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I am Cajun by birth, if not necessarily by sentiment; and this is a very short version of that time in my life when I heard my very first vinyl record. Growing up, my family didn't have a radio or television or even a record player--at least until I was about 12. Before that, much of my musical exposure came from backyard bands.

Remember that many of the earliest French settlers in what is now Louisiana were Acadians, who came to Louisiana beginning in about 1764 after their expulsion from Nova Scotia in 1755. Groups made their way across land, some by boat down the Atlantic Coast, and some (like most of my father's side) made the journey first back to Europe and then over to Louisiana.

Among the many cultural treasures they brought with them was what we know today as Cajun Music. And this is the music that surrounded me as a child growing up on the coast of Louisiana.

As Barry Ancelet explains in his monograph Cajun Music: Its Origins and Development, these new settlers

brought with them music that had its origins in France but that had already been changed by experiences in the New World through encounters with British settlers and Native Americans. Taking stories with European origins and changing them to refer to life in Louisiana or inventing their own tales, early balladeers would sing without accompaniment at family gathering or special occasions. The fiddle supplied music for dances .... [Although there were also] a cappela dance tunes that relied on clapping and stomping to provide the rhythm.
Gradually, this music was transformed over the next century or so by the myriad influences of layered cultures in the area: rhythms from Africa, singing styles of Native Americans, English, Irish, and Eastern European styles. Ancelet even notes that "the Spanish even contributed a few melodies, including the melody for 'J’ai passé devant ta porte,' which comes from a concerto for classical guitar." In the oldest of Cajun styles, the fiddle leads and a second typically provides rhythm accompaniment.

This music changed greatly with the introduction of the accordion in about 1925 (at least those that could be tuned in C and D), an instrument that could be heard above the din of a dance hall. This music, at its roots, is dance music meant to be listened to live. This music is the music I would find at local parties and fairs, the music coming from the bayous at night, and the music that prepared me for my later introduction to Rock & Roll.

Don't misunderstand me: I love Cajun, Creole, and Zyedco music and am pleased that it has become more mainstream. Yet, there was something about the pull of the blues and rock that so seduced me as a young man. The first song I remember hearing on an album was Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and I knew at that very moment that the world was a wide and wonderful place and that I was destined to explore beyond the bayous and swamps of south Louisiana.

 

 

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