Down the Bayou

Philip Cartelli

The larger part of a recent Sunday I spent in the passenger seat of a pickup truck riding around southeastern Louisiana, a region alternately known as Acadiana or simply “Cajun country.” Adby, the man in the driver’s seat, took me on a circuitous route through bayou and marshland just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Although we could never see the Gulf, an offshore oil drilling station was visible in the distance near Cameron, LA. The town of Cameron, in Calcassieu Parish, had been almost completely wiped out in 2005 by Hurricane Rita, which swept ashore just a few weeks after her predecessor Katrina had wreaked more controversial havoc in New Orleans. Rita plowed through parts of southwestern Louisiana and bordering Texas counties: several towns were leveled, 120 lives were lost and wetlands (already threatened by the Mississippi’s inability to flood and oil companies’ marsh-destroying canals) were overcome by storm surges.

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[Ruins of a convenience store post-Rita, Cameron, LA]

However, the tale of southern Louisiana is not entirely grim. The night before my bayou odyssey I was in Lafayette, the largest city in the region, and the de facto center of Cajun musical and cultural scenes. In this city and some surrounding towns younger musicians are breathing new life into the Cajun music played by their parents, grandparents and enjoyed by nearly all their relations since this unique population settled in the area in the late eighteenth century.

Groups like the Pine Leaf Boys, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and Feufollet feel no particular obligation to update the music they perform from its original versions initially popular in the 1960s, 50s and even earlier. Locals explained this by noting that Cajun music is an infectiously danceable style and will always keep people moving, regardless of age. Ample evidence of this is available in Lafayette nightspots like the Blue Moon Saloon and Grant Street Dancehall where young and old alike gather to waltz and two-step.

That’s not to say that this new generation doesn’t experiment from time to time with more modern sounds. Feufollet’s members assured me last Saturday that they don’t intend to let Cajun music age and waste away on their watch.

[Members of Feufollet]

In the track posted below, Feufollet inject a driving guitar rhythm into the intricate fiddle and accordion lines typical to Cajun song. And the language they’re singing in? That’s French, the former native tongue of Acadiana that is undergoing a steady resurgence among young Cajuns like those in this band, dedicated to carrying over their ancestors’ culture into the twenty-first century without leaving behind any of its energy and singularity.

Feufollet, “Prends Courage”

Feufollet perform in Lafayette

 
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