Archive for the ‘cajun’ Category

Cajuns in China

June 9, 2015


from (issue #2) and

In April 2014, public radio program American Routes along with the U.S. State Department, the National Endowment for the Arts and lots more folks sponsored the first-ever tour of traditional Louisiana Cajun artists to China.

Joel Savoy, Jesse Lege & Cajun Country Revival (Nadine Landry & Sammy Lind of Foghorn Stringband) bundled up along with Nick Spitzer of American Routes and Cajun filmmaker Connie Castille to tour China and to showcase American Cajun culture to Chinese audiences. The group toured through Beijing, Guangzhou, Harbin, Shanghai and Nanjing.

“I searched everywhere,” Spitzer said. “The Pine Leaf Boys have played in Hong Kong, but as far as we can tell, no Cajuns have toured the mainland.”

Spitzer, professor of American studies and anthropology at Tulane University (where Routes is produced), conducted oral-history workshops and lecture on French Louisiana cultures during the trip as well.

The performance tours are “Part of a larger package that’s focusing on American community-based culture and creativity,” Spitzer said. “We’re going to China and showing them we’re not all Hollywood (film clips) and Broadway (recordings), and we’re not all common-denominator Clear Channel rock ‘n’ roll.

“We have all these community-based traditional arts that play into culture preservation, tourism, pluralism, diversity, democracy without a big ideological (statement). We’re not flying a flag in front of it. We’re just saying, ‘These are the people.’

“It has immense effect … because China has historically been focused on, ‘Who are the peasants? Who are the average citizens? What about the farmer?’ So we’re bringing them that. ‘What about the Cajun farmer? What about the truck driver?’ I find it very exciting.”

“I guess it’s sort of a new version of cowboy diplomacy,” Spitzer said. “It’s not George Bush-style shoot-’em-up. It’s real cowboys, real Cajuns, real gospel music, real jazz.

“I think it’s what we’ve got to offer the world, and it’s what the world wants from us. And I think it can help us recover some of it here at a time when the whole country seems so divided and alienated. I feel like sometimes we have to almost go abroad to remind ourselves of who we are in the world.”



Louisiana Cajun and Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings

March 30, 2015



Louisiana Cajun & Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings (Rounder Records)

The Newport Folk Foundation played a pivotal role in the resurgence of Cajun-Creole music when its future looked bleak. At the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, a performance by a Cajun trio that included Dewey Balfa turned out to be a turning point when an audience of 17,000 gave them a thunderous, standing ovation. Since local popular opinion had scoffed at the idea of Cajun musicians playing out-of-state beforehand, the response came as a welcome surprise.

Balfa would go on to become a cultural spokesperson, urging his fellow Cajuns to be proud of their music. Cajun-Creole bands were booked in successive years; Adam and Cyprien Landreneau in ’65, “Bois Sec” Ardoin and Canray Fontenot in ’66 and Les Frères Balfa in ’67.

Between 1964 and 1967, the Foundation’s folklorist emeritus Ralph Rinzler visited Louisiana and made these field recordings of the aforementioned plus Austin Pitre and the Evangeline Playboys, ballad singer/fiddler Edius Naquin, and a trio consisting of Isom Fontenot, Preston Manuel and Aubrey DeVille.

Now, in its third generation of reissue, both volumes of Rounder’s historical Louisiana Cajun French Music are combined into one epic, 27-track disc. Though that fact is omitted from the physical packaging, it is mentioned in the vastly expanded liner notes, an 84-page PDF document embedded in the disc. Incidentally, be prepared to spend some time digesting the document’s articles, interviews and lyric translations.

Many of the tunes heard here are sonic signatures of their respective performers, such as the Balfa Brothers’ “Parlez-nous à boire,” Canray Fontenot’s “Bonsoir, Moreau” and Austin Pitre’s “Les flames d’Enfer.” Armed with quality equipment, Rinzler certainly captured the best of his subjects. The performances are often gut- wrenchingly powerful and highly emotive, causing them to resonate within the soul some six decades later.

