It seems my recent article on top Cajun/Zydeco tracks struck a chord with some, so I thought I’d strike again, while the iron was hot, and sneak in a little more Cajun comfort. Most people only have a passing acquaintance with Cajun music, so can probably be forgiven for thinking that it’s all pretty much the same apart from Zydeco, which just rocks it up a little. Ah, how wrong we would be! Cajun music has more flavours than there are recipes for Red Beans & Rice, as I hope to demonstrate with this second look at the Cajun and Zydeco scene; so here are ten more tracks for you to enjoy.
Breaux Brothers – Jole Blon
Also known as ‘Jolie Blon’ or ‘Jolie Blonde’ (Pretty Blonde as a strict translation but more commonly translated as Pretty Girlfriend) the tune is a waltz and is often referred to as the Cajun National Anthem. This is a classic example of Traditional Cajun music, performed here by the Breaux Brothers, the epitome of a traditional band. Most Cajun and Zydeco musicians will have a version of ‘Jole Blon’ in their repertoire and no self-respecting Cajun would fail to know the words to this classic bayou song. It’s based on a fiddle melody from the early 1900s and the Breaux Brothers were the first to record it, in 1929, under the title ‘Ma blonde est partie’, with accordion player Amédé Breaux, credited with writing the lyrics.
Lawrence Walker and the Wandering Aces – Mamou Two Step
Lawrence Walker and the Wandering Aces are a fine example of a Dancehall Cajun band. Walker was a very good accordion player but was also known for his ability as a performer and a crowd-pleaser. This two-step is an example of early Cajun dancehall music that was designed to get people up and dancing. The Two-Step, sometimes referred to as a Texan Two-Step, is a dance shuffle that most ballroom aficionados would recognise as a form of Foxtrot. Lawrence Walker was one of the wild men of his day.
The Hackberry Ramblers – Old Pipeliner
The Hackberry Ramblers were formed in Hackberry, Louisiana in 1930 by fiddle player Luderin Darbonne and accordionist Edwin Duhon – and they’re still performing today, one of the longest histories of any musical group. The founding members are no longer with us but both survived well into their 90s and had long playing careers; many Cajun musicians seem to be active players for a long time – must be something in that swamp water! Though hailing from Louisiana, the Ramblers are known as a Texas Cajun band because they incorporate elements of Western Swing and Rockabilly, both associated with the State of Texas, into their music.
Zydepunks – Por la Orilla del Mar
The band who gave their name to a style of Cajun music. Zydepunk, the music, mixes up a wider range of musical influences alongside the classic Cajun sound. Zydepunks, the band, bring Eastern European influences and aspects of punk rock to their Cajun sound, performing in Yiddish, Spanish, Portuguese and German alongside the more usual French and English. Sadly, the band hasn’t operated as a band since 2012, though they maintain they’re “on hiatus” rather than no longer a band. It would be good to see them active again in the future – Cajun music needs the new blood and new ideas that bands like Zydepunks bring.
L’Angélus – Ca C’est Bon
Siblings Katie, Paige, Johnny, and Stephen Rees are L’Angélus, a band that has also been linked with ‘Zydepunk’. L’Angélus mix in Western Swing, R&B and Swamp Pop with their Cajun roots to brew up a more upbeat style of Cajun music that goes down well with a younger crowd. Unusual for a Cajun band they write much of their own material, often singing in a mix of French and English within the same song. Like a number of more contemporary Cajun bands, they’ve moved away from the traditional band line-up, incorporating electric bass and a full drum kit into the band, and use harmony vocal styling more associated with pop music. A really exciting live outfit.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers – Blue Moon Special
The Cajun Renaissance movement takes traditional Cajun melodies and lyrics and aims to incorporate new elements and a more eclectic mix of sounds and rhythms to the traditional tunes they play. Hailing from deep in Southern Louisiana, the Lost Bayou Ramblers are built around brothers Louis and Andre Michot and, in happier times, tour extensively throughout the U.S.A and Canada, as well as being frequent visitors to Europe where they’re popular on the Festival scene.
Christine Balfa – L’anse aux pailles
Christine Balfa is the daughter of popular Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa and leads her own band, Balfa Toujours. They’re a good example of what’s considered Contemporary Cajun, an updating of the music often dealing with more current issues, less dependent on traditional Cajun tunes but staying true to the traditional stylings of the genre. She’s also a member of more traditional Cajun bad Bonsoir Catin, who stick strictly to their regional roots and aim to preserve the history of Cajun culture.
Lil Band O’ Gold – The Cajun Twist
The nature of Cajun and Zydeco music means that the musicians are often local heroes and don’t have wide recognition outside their own patch, so a Cajun supergroup is a rare thing – but that’s what we have in Lil Band O’ Gold. Formed by guitarist/producer C.C. Adcock and accordionist Steve Riley, who fronts popular band The Mamou Playboys, Lil Band O’ Gold features some of the cream of current Cajun musicians. Built around legendary swamp-pop drummer and vocalist Warren Storm, the band includes pianist David Eagan, sax players Dickie Landry and David Greely and pedal steel player Richard Comeaux. One of the great good time bands!
Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys – Zydeco a Pas Sale
Jeffery Broussard and his band are a Renaissance Zydeco outfit. As their publicity proudly proclaims, “Zydeco music, echoing its Creole past and charting its future”. They were among the earlier Zydeco bands incorporating the electric guitar into their line-up and the band reflect many of the elements of the wider New Orleans scene while continuing to promote Creole culture through their music.
Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band – Zydeco People
This outstanding Zydeco band are Grammy award-winning recording artists who bring a decidedly funky approach to their sound. There are elements of West Indian calypso and ska beats in their music along with a distinct nod towards the 70s funk of bands like the Isley Brothers.
Charles Mann – Walk of Life
Finally, we have this offering from Cajun singer Charles Mann. Knopfler has admitted writing ‘Walk of Life’ with Cajun music in mind but it takes a real Cajun to bring out that true Louisiana sound. Charles Mann is a prominent swamp pop singer, known for his ability to interpret more mainstream rock and pop songs from a Cajun perspective, his best-known crossover songs being his early recording of Neil Diamond’s ‘Red, Red Wine’ and this great version of the Dire Straits song.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this second trawl through the sounds of Louisiana and southwest Texas. Remember – Keep It Cajun!
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