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Author Topic: Origins of Cajun Music.  (Read 1300 times)

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Henry Piper

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Origins of Cajun Music.
« on: February 18, 2017, 06:53:03 PM »

Like Many Melodeon (Accordian) players I enjoy listening to a Bit of Cajun, and have dabbled (fairly unsuccessfully !!) myself in attempting to play it.
 I have recently been wondering what were the original influences that gave rise to this genre, I personally have never seen much influence of French Traditional music in it, in fact it seems almost to have appeared fully formed in Louisiana during the late 19th and early 20th century, presumably it was originally more fiddle based, since I understand that the Arcadians arrived there before the German immigrants that brought  accordians with them, And I think I can hear some similarities with other American fiddle styles. Did the music only take on its current form once the accordians became available. Did these French speaking immigrants bring with them some fragments of old French music and song, that gradually "morphed" into what we would recognise as "Cajun"  or did they acquire the roots of this new music during their time in Canada before moving on to Louisiana. or is this a wholly new variety of music that originated and developed among the Cajun immigrants once they had arrived.
Its a fascinating story. I would love to hear a history of its development and origins from someone with more Knowledge than I have !!.
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John MacKenzie (Cugiok)

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2017, 07:02:57 PM »

Well when you listen to Quebec melodeon players, there's definitely a relation to the Cajun sound. Remember that Cajun is derived from Acadian, and Acadia is/was, the northern part of Maine, and New Brunswick. There has to be a connection.
Where the music originally came from, I assume France, is another matter, and one would need to establish a relation between musical styles, as they existed in France in days gone by.
It is, as you say an interesting subject, and one I have wondered about too. I like Cajun, and I also love Quebec fiddle music, played by people like the late jean Carignan. No doubt these tunes on the fiddle, are related to those played on the melodeon, around Quebec.
Good luck with the research

Sir John
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911377brian

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2017, 07:34:45 PM »

I bet Rees will know.
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baz parkes

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2017, 07:56:43 PM »

If your beans are well salted and you've left the potatoes alone this may help
https://www.amazon.co.uk/South-Louisiana-Music-Cajun-Bayous/dp/0882896083

probably best delivered at the back door... :|glug :|glug
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Rees

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2017, 08:22:24 PM »

This, from The Big Weekend website:

"Cajuns, les Cadiens or Les Acadiens, are descendants of the Acadian French from Acadia Canada, now settled in South West Louisiana.

Cajun music is the traditional music of the French settlers of south west Louisiana. The roots of this unique style can be traced back through the French Canadian traditions of Nova Scotia and the Canadian Maritimes, and further back to the original French pioneers who left Northern France many generations ago.
Over many years the traditional music has absorbed many other cultural styles into the mix, including Celtic, Spanish, and of course a huge influence from their Creole French neighbours.
The result is a unique and intense firey mix, played mainly on the Fiddle and the Accordion, highly emotive and irresistibly danceable!

Zydeco (French from the phrase “Les haricots ne sont pas sales” means “the snap beans aren’t salty” or “leh-zy-dee-co sohn pah salay..”
Zydeco music has its roots based in African Creole traditions; The Creole settlers in South West Louisiana also absorbed musical styles from many different cultures over the years including a huge influence from their Cajun neighbours.
Many of the songs and tunes are shared between the two cultures, the Creole Zydeco style however is rooted more in the African Rhythm & Blues tradition, but is always embracing modern styles such as funk and hip hop, always keeping the music alive and fresh, and of course always compellingly danceable.
Like Cajun music, Zydeco is very much Accordion led, also features the rub-board, a percussion instrument, based on the washboard, but worn like a vest over the chest and played with spoons or keys.
A totally irresistible and unique dance music, spicy hot with a generous dose of bump n grind!"
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Rees Wesson (accordion builder and mechanic)
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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2017, 09:03:32 PM »

Well now, I've learnt something!
Thanks Rees
Q
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Thrupenny Bit

I think I'm starting to get most of the notes in roughly the right order...... sometimes!

