Following the interest that my recent lists of Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop/Rock tracks brought we’re launching a new, occasional series to focus on the music of the Louisiana bayous. What better way to launch this series than by bringing to your attention an outstanding book on the culture and music associated with the Cajun people.
The full title of this book is ‘Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People Vol. II’. Ann Allen Savoy first turned her attention to compiling and writing a history of Cajun musicians and the songs they play nearly forty years ago, with Volume 1 of this title being published in 1984. That book was particularly well-received, winning the American Folklore Society’s prestigious Botkin Award for significant achievement in public folklore. Now she’s back with her second book on the subject; a book that was started as soon as she finished the first one, but which was shelved as career and family took over her life, only to be resurrected as a project eight years ago when a new generation of Cajun music enthusiasts urged her to bring a second volume of her work to a waiting public. This book is a wonderful insight into Cajun culture that is all the more impressive given that Ann Savoy herself wasn’t born in Cajun country though, given her dedication to the music and the people, you would have to say that she more than qualifies for some sort of honorary citizenship.
This book gathers together interviews, articles, biographies and a wealth of illustrations and photographs. It features brief histories of the role played by various instruments in Cajun music and, most impressively, includes a considerable number of song lyrics, all of which come with phonetic guidance on how to sing them in the Cajun French patois and a translation into English. This book represents a huge undertaking by its author and a real commitment to spreading the word about Cajun music, helping a wider audience to understand the beauty of it. The author herself is the perfect example of someone who has fallen under the spell of this fascinating music and the culture it comes from.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Ann Savoy is an accomplished singer/songwriter and plays guitar, accordion and fiddle. Since 1977 she has been married to Cajun musician and accordion maker, Mark Savoy, and they perform together in the Savoy Family Band, with their sons Joel and Wilson, as well as performing with well known Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet in the Savoy Doucet Cajun Band. Ann was also the last person to record an album with Linda Ronstadt. Their Grammy-nominated ‘Adieu False Heart’, recorded as the Zozo Sisters, was Ronstadt’s final recording before she retired from singing due to ill health. Ann Savoy is also a successful record producer and has her own all-women band, The Magnolia Sisters, as well as fronting Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights, a band dedicated to Reinhardt era jazz and swing. You have to wonder where she ever found time to write and compile such a detailed book!
I liked the author’s own description of her book; “This book is not an attempt to define what Cajun music is, but rather to reflect the music and musicians which have touched me, which have taken me on a journey of fun and enrichment in the wild, strange terrain of the Acadian part of Louisiana”. It’s that enthusiasm for and appreciation of the music that shines through in this book and, while she may not have set out to define what the music is, the sheer scale of her achievement here, the inclusion of the songs and the intimate sketches of the lives of some of the musicians help to give the reader a very clear picture of Cajun culture and the importance of the music to that culture.
There is so much to enjoy about this book. From the wonderful collection of old, historic photographs to the great description of Cajun dances through to the stories of the musicians themselves, often charming despite the hard times they sometimes describe, such as this anecdote from Ann Savoy’s interview with Cajun balladeer Sullivan Aguillard, “ My grandfather, Coullion Aguillard, was a vocalist and Papa often told me that one of the reasons he didn’t become a drunkard was watching his father being paid drinks for being able to sing and people liked to mingle with him before he was drunk, then he’d get drunk and nobody would have nothing to do with it. That’s quite normal, you know? So, anyways, he said he’d watch his daddy and he said that was his job. When his daddy would get too drunk, he would take him home”. Or this, from the introduction to the life of fiddle player Delma Lachney, “Delma Lachney was, like Blind Uncle Gaspard, born on the upper border of Cajun Louisiana in the small community of Egg Bend. The family were farmers around Choctaw Bayou and Egg Bend, and Delma later farmed for a living. He was a high-energy person, had a slight stutter, was “a good fist-fighter,” and according to his nephew, Percy Lachney, had a “don’t give a damn” attitude. He was married twice and had two daughters and two sons”. The book is full of colourful pieces like these, windows into the culture of a rural, working people that will have resonance the world over. It’s a book that is very easy to get lost in and you can easily spend hours drifting through its stories and descriptions – almost as if you were drifting through the bayous themselves.
Sadly, ‘Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People Vol. II’ doesn’t have a European distributor, but you can buy it direct from the author herself at www.annsavoy.com
This is an excellent book and a review of it is a good way to start off this new series but, above all else, Cajun Corner is going to be about this great music; so here’s a clip of Ann Savoy and the Savoy Family Band demonstrating what good Cajun music is all about! Remember, Keep it Cajun.