Next to jazz, perhaps no musical tradition is more associated with Louisiana than Cajun. The Acadians, or Cajuns, found refuge in Louisiana after being exiled from Nova Scotia in 1755 and made a new life in the harsh environment. As their communal ties grew stronger, so too did their traditions of storytelling, singing and dancing. Despite more than a century of pressure to assimilate to American culture, Louisiana's Cajuns have kept their folk music alive and true to its roots.
The Music: Cajun
Cajun music is most easily recognized by three elements: the button accordion, the fiddle and the French. Even today's songwriters tend to write their songs in French, despite the decline in spoken French in Louisiana. Most Cajun songs are either two-steps or waltzes and are written to accompany particular dance steps. While there is no question that the music "belongs" to the Cajun people, it also incorporates influences from Irish, German, African, Native American and Appalachian traditions.
The first recordings of Cajun music date to the 1920s, featuring performers such as Joe Falcon and Cléoma Breaux, Denus McGee, Sady Courville and Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin. Performers such as Iry LeJeune, Lawrence Walker, Aldus Roger and the Lafayette Playboys, the Balfa Brothers, Harry Choates (a.k.a. "The Fiddle King of Cajun Swing") and D.L. Menard (a.k.a. "The Cajun Hank Williams") helped develop and stretch the sound throughout the 20th century.
A crowd-stirring performance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival by Gladius Thibodeaux, Louis "Vinesse" LeJeune and Dewey Balfa finally drew national attention to the tradition. And the decades that followed saw the rise of acts such as Zachary Richard, Michael Doucet and Beausoleil, Wayne Toups, as the Red Stick Ramblers, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Balfa Toujours, and the Pine Leaf Boys.
The Experience: Cajun Music
Today, you can hear live Cajun music at dance halls throughout southwestern Louisiana and at local festivals like the annual Festivals Acadiens et Créole and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.