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 language. Even today’s songwriters write their songs in French, having learned the language from their parents and grandparents, participating in local French tables and through the French immersion school programs. 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. A lot of Cajun music can be heard in dance halls at fais do-do (dance party) and mixes the traditional Cajun music with influences of rock, blues, soul and zydeco.
The Cajun Music Icons
The first recordings of Cajun music date to the 1920s, featuring performers such as Joe Falcon and Cléoma Breaux, Dennis 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, the Red Stick Ramblers, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Balfa Toujours, The Pine Leaf Boys and Cedric Watson.
Hear it Here
The Jolly Inn — Head to Houma to check out The Jolly Inn. This live music venue, café and lounge has welcomed visitors from across the globe, thanks in no small part to performances by Jolly Inn co-owner Werlien Prosperie’s band Couche Couche, which plays every Friday and Saturday nights.
Blue Moon Saloon — Lafayette has numerous Cajun music venues, and Blue Moon Saloon is among its best known. Head to the back porch to hear some of the brightest stars in Cajun music today; Grammy award-winning acts such as Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and the Lost Bayou Ramblers have graced the stage here.
Randol’s — Great food and great music — that’s what you can expect at Randol’s in Lafayette. The menu is pure south Louisiana flavor, with some of the biggest and tastiest boiled crawfish you’ll find anywhere (available seasonally) and such local delicacies as seafood gumbo and fried alligator. Round out your Cajun Country experience with a twirl on the dance floor at Randol’s, where musical acts perform nightly.
Fred’s Lounge — For die-hard seekers of Cajun culture, consider stopping by Fred’s Lounge in Mamou (the “Cajun Music Capital of the World”). Open only during Mardi Gras and on Saturday mornings, Fred’s hosts Cajun bands in its dance hall and also records a weekly Cajun music radio show.
Whiskey River Landing — Breaux Bridge is in the running for the most Cajun spots on the map. Its claim to fame is crawfish, and indeed, one of the town’s nicknames is “Crawfish Capital of the World.” So it’s little surprise that there’s great live Cajun music here, best exemplified by Whiskey River Landing. Two-step your way to this venue for an unforgettable evening of dancing.