Henry Piper

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2017, 09:18:32 PM »

Rees, many thanks for the "Potted History" much of which I already knew,......some I did not !.   you say that the roots of Cajun music can be traced  "further back to the original French Pioneers who left Northern France many generations ago!",  Certainly the Cajun People can trace their origins back to these days, but can the music show the same historical connections? I,m no Ethnomusicologist but I can see very little if any similarities to French traditional music or song, Can you hear similarities ??  I can certainly get some similarities with Quebecois music and the Music generally of the Maritime provinces of Canada, and Cajun music has certainly picked up influences from many places on its journey to Louisiana. As I said I am not an expert,  But sometimes I feel that the "French" origins of the Genre are overstated and that its origins may lie very much in "Acadia" itself !!
As I said in my earlier post its a fascinating subject.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2017, 09:37:48 PM by Henry Piper »
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From Ottery St Mary Devon. Currently Playing Dino Baffetti BP2 in D/G, Hohner Pre-Pokerwork in A/D,   2 row self built boxes in D/G and Bb/Eb from Hohner parts, Dry tuned Erica in G/C . Single row permanent 4 voice, 4 bass from old Hohner single row and bits of a cheap Cajun box !!,

Rees

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2017, 11:10:28 AM »

These days there is very little trace of the original French songs in mainstream Cajun, but if you dig around in the archives you will find many examples of tunes such as quadrilles and contredanses being played, also many unaccompanied songs.
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Rees Wesson (accordion builder and mechanic)
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richard.fleming

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2017, 02:36:00 PM »

Bayou Boogie: the Americanization of Cajun
music, 1928-1950
Ryan Andre Brasseaux
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, rbrass1@lsu.edu.

The above makes very interesting reading for Cajun fans, I think.

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Rees

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2017, 05:13:28 PM »

Also: Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, Vol. 1 by Ann Savoy.
https://www.amazon.com/Cajun-Music-Reflection-People-Vol/dp/093016900X
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Rees Wesson (accordion builder and mechanic)
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blafleur

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2017, 04:42:59 AM »

It's a bit more complicated.  There are no pat answers in anything Cajun, whether talking about the food or music or even the language, and labels don't work...even the labels Cajun and Creole.  What is now considered Cajun music is a melding of many different influences, and used to actually be regional in Louisiana before recordings spread the music to other areas after the 1920's.  Many popular "Cajun" songs are actually American folk songs, or songs brought to America from some other country/genre, and some Cajun heard it, Cajunized it with the accordion or Cajun fiddle style, and added some Cajun French lyrics, and poof, a new traditional Cajun song is born.  I doubt any of today's Cajun repertoire would have links to the old pre Louisiana Acadian music, which was all fiddle tunes or a capella. The accordion busting into the genre in the late 1800's caused many old fiddle tunes to fall by the wayside because of the limitations of the single row diatonic accordion.  The lineage of most older Cajun tunes cannot be traced, though they are often attributed to the first to record it, but that rarely is an indication of who wrote the song.

Bruce Triggs

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2017, 06:21:57 PM »

Throwing in on a year old thread... because I'm editing the Cajun and Creole chapter of a book. So, here's a book-like stump on a dead thread.

Best sources for early Cajun music I've seen is Joshua Caffery's book, Traditional Music of Coastal Louisiana: the 1934 Lomax Recordings, Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

Caffery goes through the 1934 Lomax field recordings and sources each item. Remarkable. Lyrically, the Louisiana French repertoire included some ancient songs dating back to before the Acadian exile in the 16th Cen., but many more-recent introductions from modern (19th Can) French dance-halls and other written and oral sources. Caffery’s book documents the “sometimes surprisingly cosmopolitan pedigree of orally performed francophone texts in Southern Louisiana.” (pg 62, 67-68.)