Acadian All Star Special

March 27, 2015


Acadian All Star Special, 3-CD boxed set (LP-size) with 80-page-hardcover Book, 78 tracks, playing time 209:50.
A roots music classic from Bear Family! The dawn of modern Cajun music! Records so rare that just a few copies exist of most of them! Very few of these recordings ever reissued on 45, LP, or CD until now! Songs include the original version of ‘Diggy Liggy Lo’ plus ‘Big Texas’…the song that Hank Williams adapted into ‘Jambalaya’.
This was a set years in the making. It took ages to figure out exactly how many classic Cajun recordings had been made by legendary record producer J.D. Miller in the 1940s and ’50s, and then it took even longer to find them and painstakingly restore the sound. Finally, Cajun music expert Lyle Ferbrache tried to track down as many of the survivors and relatives as possible for the extensive book. But it was well worth the wait! The result is a classic roots music collection done as only Bear Family can do it!
From 1946 to 1959, J.D. Miller released all forms of French language records, from the beautiful fiddle and guitar records of Oran ‘Doc’Guidry and Leroy ‘Happy Fats’ Leblanc to the raucous recordings of Robert Bertrand and the Lake Charles Playboys. Many very rare recordings are reissued here for the first time, and those include the first recordings of Jimmy Newman. Also included are such rarities as ‘War Widow Waltz’ by LauraBroussard, Terry Clement’s original version of ‘DiggyLiggy Lo’, and Papa Cairo’s ‘Big Texas’, the song that Hank Williams adapted into the one Cajun song everyone knows, ‘Jambalaya’. This is a marvelous part of American music that came close to being lost for all time!

Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country – Box Set

February 8, 2015



It’s Valcour’s 27th release and our most massive undertaking to date: a landmark, limited edition project to celebrate our tenth year in business along with the Alan Lomax Centennial!

Producers Joel Savoy and Josh Caffery have collaborated to create Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country, a one-of-a-kind collection of recordings featuring Louisiana artists performing fresh takes on a unique series of folk songs—both French and English—archived in Louisiana in the 1930s by the late Alan and John Lomax.

The collection features 24 tracks by an incredible group of artists, including Michael Doucet, Marc Broussard, Wayne Toups, Zachary Richard, Tiffany Lamson, Steve Riley, Ann Savoy, Dirk Powell, Roddie Romero, Cedric Watson, David Greely, Joel Savoy, Kelli Jones-Savoy, Wilson Savoy, Anna Laura Edmiston, Kristi Guillory, Joshua Caffery, Claire Caffery, Barry Ancelet, Carl Brazell, Megan Brown and Aurora Nealand.

While individual EPs will become available in stores each quarter, the limited edition full box set will be available exclusively on the Valcour website through the end 2015 as long as supplies last. Purchases of the box set include printed liner notes, a collector’s box for holding the CDs and liner notes and advance access to each release before retailers and radio stations. Digital liner notes will be available for free download on this page starting on March 31st.

If you order the box set, we will ship the box, liners and the first EP, Good Men, Bad Men, to you before March 31, and you will receive a new EP in the mail each quarter during 2015 until you have the full set of four discs. Subsequent EPs will include (in no particular order) Dancing and Seduction, Love and Death and Good Women, Bad Women.

Learn more about the book that inspired this project, Joshua Caffery’s Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordingshere.


June 18, 2014
Dennis McGee: Himself  (Valcour Records) 
Review For ARSC Journal (Journal of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections) by Chris King

Few people can be justifiably regarded as both an originator of a particular style of music and also as a conveyor of an older style of folk music in its own right.  Fewer still are those who were aurally documented in the 1920s & 1930s and in the 1970s & 1980s who showed little loss of skill or recollection of repertoire.   One such artist was the unique Cajun, Dennis McGee.

Not only did McGee record from 1929 to 1934 with such artists as Amédé Ardoin, Sady Courville, Wade Fruge, and Angelas Le Jeunne, but he also later recorded two “studio” albums in 1972 and 1977 with Sady Courville for Morning Star and Swallow, respectively.   Every recording mentioned above was done either with a second fiddler and with McGee providing the vocals, or in the role of the accompanying fiddler behind an accordion player and vocalist.

This new CD, Dennis McGee – Himself, presents McGee in the role of solo fiddler, playing mostly previously unheard instrumentals without the company of a second fiddler or an accordion player. It is a revelation on par with “junking” a stack of unknown & unissued test recordings by one of the most majestic and unique fiddlers ever to draw a bow.

