Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music

Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music

Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music

Cajun Breakdown: The Emergence of an American-Made Music

Excerpt

Cajun music is woven of many strands. Like Ralph Ellison’s America, this synthetic musical idiom is the product of worlds in collision. Cajuns filtered the cultural and musical systems—overlaid for centuries in Louisiana—into an intricately nuanced and wholly creolized expression that eludes stringent categorization. In the words of Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw, it was just music: the melodic voice of a dynamic, heterogeneous, and largely invisible ethnic group. The narrative that follows spotlights the development of Cajun music, the musicians who created the art through time, and the sociocultural contexts shaping musical expression in Cajun Country to draw the genre out of the shadows of mainstream media.

I began this project as an attempt to reconnect with the soundtrack of my youth. My mind’s ear can still hear the thin, processed sound of Cajun music broadcast by a local French-language AM radio station in my maternal grandfather’s Chevrolet pickup truck as we traversed the gravel byways surrounding his home in rural Acadia Parish. He annotated the broadcast with tales of dancing to Lawrence Walker, Harry Choates, and Iry LeJeune, yarns that both captured my imagination as a youth and sustained my interest throughout this project. Like my grandfather, I came of age sweating and dancing all night to the latest Cajun music in poorly ventilated in south Louisiana dance halls. Indeed, my fascination with Cajun music stems directly from a personal crusade to better understand the world from whence I came.

This book is in many ways a corrective. It stands in stark contrast to previous studies of folk music in general and Cajun music in particular. My goal with this study is to expand the horizons of vernacular musical scholarship and American cultural history by presenting working-class Cajun music through a close reading of the social contexts and cultural processes driving changes in the tradition. I acknowledge the broadest scope of musical expression to emerge within the community and the . . .

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