You can hear some of the recordings on:
“Classic Louisiana Recordings, Cajun & Creole Music, 1934-1937” (The Alan Lomax Collection, Rounder, 1999)

It's important to know that the accordion didn't arrive to either the Louisiana Cajuns or the northern Acadians until 100 years after the expulsion from Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Northern Maine). The refugees who eventually became the Cajuns went to France before resettling eventually in Louisiana. So even before they arrived back in North America they had more recent French musical influences than those they left behind. Once they arrived in Louisiana the influences multiplied. French-speaking Black Creoles were the most recognized and were probably the earliest players of the "Cajun" accordion in the region. Country and western and other pop music has had a huge influence on Cajun music as well.

Meanwhile, if you look north, the Acadian refugees and other French Canadians had a great intermixing with Irish immigrants especially after the Great Famine. So if you hear Canadian folk music you're more likely to hear a "gigue" (jig) than in Cajun music. Again, this was all fiddle-centred music (with maybe some pipes?) Once the accordion arrived to these separate traditions in the later 1800s (or by some accounts as late as 1910 for the Cajuns), things were already well into distinct sounds. Their accordion techniques then developed from their separate traditions.
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Rees

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2017, 07:01:28 PM »

Thank you Bruce. That is an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I have just been given a CD of Blind Uncle Gaspard which has many links to songs from France and a refreshing take on that ole Cajun thang.
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Rees Wesson (accordion builder and mechanic)
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blafleur

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2017, 11:27:21 PM »

Blind Uncle Gaspard was from a region of Lousiana (Avoyelles parish, upper central part) not settled by the Acadians at all, and stayed somewhat isolated from the rest of French La until sometime in the 1900's. So the music in his area was not affected by the same influences the rest of La French music was.  There was some of the same type music that would have come from France in the area I grew up in (google Ed and Bee Deshotels, and Edius Naquin), for the same reason, that the Evangeline parish region of La was also settled by people who came direct from France.  But the Mamou and Ville Platte region was more influenced by many of the same factors that influenced the rest of the music in southwest La, and is now considered part of the heart of the Cajun music scene.  For these head scratching reasons, I think the term "cajun music", is very vague and completely inaccurate, and is a fairly recent label put on music that been heavily assimilated from many influences.  When I was a kid, no one called it cajun music, it was called French music, and I really like term better, much less vulnerable to be dissected. 

Trying to pin down what is Cajun music is a micro version of trying to pin down what is American music.  Many different influences showed up in different areas, and prior to recordings being available, each area evolved differently.  The music in Sw and central La was at one time very regional, recordings and transportation changed that and caused a lot of blending.  Even the playing styles were a little different.

triskel

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #14 on: November 06, 2017, 06:02:04 PM »

Many popular "Cajun" songs are actually American folk songs, or songs brought to America from some other country/genre, and some Cajun heard it, Cajunized it with the accordion or Cajun fiddle style, and added some Cajun French lyrics, and poof, a new traditional Cajun song is born.

And sometimes a popular song of the day got corrupted/repurposed, like the 1935 "hit" Lulu's Back in Town that Cleoma Breaux Falcon made into the Cajun Lulu Revenue Dans La Village in 1937.

Or the 1917 hit song Over There that became the Creole Eh La Bas.
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triskel

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #15 on: November 06, 2017, 07:10:48 PM »

It's important to know that the accordion didn't arrive to either the Louisiana Cajuns or the northern Acadians until 100 years after the expulsion from Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Northern Maine).

I'd reckon you could add something approaching another quarter of a century to that, judging by what happened in other countries/cultures. Cheap mass-produced German accordions (renamed "melodeons" by their Scottish importer in the late 1870s) only started to become available following the Franco-Prussian War/Unification of Germany in 1871, and were becoming freely available and very popular (worldwide) by the late 1870s/early 1880s.