Since McGee was one of the earliest Cajun artists to record commercially, most musicians, collectors, and scholars regard him, along with the black accordion player, Amédé Ardoin, as the source of most traditional Cajun tunes and the techniques developed to play them; the true vine, as it were.  What has been lacking, up until the release of this material recorded in 1975 by Gérard Dôle, were recordings of McGee performing unaccompanied and, perhaps more importantly, performing the more archaic and obscure types of Cajun fiddle tunes that were popular in the 19th century.

This is essential since mazurkas, polkas, gallopades, varsoviannas,  and cotillions held a strong place in the early Cajun fiddle and dance repertoire but became less popular with the introduction of the diatonic accordion.   One of the most revealing aspects of this collection, though not explicitly stated, is that traditional Cajun fiddle music is defined more by its repertoire than by its style. (more…)

Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana

June 12, 2014

Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings
by Joshua Clegg Caffery, foreword by Barry Jean Ancelet (Louisiana State University Press, 424 pages)


Alan Lomax’s prolific sixty-four-year career as a folklorist and musicologist began with a trip across the South and into the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country during the height of the Great Depression. In 1934, his father John, then curator of the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song, took an eighteen-year-old Alan and a 300-pound aluminum disk recorder into the rice fields of Jennings, along the waterways of New Iberia, and behind the gates of Angola State Penitentiary to collect vestiges of African American and Acadian musical tradition. These recordings now serve as the foundational document of indigenous Louisiana music.

Although widely recognized by scholars as a key artifact in the understanding of American vernacular music, most of the recordings by John and Alan Lomax during their expedition across the central-southern fringe of Louisiana were never transcribed or translated, much less studied in depth. This volume presents, for the first time, a comprehensive examination of the1934 corpus and unveils a multifaceted story of traditional song in one of the country’s most culturally dynamic regions.

Through his textual and comparative study of the songs contained in the Lomax collection, Joshua Clegg Caffery provides a musical history of Louisiana that extends beyond Cajun music and zydeco to the rural blues, Irish and English folk songs, play-party songs, slave spirituals, and traditional French folk songs that thrived at the time of these recordings.

Intimate in its presentation of Louisiana folklife and broad in its historical scope, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana honors the legacy of John and Alan Lomax by retrieving these musical relics from obscurity and ensuring their understanding and appreciation for generations to come.


• Complete transcriptions of the 1934 Lomax Field Recordings in southwestern Louisiana

• Side-by-side translations from French to English

• Photographs from the 1934 field trip and biographical details about the performers

La Musique de la Maison

May 26, 2013


La Musique De La Maison – Women And Home Music In South Louisiana (Origin Jazz Library CD)


“La Musique de la Maison” is a rich and historic collection of rare French ballads sung by Cajun and Creole women. Many people are now familiar with the French dance music of Southwest Louisiana, but in there exists a parallel, more private side of French Louisiana music: the a cappella songs (solo unaccompanied voice).

Because of where they were usually performed, these songs are sometimes referred to as “home music”: A mother and daughter sit on the front porch at dusk; friends take a mid-afternoon respite around the fireplace or kitchen table; extended family gathers at a wedding, and the songs flow as freely as the libations.

Traditionally, women have been expected to present what was considered an upstanding example of social behavior. Public musical performance, especially in the context of the bar or dance hall, was considered unseemly. So, with the public arena essentially off-limits, private or home music was left wide open for feminine exploration.

Old ballads or epic songs, drinking songs, game songs, and lullabies were sung at bals de maisons (home parties), veillées (evening visits) and family gatherings. Men and women sat out on the front porch or around the fireplace and traded songs for entertainment. The younger generation learned from their elders, either directly or by eavesdropping on the adults singing at the top of their lungs. Some of these songs also functioned at dances as reels à bouche, or dances rondes during Lent when voices were used as substitutes for forbidden instruments.

The home music songs of French Louisiana are a wondrous collection of tales with images more vivid than any modern film. They are timeless, beautiful songs filled with intrigue, sex, grisly murder, drinking, lessons in morality, and a heaping portion of humor. While some date back to medieval France and others contain more modern influences of the New World, all these songs touch upon themes that are universal and as relevant today as yesteryear.

