The Sporting Life: AfricanAmericana Edition

This weekend, the 17th annual Americana Music Festival & Conference is taking place through Sunday, September 25, 2016. The event brings together fans and music industry professionals alike, offering six days of celebration through seminars, panels and networking opportunities by day and raw, battery recharging showcases each night. The Americana Honors & Awards Show is the featured performance of the festivities, and at press time it was scheduled to take place at the historic Ryman Auditorium Wednesday, Sept. 21 .

William Bell

William Bell

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting goes to singer and songwriter William Bell. William released graceful sides on Stax Records in the 1960s and 70s, when the label ruled Southern soul. He penned songs that would be picked by such diverse artists as Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Linda Ronstadt and Warren Haynes. In 1969, Bell moved to Atlanta, where he became a respected record maker and musical mentor, while maintaining ties to Memphis. Bell’s music had been out of the limelight for some time before he appeared as a performer in the documentary Take Me To The River, in which he reprised his song “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” with Snoop Dogg. Then in 2016, he released the acclaimed album This Is Where I Live, produced by John Leventhal, on a revived Stax label.

Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint

Among the honorees scheduled for posthumous acknowledgement at Wednesday’s event is the legendary Allen Toussaint – a giant of Americana, and the American musical landscape. Known for promoting the next generation of stars, the Americana Music Association has always revered and paid tribute to the legacy and artistic history of its tightly knit community.

Allen Toussaint (born January 14, 1938) was an American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer, who was an influential figure in New Orleans R&B from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century, described as “one of popular music’s great backroom figures.”

Many musicians recorded Toussaint’s compositions, including “Java”, “Mother-in-Law”, “I Like It Like That”, “Fortune Teller”, “Ride Your Pony”, “Get Out of My Life, Woman”, “Working in the Coal Mine”, “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky”, “Here Come the Girls”, “Yes We Can Can”, “Play Something Sweet”, and “Southern Nights”.

He was a producer for hundreds of recordings, among the best known of which are “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John and “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.

Toussaint died in the early hours of November 10, 2015, in Madrid, Spain, while on tour. Following a concert, he had a heart attack at his hotel and was pronounced dead on his arrival at hospital. He was 77.

The Daily Telegraph described Toussaint as “a master of New Orleans soul and R&B, and one of America’s most successful songwriters and producers”, adding that “self-effacing Toussaint played a crucial role in countless classic songs popularised by other artists”. He had written so many songs, over more than five decades, that he admitted to forgetting quite a few.

Among the hundreds of acts and musicians who will be performing during the festival, I have noted a few persons of color, black and / or African American artists, and I choose to call them my AfricanAmericana artists.

Among acts who are or who feature AfricanAmericana musicians in them are Bobby Rush (not the congressman), the Cedric Burnside Project, Charlie Faye & the Fayettes (one of the Fayettes, anyway), Ruby Amanfu, William Bell, Muddy Magnolias (half of the duo), Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers (2 of the Noisemakers, anyway), and Yola Carter (from Bristol, UK),

Kaia Kater

Kaia Kater

Kaia Kater is a rising star in the Americana genre; her background is described by some as Afri-Canadian, in that she has Afro-Carribean roots, and was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I spent quite a bit of time listening to her delightful, insightful music on her website (http://www.kaiakater.com/music) in preparation for this column. One fascinating aspect is hearing her sing Americana music in French, the official language of her hometown, while writing this.

I was blown away by the lyrics to her song, Rising Down. Not the whole song, but excerpts are as follows: “Your cross, your cross Is a symbol of my lynching, your cross” and “But in my home, in my home There are kings and queens and blessings, in my home” and “Your gun, your gun Is a symbol of my lynching, your gun But I won’t run, I won’t run I will stand with my people, as one As one” … Wow! I hope to catch a performance by her while she’s in town.

Americana music can be defined as “An amalgam of roots musics formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the American musical ethos; specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other external influential styles.” – from Wiktionary

Americana, as defined by the Americana Music Association (AMA), is “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”

For more information on the Honors & Awards show, AmericanaFest, the Americana Music Conference and membership to the Americana Music Association, visit: www.americanamusic.org.