BeauSoleil is rightly called “the best Cajun band in the world.” The band reflects the vision of Michael Doucet, who has spent much of his life delving into the origins of Cajun music. Michael once said, “If I was going to play Cajun music, I wanted to play it right. And if I was going to change Cajun music, I had to be sure of the direction.” For nearly half a century, BeauSoleil has built a foundation deeply rooted in tradition while pushing the limits of the genre.
Tuareg guitar has exploded across the international cultural landscape in the less than two decades since the pyrotechnics of these machine gun-toting guitar slingers first captured the imagination of music fans worldwide. Proclaimed variously as “the Sultan of Shred” (New York Times), the “World’s Best Guitarist” (Noisey), and “utterly, utterly fantastic” (BBC World Service), the Niger-born guitarist Bombino is arguably the leading exponent of this rhythmic, trance-like, and sonically captivating sound.
honky-tonk and country
From the heart of Texas comes Dale Watson, a true son of the American musical outlaw tradition and the reigning “king” of uncompromising, deep country—a real honky-tonk hero who lives the life and writes songs about it. Dale proves night after night in big clubs and smoky honky-tonks that he is a true keeper of the country music flame. With his uncompromising approach, this troubadour creates new music in a defiantly American honky-tonk and country roots style, and his soulful songs, delivered with his signature baritone vocals, have a timeless quality that appeals to purists and neophytes alike.
Described by BBC Music as “full of surging seaside rhythms and yearning, soulful melodies that hang in the memory,” the music of the Garifuna Collective is both undeniably danceable and profound. Their music reflects the history of the Garifuna people, a culturally threatened African Amerindian ethnic minority living primarily along the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. It speaks to universal human emotions through the unique valence of their resilient community and the story of their prolonged and forced migration from Africa to the shores of present-day Central America.
Republic of Tuva (Russian Federation)
One of the world’s oldest and most striking vocal traditions is xöömei (throat-singing), from the Republic of Tuva in Central Asia. Nothing in western vocal music resembles this ethereal and beautiful sound. Largely unknown beyond Tuva until the 1990s, Tuvan throat-singing expanded western conceptions of the capacities of the human voice, and quickly became a international sensation. The four-member ensemble Huun-Huur-Tu played a central role in bringing this tradition out of Asia and to stages worldwide.
Georgian polyphonic singing
Cultural life in the country of Georgia revolves around an epic meal known as a supra. Food and wine flow all night, and between every course a traditional song is sung: work songs, carols, hymns, love songs, and historical ballads. The Georgian male choir Iberi showcases the wide range of Georgian music with complex harmonies that are at once eerie, hypnotic, and beautiful. In the hands of this sublime ensemble, this once-threatened Georgian tradition not only seems secure; it seems bound to ascend toward a brighter future.
Irish step dance and music
Barrington, Rhode Island
With more than five decades of Irish step dance under his feet, Rhode Island-born Kevin Doyle will delight Richmond audiences with a dazzling display of nimble footwork. He will be joined by an all-star group of friends—and all dedicated educators, like Kevin—from the thriving Irish music scene clustered along the Eastern Seaboard: from New England, flutist and singer Shannon Heaton and button accordion and concertina player Chris “Junior” Stevens; from New York City, fiddler Rose Conway Flanagan; and from Baltimore, pianist Donna Long.
Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee
From the mid-’70s through early ’90s, bluegrass experienced a musical evolution. The high lonesome mountain vocals and deep country sound of first-generation bluegrass bands were augmented by a rock and roll energy and attitude. Bands like J.D. Crowe & the New South, Boone Creek, and, of course, the Lonesome River Band were key in creating this new sound. This year will mark the band’s 37th anniversary. Led by banjo master Sammy Shelor, the Lonesome River Band still plays with the fire and energy that has become their hallmark. It is an enduring legacy.
Tejano conjunto fiddle
San Antonio, Texas
When Texas Folklife and the Festival of Texas Fiddling honored Belen Escobedo with the 2017 Texas Master Fiddler Award, they praised her for “single handedly keeping alive” the tradition of conjunto fiddle, “a rare and beautiful style of Mexican-American fiddling which has almost disappeared despite once being very widespread in the borderlands.” Today, Belen Escobedo is the foremost practitioner of this fiddle-led art form that expresses the deep roots of Tejano (Texas-Mexican) culture.
Mississippi Delta bluesman James “Super Chikan” Johnson plays the guitars he makes himself, using whatever materials are at hand, from gas cans to ceiling fans. He paints each “chikantar” with images from the Delta. The resulting riot of style and color is, like his music, infused with Chikan’s special joie de vivre. “Making one of my guitars is like writing one of my songs. I let the words and feelings take me from the beginning to the end,” he explains. His lyrics, like his art, are noted for both their sly humor and deep insight into life in the Delta.