Crossing borders
Enclosure of the Commons: the borders that keep us out

Tunes for a Monday Morning

In keeping to the theme of "borders," I've been thinking about musical traditions that crossed from one land to another along with immigrants, slaves, and refugees: the folk music of the British Isles, for example, which transformed into bluegrass in the eastern mountains of America, and the African rhythms that turned into American blues and gospel, and then rock-and-roll.

Cajun music is a another good example. The Cajuns of Louisiana are descended from the French (and French Métis) Acadians who settled the Canadian Maritimes, and were then forcible deported by the British in Acadian accordionthe Great Expulsion of 1755–1764. Although they were deported to a wide variety of places (some families split up and sent to different destinations), many of them eventually made their way down to Louisiana, a colony then under French control, where they settled among the French Creoles already living in the area. Cajun music evolved from the French ballads and dance tunes carried south by the Acadians -- as opposed to the multi-ethnic Creole music known as Zydeco, which evolved from a blend of French, African American, Native American, Spanish, and other influences.

Above: Michael Doucet, from the great Cajun band BeauSoleil, performs "Eunice Two-step," a Cajun classic, for the BBC's TransAtlantic Sessions program in 2012, accompanied by Aly Bain, Jerry Douglas, Sharon Shannon, Russ Barenberg, and others. Doucet comes from Lafayette, Louisiana, and has been performing with BeauSoleil since 1977.

Below: "Let's Talk About Drinking, Not About Getting Married" by the Pine Leaf Boys, from southern Lousiana. They've released seven albums to date, the most recent being Danser (2013).

Above: "Les Oiseaux Vont Chante" by The Red Stick Ramblers, from Baton Rouge. The band formed in 1999, released eight wonderful albums of Cajun and Western Swing, and disbanded in 2006. Several members then went on to create The Revelers, along with members of The Pine Leaf Boys.

Below: "Blue Moon Special" performed by The Lost Bayou Ramblers, from Broussard, Arnaudville, and New Orleans, who play an energetic mix of Cajun, Zydeco, Western Swing and Rock-&-Roll -- primarily in French, though this particular song is sung in both French and English. They've released eight albums and EPs, the most recent being Gasa Gasa Live (2014).

I'm afraid my choice of music today (limited to songs for which good videos exist) might give the impression that Cajun musicians are exclusively white and male -- which is not at all the case, although you'll certainly Washboardfind a much stronger black presence on the Zydeco end of Lousiana's music scene. Notable women playing Cajun music include Ann Savoy, Lisa Haley, Cheryl Cormier, The Magnolia Sisters, and Rosie Ledet...plus, of course, the great Queen Ida over on the Zydeco side.

Let's end today with Cedric Watson and his band, Bijou Creole, who play a mix of Cajun and Zydeco. The video below was filmed at the Festival de Pontchartrain earlier this year, where they were joined by Désirée Champagne, on vocals and washboard. (The title of the song is unlisted.) Although Watson hails from San Felipe, Texas, he's been immersed in Creole music since he was 19, and is now based in Lafayette, Louisiana. His aim is to "resurrect the ancient sounds of the French and Spanish contra dance and bourré alongside the spiritual rhythms of the Congo tribes of West Africa, who were sold as slaves in the Carribean and Louisiana by the French and Spanish," playing everything from forgotten Creole melodies to modern Cajun and Zydeco songs.

Whenever non-Americans casually dismiss American culture based on media-promulgated stereotypes, I always want to ask: "But which America?" Hollywood and Fox News are no more representative of our enormous and diverse country than any of its thousands of other parts. Cajun and Creole culture are America too, and one reason (among many) why I still love it so much.

Alligator (artist unknown)

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