The singers are young and old and as varied as their songs. The recordings in La musique de la maison were made from the late 1940s to the 1970s by many renowned folklorists, including Harry Oster and Ralph Rinzler, who visited these singers at their homes, schools and parties.

The advent of radio and television in the 1950s opened other entertainment options for the families of this rural area, so unfortunately the home music tradition began to pass away with its practitioners. In recent years, though, there has been renewed interest in these wonderful old songs from young Louisiana singers and bands. This makes “La musique” all the more important in providing support to continue this magnificent tradition.

Includes liner notes by Lisa Richardson, Marce Lacouture, and Carolyn Dural

Fat Tuesday

February 12, 2013

Will and Dewey Balfa

edited from

Happy Mardi Gras! The days of Carnival are upon us in the Western World. The ancient gods, Dionysus and Bacchus, arise again to transfigure us into someone other than who we are every other day, yet whom we have always been in our marrow.
The origin of the word carnival is debated. My American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language states that the Italian word we get it from, carnevale, derives from the Old Italian, carnelevare. Break that word in two, and we have carne and levare, which Google translates from the Italian respectively as flesh and remove

My dictionary also links levare to the infinitive to raise—seemingly apparent to me, what with lever, elevate, levitate, leavenlevity; moreover, the dictionary’s  Indo-European lexicon ties lever squarely to the root-word legwh: “Light, having little weight.” Notably, the Indo-European reference does not define legwh as
remove. When I plug in levare as a Latin word, Google Translate renders it as lift. Thus it seems to me that carnival has  to do with “elevating flesh,” since Latin predates Italian.

   A hundred countries and a thousand cities each have their own version of carnival. It is traditionally celebrated on the day before the Lenten Fast begins, forty days before Easter (minus Sundays with Catholics), in emulation of Jesus’ forty-day fast—also perhaps of Elijah’s and Moses’ forty days upon a mountain and Noah’s forty days and forty nights of rain, what with forty being a Biblical holy-number.

The American version of the festival, Mardi Gras, which translates from the French as “Fat Tuesday,” occurs today, the day before Ash Wednesday.

The Balfa Brothers play “The Mardi Gras Song”:

Dennis McGee’s “Jump Jim Crow”

October 5, 2012

D’Jalma Garnier and Mitch Reed play a medley, the 2nd tune of which Dennis McGee called “Jump Jim Crow.”  Now that’s southern fiddling!

Early American Cajun Music

August 7, 2012

Blind Uncle Gaspard, Delma Lachney, John Bertrand: American Cajun Music – Classic Recordings from the 1920s (Yazoo 2042)

by Ray Templeton (

The blind singer/guitarist Alcide Gaspard was born in 1880, so would have been in his 40s when he made his only recordings.  Sur le Borde de l’eau sounds to my ears like a traditional song that could originate back in France – with its modal tune, and tragic and possibly allegorical narrative about the loss of a ring and the death of a handsome young sailor.  Gaspard’s guitar accompaniment is no more than a rudimentary strum, although he creates quite an interesting and pleasing effect by ending each section on a major chord.

Oh Natchitoches is presumably not so old, although it’s possible that the location name was changed at some point in its history.  Again, his approach is very plain – a straightforward delivery of the story with an unfussy (even simplistic) accompaniment, the only embellishment being a whistled chorus at the end.  Assi dans la Fenetre is another waltz, probably more modern, but still sounding traditional in its overall conception and delivery.  Mercredi Soir Passe is a real mixture – the tune has a bluesy feel to it, but notably French Cajun characteristics as well, while the notes tell us that the lyric features the age-old motif : “Who will put on your little shoes, who will glove your hand, etc, etc”.

