Something About Americana Music

What Does the Word Americana Music Really Mean?

"What does the word 'Americana' really conjure up in terms of musical styles?

It's more than just American music and more a fusion of styles culled from British and European sources and then melded into a profusion of varying styles and sounds, such as bluegrass, Cajun, old-time, Tex-Mex, western-swing, folk, blues, country and jazz, roots rock. Bluegrass, deemed to be the traditional music of Kentucky, drew its roots from Scots rants, reels and strathspays, whilst Cajun was forged out of French folk songs; its name is a corruption of the word Arcadian.

Tex-Mex is, as its name implies a blending of styles from the Texas-Mexican border country and contains elements of Spanish mariachi music, whilst western-swing is about as close you can get to the big-band sounds of the 1930s and '40s but played with fiddles and steel guitars. Jazz was a product of the bars and honky-tonks and, like bluegrass, is an 'assembly' form of music, where each instrument has its own specific role to play within the band and many bluegrass musicians are also accomplished jazz soloists. It's interesting to note that some new and many 'traditional' American cowboy songs, such as 'Yellow Rose Of Texas', 'Streets Of Laredo' and 'Sam Hall, are all rooted in British folk songs.

The UK Americana Bar project, therefore, seeks to bring these American styles back home to the UK shores''.

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Bryan Chalker Musician, Broadcaster and Musicologist

The term ‘Americana’ has crept in over the past few years to identify ‘country’ music away from its rather unfortunate ‘Country ‘n’ Western’ cowboy image, which tended to bring the music into disrepute, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Various other tags were attached to the genre for similar reasons and these included ‘New Country’ and ‘Positive Country’, the latter having a clean-cut Christian image, or so it was claimed.

Today the term AMERICANA embraces a myriad of sounds and styles and these can include: Cajun (Louisiana French), Zydeco (a black offshoot of Cajun), Tex-Mex, Mariachi, Conjunto (these three are inter-connected with obvious Spanish roots), bluegrass, old-time (also referred to as ‘Appalachian’ and/or ‘Mountain music’ and identified by clawhammer-style banjo, as opposed to the three-finger method used by bluegrass bands), gospel (embracing ALL styles), the Nashville Sound, folk, blues, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, hillbilly, New Orleans or Dixieland Jazz (similar in musical construction to bluegrass but employing different instruments), western-swing (the dance music of Texas and Oklahoma and similar in construction to swing bands like those led by Glenn Miller and others), Hawaiian (where the sound of the modern-day steel guitar evolved), ceilidh (an Irish word generally meaning an impromptu musical get-together) and reggae, which drew its original inspiration from country music.

Country, or Americana music, is now a global phenomenon and Australia has its own robust scene, with such artists as Sarah Storer and Bobby Cash (of Indian origins) among the leading exponents. The Japanese are also keen on country music and bluegrass is particularly popular there. Norah Jones, daughter of sitarist Ravi Shankar, has publicly acknowledged her liking for country music and has recorded songs by Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. I know from personal experience (working for eight years in the Middle East) that the Indian people like and appreciate country music, particularly the ballads. I had my own weekly radio show in Oman – ‘The Country Road show’ – and attracted a healthy Indian listening audience.

It’s important to note that the very essence of American country music draws its roots from our own rich folk heritage, but other ingredients include French folk songs and German lieder.

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