various artists,
(Putumayo, 2001)

Cajun is a peppery compilation of music rooted in Louisiana's cultural history. The Cajuns "trace their roots to the early French-speaking colonists of Acadia, in what is now Nova Scotia." They were forced out by the English in "the Grand Derangement" and many ended up in Louisiana. Their hardship and perseverance are reflected in their music.

The main instruments in Cajun music are the fiddle and the accordion, and according to the liner notes, the dominance of one or the other usually depends on preferences within the individual bands. The triangle features prominently in the percussion. The music is largely dance music -- two-steps, reels and waltzes -- and just as rhythm and blues have shaped Cajun's sibling zydeco, the influences of country, Texas swing and pop, not to mention zydeco itself, have crept into Cajun music, opening up further possibilities.

Many of those possibilities make an appearance on Cajun, where each band on each track demonstrates individual flair.

Fil kicks off the CD with "Pont de Vue," featuring fine fiddling and jaunty mandolin picking punctuating the lively melody, although the song is a cautionary tale about the consequences of not obeying one's mother. Accordion takes precedence in "Arcadie la Louisiane" from Bruce Daigrepont, a boucy two-step that tackles the topic of the Grand Derangement, and the song reflects the resilience of the Cajun culture.

Charivari puts in a welcome appearance with their zydeco-flavored "Jolie Bassette" from their CD I Want to Dance With You. (Zydeco music, which developed out of the black Creole culture, shares many characteristics of Cajun music, and each has influenced the other, but the terms "zydeco" and "Cajun" are not interchangeable.) On this track, Zach Huval's accordion just won't quit. Hadley Castille's "Beau Geste" has a catchy Texas swing flair which suits its story or Beau Geste, a kind of self-defined jack of many trades who made "medicine" with moonshine. (In a neat historical touch, Beau Geste's grandson, Charles Davide, performs on the track.)

Cajun music got its big break in the mid '60s when Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa went to the Newport Folk Festival and brought the crowd to its feet with his performance. Today, his daughter Christine fronts Balfa Toujours in his memory, a band that performs with infectious exuberance. "Les Tracas de Todd Balfa" is a good example of their remarkable fusion of vocals, accordion and fiddle. David Doucet, a name in Cajun music in his own right, offers the minor sounding "Balfa Waltz."

These tracks are only half of what you'll find on Cajun, along with excellent and informative liner notes that are heavy on history musicology, although light on lyrics which would have been welcome. There's also a recipe for traditional red beans and rice. Kudos to Putumayo for another compilation well done.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 25 June 2001

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