deep into the mainstream of pop culture, and it can get Yankees and Europeans dancing like never before.

Valcour launched in 2006, a small label with a mighty voice. Last year saw Valcour’s artists, founders and music featured on HBO hit Treme and the Travel Channel’s No Reservations, when Valcour hosted Anthony Bourdain. The ultimate foodie dug into wood duck and gravy with Red Stick Ramblers’ Linzay Young and dispatched the pig at a traditional Cajun boucherie. “If you made this on Top Chef, you would win,” Bourdain said after tasting Valcour co-founder Lucius Fontenot’s hog head cheese.

With multiple Grammy nominations for artists like Pine Leaf Boys and Cedric Watson, Valcour has been taking its message to the Los Angeles-based awards ceremony for years and making an impact with Dirk Powell’s high-profile session work with Sting and Jack White. The group is poised to make a different kind of statement in 2012.

For the first time, the label founders, which also include Joel Savoy and Phillip LaFargue II, may sign non-Louisiana artists. The trio plans to use the countrywide virtual community of roots musicians it has helped foster for six years as a resource for geographically and sonically expanding its roster.

“I think that Valcour is ready to branch out and start working with artists from outside of Louisiana,” says Savoy, a solo artist and producer for the label. “There’s so much good music out there, and we want people to know that it’s okay to be interested in their heritage. It’s okay to like fiddles and banjos.”

Beyond a go-to honey pot for his show’s soundtracks and narrative threads, Treme creator David Simon calls Valcour an essential source for Acadian music culture both old and new, from Dennis McGee to Cedric Watson.

“Valcour makes an argument time and again for a musical dynamic that is as vibrant and innovative today as ever,” Simon says. “The depth of talent on their roster of artists is astonishing.”

As communications director for the Center for Planning Excellence, LaFargue is the Baton Rouge outpost for the Lafayette label, and he wants to push Valcour into more partnerships with other local cultural exporters. “There’s never been a lack of talent in Louisiana,” he says. “But there has been a lack of exposure.”

It is exposure that Valcour is fighting for and gaining with every subsequent release. When 225 reached Savoy, he was in the studio, tracking new sounds that recall the traditional Cajun music he grew up on as a child and the songs that are sure to echo before him in the decades ahead as he carries the banner for unique, honest and creative musical expression.

“I’m so sick of American pop culture trying to wipe out individual music styles, and Valcour is going to do its best to try to take back the reins and help get American music back on track,” Savoy says, revealing that a healthy dose of punkish, us-against-them attitude can be found in the roux of Creole music. “This culture where education and creativity are laughed at needs to go, and the first step, to me, is to try to get people to have self-esteem again. Be proud of who you are and where you come from, and if something sucks, then don’t take it.”

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