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Cajun music
Stylistic origins ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada;
Cultural origins Late18th century Cajuns in Louisiana; German;
Typical instruments Cajun accordion, Fiddle, Second Fiddle, Steel guitar, Guitar, Triangle, Harmonica. In the 1930s string band era, Mandolin, Banjo.
Mainstream popularity 1960s national interest; in US commercial advertising since the mid-1980s
Subgenres
black Creole
Fusion genres
Swamp pop, Zydeco

Cajun music, an emblematic music of Louisiana, is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada. Cajun music is often mentioned in tandem with the Creole-based, Cajun-influenced zydeco form, both of Acadiana origin. These French Louisiana sounds have influenced American popular music for many decades, especially country music, and have influenced pop culture through mass media, such as television commercials.

Contents

Aural Analysis

Cajun music is relatively harsh with an infectious beat and a lot of forward drive, placing the accordion at the center. Besides the voices, only two melodic instruments are heard, the accordion and fiddle, but usually in the background can also be heard the high, clear tones of a metal triangle. The harmonies of Cajun music are simple, basically I and V, tonic and dominant. The melodic range is just one octave, rising a fifth above the tonic and descending a fourth below. Because the Cajun accordion can only be played in one key, and since an instrument must match the singer's range, much Cajun singing is sung in the singer's upper range. The accordionist gives the vocal melody greater energy by repeating most notes.[1]

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Subgenres of Cajun Music

See also the History of Cajun Music

Traditional Cajun

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This style comprises the roots of Cajun dance music, involving only a few instruments such as the accordion, fiddle, and triangle. This form holds firm to a basic rhythm with staccato style notes, including lots of fiddle double stops. Each fiddle solo is composed of a major scale riff, repeated between verses. This form as existed since the early 1900s and the waltz and two-step are the most common dances of this Cajun music genre. Many songs that became standards in the Cajun music repertoire were first recorded in this period of the 1920s and 30s. A number of the most prominent traditional Cajun musicians are featured in the 1989 documentary J'Ai Ete Au Bal.

Country/Texas Swing Cajun

This style involves heavy elements of Texas country music influence and a move away from the traditional accordion. This music has more of a "swing" style popularized by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Instead of the music being dominated by the accordion, Cajun swing relies heavily on the fiddle and piano with a swinging tempo. Bands in the 1940s began using the steel guitar, an instrument which also found use in Dancehall Cajun music. Dances such as "the jig" are common among this genre of Cajun music. Harry Choates and the Hackberry Ramblers are early examples of this style, the Red Stick Ramblers and the Lost Bayou Ramblers are contemporary bands playing in this style.

Dancehall Cajun

This style is similar to traditional Cajun music with added accompaniment such as the bass guitar, drum kit, steel guitar, and rhythm guitar, electric or acoustic. The same abrupt, staccato feel can be felt as in traditional Cajun. This is the post-War music of the late 1940s up to the present for local Louisianans in small town dancehalls. Electrification of the dance venues allowed the fiddle to be played in a smoother style, alternating leads with the accordion. The steel guitar also adds remarks. Typically in dancehall Cajun performances the melody is played by the accordion followed by a bridge, a vocal verse, a leading line by the steel guitar, a leading line by the fiddle, then a leading line by the accordion player again followed by a bridge. This is followed by the next vocal verse, and so on.

Cajun "Renaissance"

Drawing on elements of the earlier Traditional, Texas Swing, and Dancehall periods, the Cajun "Renaissance" also incorporates more modern elements of Folk, blues, jazz and swamp pop, and bluegrass styles. The fiddle players relax, involving a more legato feel to the solos. The quick fiddle action and double stops are missing, replaced by dominant blues chords and jazz slides.

Pioneers such as Beausoleil with Michael Doucet, Zachary Richard, Jambalaya Cajun Band, Bruce Daigrepont, and others broke new ground, while other musicians such as Eddie LeJeune, Robert Jardell, Les Frères Michot, and others brought energy to older, more traditional forms.

Contemporary Cajun Music

This style involves Cajun music with a heavy influence of rock, R&B, blues, soul, and zydeco, producing a less traditional, more contemporary sound. Although led by the accordion, you can find the electric guitar, Washboard, and keyboard present in this form. Since the 1980s, musicians such as Wayne Toups, Roddie Romero and the Hub City Allstars, Lee Benoit, Damon Troy, Hunter Hayes, Kevin Naquin, and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have popularized this modern form of Cajun music.[2][3]

Lyrics

The unaccompanied ballad was the earliest form of Cajun music. The narrative songs often had passionate themes of death, solitude or ill-fated love — a reaction to their harsh exile and rough frontier experience, as well as celebrations of love and humorous tales. Ballads were ritually sung at weddings and funerals, and sung informally for small groups of people at house parties as the food cooked and young children played.

The early songs were mixtures of la la, contredanses, reels and jigs and other folk influences from black, white and Native American traditions. Early song lyrics were entirely in Cajun French. Though French language is still common, some Cajun music today is sung in English with younger singers and audiences.

Instruments

Traditional Cajun instruments: tit-fer, Cajun accordion, and a fiddle.

In earlier years, the fiddle was the predominant instrument. Usually two fiddles were common, one playing the melody while the other provided the séconde, or back-up part. Twin fiddling traditions represent the music in its purest form, as it was brought to Louisiana with the early immigrants and before popular American tunes mingled with it.

Gradually, the Cajun accordion emerged to share the limelight.

In the early 1930s, the accordion was pushed into the background by the popular string sounds of the time. mandolins, pianos and banjos joined fiddles to create a jazzy swing beat strongly influenced by Western Swing of neighboring Texas.

After World War II, the accordion regained its popularity in Cajun music. Also, in the late 1930s and 1940s, country music became the dominant influence on Cajun music, and bass and steel guitars were used.

Modern Cajun music began taking on the influence of jazz and modern country music, resulting in a more polished sound. The acoustic guitar was added, mostly as a rhythm instrument, and the triangle provided a traditional percussion. Modern groups sometimes include drums, electric bass, electric guitars and amplified accordion and fiddles.

Dance and festivals

Cajun music, born from ballads, has transformed to dance music -- with or without words. The music was essential for small get-togethers on the front porch, an all night house dance known as a "bal de maison", or a public dance in a dance hall called a fais do-dos.

There are several variations of Cajun dance: a Cajun One Step, also called a Cajun Jig, a Cajun Two Step or related Cajun Jitterbug, and a Cajun Waltz. In mild contrast, zydeco dancing is a syncopated two-step or jitterbug. A Cajun dancer will cover the dance floor while the zydeco dancer will primarily dance in a smaller area.

Cajun music can be found predominantly at Louisiana festivals and dance halls, in addition to weddings in Acadiana.

See also

References

  1. ^ Miller, Terry E. and Andrew Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. London: Routledge, 2006: 374-5
  2. ^ www.lsue.edu "Wayne Toups and Zydecajun"
  3. ^ www.lsue.edu "Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys"

External links

Academic


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