Quote
Meanwhile, if you look north, the Acadian refugees and other French Canadians had a great intermixing with Irish immigrants especially after the Great Famine.

It seems the Irish and their influence in Louisiana are forgotten, yet I've met several Cajuns who were delighted to tell me of their Irish ancestry, and names like McGee and Riley are Irish...

Indeed I hear reels, and a possible Donegal influence (McGee is a Donegal name) in the playing of first and second fiddles, and  in octaves, in the early recordings of Dennis McGee and Sady Courville: Dennis McGee - Complete Early Recordings (1929-1930)
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melodeon

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #16 on: November 06, 2017, 08:10:23 PM »

Triskel,

Thanks for the observations as I have long wondered about the non French named folks  being a part of the "Cajun" culture.

Not unlike some of the Tex/Mex,  Conjunto,   Norteno,   musicians and culture influenced  by German/Austrian, Czech/Bohemian and Germans.  This to include their own names. 
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blafleur

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #17 on: November 07, 2017, 12:04:08 AM »

Triskel,

Thanks for the observations as I have long wondered about the non French named folks  being a part of the "Cajun" culture.


My fiddle playing great grandfather was a Mcgee and many of his fiddle tunes had what seems to me to have had Irish roots, though he spoke mostly French and not a word of Irish.  I also close friends with a great Cajun accordion player named McCauley.  Balfa is not a French name, but I think Scottish.  Some really good Cajun musicians named Frey, Falcon, Clark, Smith....all with several generations in La.

I think a good analogy is dumping several different color marbles, with one color more prevalent than the others, in a jar and shake them up.  If you turn the jar around, there's a mixture of changing color variations and proportions, depending on the area looked at.  That's what happened in La. 
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 12:06:07 AM by blafleur »
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Bruce Triggs

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #18 on: November 14, 2017, 01:32:56 AM »

This has me fearing I've neglected other immigrants (Irish, etc) who moved into French Louisiana alongside the Acadians and Creoles. Hmm. (Struggling to restrain from rewriting book chapter.)

Cajuns may have resisted the accordion for a while, perhaps picking it up as late as 1900 or so. They may have been delayed until accordions came out in keys fiddles could more easily play in. Black Creoles seem to have played them earlier. I'd love to see more work on how the instrument might have moved in the region (railroad development from New Orleans or Texas etc.)

My impression is that Irish immigrants had a bigger impact in Francophone Canada, though I could be wrong. There were several waves of Irish immigration to what became Canada, and Quebec ended up having a bigger Irish than English population (amidst the French majority). Lots of reasons their music sounds different as they developed separately for so long.

I'd like to compare the years of immigration for different groups before and after the accordion came on the scene (1860-90 when it really hit) and how much traffic there was back and forth (return immigration) to various counties to maintain contact with their music. Lots of Irish and Italian back and forth happened, but again, immigrants from the 1880s likely had more contacts back home than ones from the 1780s.

The diversity of French-origins in the region is another area I'm woefully unfamiliar with. I gather most of the Acadian refugees went to France for a while before travelling back across to Louisiana. I thought that was interesting. I don't know about other populations of French immigrants though, except the earlier Colonial folks and then refugees from Haiti. So many layers there. Lots to learn.
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triskel

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Re: Origins of Cajun Music.
« Reply #19 on: November 14, 2017, 03:27:21 AM »

Cajuns may have resisted the accordion for a while, perhaps picking it up as late as 1900 or so. They may have been delayed until accordions came out in keys fiddles could more easily play in.

I don't see that. Early diatonic/bi-sonor/bisonoric free-reed instruments were generally in C, and lots of models of harmonicas/mouth organs are still only made in C. But to play with a fiddle you need a D instrument - yet Cajun accordions are still almost always in the (non-fiddle-friendly) key of C, forcing Cajun fiddlers to tune their instruments down a tone.  ???

Meanwhile, Québécois accordions are generally in the (fiddle-friendly) key of D...
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