With “Médikamen,” Corey Ledet finds his voice in the language of his ancestors
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PARKS — For Corey Ledet, his latest album was an opportunity to feel closer with his ancestors. Originally from Houston, his family hails from Parks, a village in Saint Martin Parish where they have spoken Louisiana Creole for many generations.
“My grandparents passed before I was born,” Ledet said. “Everytime I learn a new word I feel closer to them.” A zydeco musician who has already been nominated for two Grammys, Ledet decided that it was finally time for an album that represented not just the culture of his Creole-speaking community, but the language as well.
“I look at other cultures, and they continue to speak their languages. That’s what makes each heritage special. We’re just missing that one little ingredient, that one little grain of salt.”
“Médikamen,” which was released on August 25, was as much an educational project as it was a musical one. Its name evokes the curative power of music—Ledet may have achieved cultural healing, as well. With this album, he sought his own remedy for the assimilation of the past, and he challenges everyone to do the same. Like any good doctor, he recommends not ignoring the pain as it’s necessary to confront it directly. But before he could sing in Louisiana Creole, also known as Kouri-Vini, Ledet had to learn the language.
Life got in the way of Ledet learning the language at home, but he always held on to his desire to learn. “I had an idea,” he said. “Let me incorporate the language into my music, to encourage myself to learn. Let me start writing in Kouri Vini to force myself to learn, to make me remember.”
In his mission to recover the language, Ledet said the support of linguistic activists Herbert Wiltz and Jonathan Mayers was invaluable. “It’s important for this album to be created in Kouri-Vini because it’s a testament to the continued life of our endangered language,” said Mayers, who is founding president of Chinbo, Inc., an organization dedicated to promoting Louisiana Creole. He added that language “imparts culture and grants perspective in our lives. I’m hoping the album will inspire more folks to want to learn the language as well as create in it.”
Ledet also enlisted the help of Louis Michot, the founder of Nouveau Electric Records and a Cajun and zydeco musician himself. According to Michot, another obstacle for musicians who wish to create music in a heritage language is the lack of labels willing to help on this journey. “I know how hard it is to release an album,” he said. “So, I created Nouveau Electric for artists like me who don’t have the ability to release albums by themselves.”
Michot founded his label five years ago. “Médikamen” is the twenty-fifth release on the label, and most of them so far have been in French or, now, in Louisiana Creole. “It’s extremely important for the future of Kouri-Vini because music carries the language to the next generation,” Michot added.
With “Médikamen,” Ledet becomes a language bearer for the new generation. At the same time, he is continuing a musical tradition that goes back several generations within his family. Members of his family have played with giants of the music world like Clifton Chenier, the “King of Zydeco”, B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, and Bunk Johnson.
The list of collaborations reflects the diverse roots of zydeco as seen in Ledet’s family tree. For example, there’s Kermit Ruffins, the famous New Orleans jazz musician. The mix of jazz and zydeco is natural to Ledet, given the history of the two genres and the importance of Creole-speaking areas in the development of jazz. During the Jazz Age, the jazz clubs of Saint Martin Parish rivaled those of New Orleans. It was a key moment in the creation of the zydeco we know today.
While the album has many callbacks to traditional zydeco, the tone of “Médikamen” is far from somber, and it’s much more than a homage to the past. The album is a celebration of the Creole-speaking culture which produced it, with no shortage of songs that invite the listener to dance. Whether he’s paying homage to Chenier or referencing the zydeco classic “Joli Blon,” Ledet makes clear his respect for the history of the genre all while contributing to its continued evolution.
“All that world, my cousins and so on, are gone—it’s like that world is gone,” he said. “So, I feel like it’s up to me to bring these stories with me and share them with everybody.”