The connection between Gaspard and the fiddle player/singer Delma Lachney is a clear one – the former played guitar on the latter’s records (although interestingly, Lachney played no fiddle on Gaspard’s, recorded at the same session).  Research outlined in the booklet reveals family connections as well; Lachney was 16 years Gaspard’s junior.  La Danseuse is a very pleasing instrumental dance tune – it may have old origins, although it also seems to me to have some of the feel of old-time country music, especially the beautiful double stopping harmonies in the B part. (more…)

Happy One Step: Southern Marvel #7

February 11, 2012

Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge

edited from

The Cajuns of Louisiana are the descendents of the earliest colonists from northern France who settled in Acadia, Nova Scotia, and devoted themselves with dogged persistence to their language, their culture, their Catholicism, their freedom. They had to, or lose it all in the welter of endless wars between France and Britain. England having won dominion over Acadia during Queen Anne’s War of 1713, the British were understandably alarmed at Acadians’ strong cultural identity. Oath after oath of allegiance was defied as the Acadians refused to bear arms against their French countrymen, refused to give over rich farmlands to the English, refused to feed British soldiers on their own precious fish, cattle, corn, etc.  When in 1748 they again refused to swear the English oath, their lands and possessions were confiscated and their men deported while the women and children watched their homes burn.

During the next 11 years, the British continued to exile Acadians, more than 8000 in all, 4000 of whom died at sea of smallpox and other diseases. The survivors were scattered in major cities across the Eastern Seaboard and west in Canada and the States… In time, they found their way to Louisiana, where they were welcomed by the already-established French and Spanish Catholic population. They settled in the southwestern corner of the state with the blessings of the French governor.

The Louisiana twin fiddling of Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge (“The Complete Early Recordings of Dennis McGee, 1929-1930,” Yazoo 2012) is one of the great treasures of recorded southern fiddling, past and present.

An intricate tapestry effect is produced by Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge, whose seconding reproduces more closely the highly ornamented melodic line played by the lead fiddle, complete with cascading trill after trill. No dead space: every square inch filled. No rests – just as there are no rests in certain traditional music of say, Sweden and Norway. The resemblance in fact of this archaic Cajun twin fiddle tradition to the older style of fiddle-playing in central Europe is striking, especially with respect to those cascading rolling trills one on top of another, like overlapping folds of surf, neither ending or beginning.

Dennis McGee and Ernest Fruge play “Happy One Step”:

Dennis McGee

December 4, 2011

For all fans of southern fiddling, a new Dennis McGee CD was quietly released last year called “Myself,” on Valcour Records.   Find it here.

Dennis McGee plays “Courtilienne” (Cotillion):

From Gerard Dole:

“Dennis McGee, who was Irish-American on his father’s side and French and Seminole Indian on his mother’s, was born January 26, 1893, at Bayou Marron (Evangeline Parish). He died in Eunice (Evangeline Parish) October 3, 1989. A fiddle player and singer, he recorded and performed between 1927 and 1934 with Sady Courville and Ernest Frugé, Angelas LeJeune, and with black Creole accordion player and singer Amédé Ardoin.

I had the chance and privilege to be introduced to Dennis McGee by Sady Courville in his Eunice furniture store during a field trip to Southwest Louisiana in the summer of 1975. My journal entry for the next day reads:

‘Wednesday, August 27, 1975: At around 3 in the afternoon, I went to Eunice to visit Dennis McGee in his little house. The old barber is so talkative that he almost immediately began telling me stories about his past and playing me old dances on the fiddle. He may very well be the only person who still knows them.’

With his consent, I opened my Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder, hooked up a mike, and recorded this legendary fiddler who, to tell the truth, had been nearly forgotten by most people at the time.

[Himself] is a lengthy excerpt from those field recordings, in which you will be able to hear Dennis McGee play 19th-century ballroom dances, with clarity and energy, in his specific old-time Cajun style: Contra Dance, Varsovianna (“Valsurienne”), Mazurka, Gallop, Polka, Waltz, Cotillion (“Courtilienne”), Reel and Two-Step. To the greater delight of the listener, Mr. McGee occasionally comments on the variety of fiddle tunings and about the tunes themselves.”


Online Collection of Rare Cajun MP3s

September 9, 2011

Dennis McGee

For a huge collection of free, downloadable Cajun music mp3s from collector Neal Pomea, see

Neal writes: These recordings all come from my private collection with considerable help from other French music fans. I post them here as a labor of love without gain and with no wish to cut into any else’s profit. I simply make these important and scarce recordings available here due to their inherent interest to the Cajun music community, to preserve and promote appreciation for the likes of Nathan Abshire, Austin Pitre, Ambrose Thibodeaux, Revon Reed, Sady Courville, Preston Manuel, Roy Fusilier, and many other great musicians!