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May 22 , 2008

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music

Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications


In this book Sara Le Menestrel explores the role of music in constructing, asserting, erasing, and negotiating differences based on the notions of race, ethnicity, class, and region. She discusses established notions and brings to light social stereotypes and hierarchies at work in the evolving French Louisiana music field. She also draws attention to the interactions between oppositions such as black and white, urban and rural, differentiation and creolization, and local and global.

Le Menestrel emphasizes the importance of desegregating the understanding of French Louisiana music and situating it beyond ethnic or racial identifications, amplifying instead the importance of regional identity. Musical genealogy and categories currently in use rely on a racial construct that frames African and European lineage as an essential difference. Yet as the author samples music in the field and discovers ways music is actually practiced, she reveals how the insistence on origins continually interacts with an emphasis on cultural mixing and creative agency. This book finds French Louisiana musicians navigating between multiple identifications, musical styles, and legacies while market forces, outsiders' interest, and geographical mobility also contribute to shape musicians' career strategies and artistic choices.

The book also demonstrates the decisive role of non-natives' enthusiasm and mobility in the validation, evolution, and reconfiguration of French Louisiana music. Finally, the distinctiveness of South Louisiana from the rest of the country appears to be both nurtured and endured by locals, revealing how political domination and regionalism intertwine.

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