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Smithsonian Institution
Louisiana, Where Music is KingAmericans Old and NewMidwestern CrossroadsSouthern FusionLouisiana, Where Music is King
Irvan Perez

Out on Delacroix Island, in the swampy ground where the Mississippi breaks up and flows out into the Gulf of Mexico, a group of immigrants from the Canary Islands have preserved a pocket of Spanish culture for almost two centuries. The Isleņos still sing a cappella ballads that hark back to the Middle Ages, as well as newer songs about local pursuits like shrimping and muskrat trapping.
       Irvan Perez, a retired trapper, fisherman, and carver of wooden duck decoys, is the finest singer in the Isleņo community. Now in his seventies, he sings in a high, clear voice, carrying the listener back to a slower, quieter time and place when people entertained themselves during long hours in the swamps. Taking his small boat out through the waterways, he navigates the twisting maze of channels and pools as easily as a city dweller would make his way down a familiar street, all the time telling tales of the old days, before the oil boom brought English-speakers out to the islands. Then, beached in the reeds of a sheltered cove, he sings the songs ancestors and neighbors have handed down for generations.

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       Find out more about Irvan's Isleno culture

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