Cajun Corner: Book Review – Marc Savoy “Made in Louisiana: The Story of the Acadian Accordion”

University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2021

Written from the heart.

The great instrumental triumvirate of Cajun music is the guitar, the fiddle, and the accordion but, surely, the greatest of the great is the accordion. Without the fluidity of the button accordion, it’s really hard to accept a tune as being authentically Cajun.

This book is something of a treat and, if you move swiftly enough, there’s probably time to let Santa know you’ve been good(ish) all year, and, perhaps, he could include a copy in your stocking… Marc Savoy is one of the modern masters of the Cajun accordion. He’s not only a great player of the instrument but is also a maker and has gone on record as saying that, when he first saw a hand-made, diatonic accordion, back in 1957, it was the start of his own quest to build the perfect Cajun accordion. That quest led to his beginnings as a maker of button accordions and, from there, to the establishment of his company and the founding of the Acadian accordion, because before Mark Savoy established the brand there was no recognised specific Cajun brand accordion as such. The accordions typically used were German models, particularly Hohners, but they weren’t ideal for Cajun music as the bellows needed too much pumping to produce the longer, drawn-out notes that Cajun is built on – the German accordions were designed for the short, staccato notes of polka and similar styles. Cajun players who could afford the waiting time and the money would seek out someone like Sidney Brown, a Louisiana-based maker and musician who produced the first hand-built instruments in the region and was the inspiration for Savoy’s own work.

This is a really enjoyable book because the author has packed a lot in here. Yes, it’s about the Acadian accordion, how the brand came about and how Marc Savoy established himself as THE Cajun accordion maker. We do read about the accordion, about its history and how it is constructed, the way it’s supposed to sound, why it’s an important instrument, etc but it’s actually about a lot more than that. It’s about Cajun culture and, more specifically, Cajun music and why it was important for Savoy to create and grow this style of accordion. As he says in the book, without the work of small local builders like Sidney Brown, Cajun music could’ve died out as we know it. The accordions that had been traditionally used didn’t transfer well to the modern age. They didn’t sound particularly good on recordings and they were a hard instrument to play – to keep the music alive players needed access to good, affordable instruments, specifically designed for Cajun music, and that’s what Mark Savoy set out to produce.

It’s also an autobiography of the author himself, with details of his early experiences of playing Cajun music, of learning the button accordion, and of his growing appreciation of this music and its importance to the wider culture of the Acadian people. It’s about the establishment of his Savoy Music Center, the store he opened in Eunice, Louisiana, “a music store that would specialise in all things Cajun”. It’s about the growing appreciation of Cajun music, both in America and in the wider world, and how events like the Newport Folk Festival and New Orleans’ own Jazz and Heritage Festival have helped to shine a light on Cajun music. In short, this book is about so much more than the making of Savoy’s Acadian Accordions.

It really is a love letter to Cajun culture and, like all the best love letters, it’s written with passion and commitment and the author has poured his soul into this work; it’s clear that Savoy takes his love of Cajun culture very seriously indeed but that seriousness is only in his commitment, the style of writing is light, warm and friendly and, even if you have no interest in the Acadian accordion, this is a very readable book that is full of great anecdotes and fascinating information. It’s also a beautifully illustrated book, with some terrific photos and archive material.

Marc Savoy has said in ‘Made In Louisiana’, “What drew my heart to this music was not only that I thought the music was so great but more because I loved the people who made this music”. That sentiment is apparent from the very first pages of the book and makes his writing the enjoyable thing that it is. If you like Cajun music, I would say this is an essential book, and if you think you don’t like it, this is the book that may well change your mind.

About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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