Compendium of Fiddle Styles/Down on the Bayou

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Known as "music of the veillée (evening with company)",[1]< old time Cajun fiddle music is a part of the American fiddle music canon with its own distinctive flair. Its derivation is the borderland of southwest Lousiana and southeast Texas.[2]

Cajun music[edit | edit source]

Cajun music is Zydeco music is a geographically, culturally and musically related style with Creole roots. But Wiifred Chevis advertises "Foot Stompin Zydeco LP Cajun" so the overlap is real.[3]

WILFRED CHEVIS Foot Stompin Zydeco LP Cajun Accordion

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 Louisiana Creole people|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. It is an aural tradition dating past the Acadian conquest of southwest Louisiana after their displacement from Nova Scotia, from whence they brought a rich musical tradition.[4]

Repertoire[edit | edit source]

Cajun fiddle includes quadrilles, jigs, hornpipes, reels, one-steps, two-steps, airs, mazurkas, schottisches, and waltzes.[5]

  • "Gran Mamou"
  • "The Port Arthur Blues" (Leo Soileau,[{Dewey Balfa
  • "Ma Chere Maman Creole" Dennis McGee, Dewey Balfa


  • Jambalaya (On the Bayou)|Jambalaya is based on a Cajun melody and has been covered by musicians of all types including Aldus Roger, Jo-El Sonnier and even a 1971 rock version by the young Bruce Springsteen [7]

Hank William's recording is so influential it is covered in and of itself, as by Dwight Yoakam [8] Others to cover the song included The White Stripes (2005)[9]and Celtic-influenced rocker Van Morrison. Perhaps its most famous out-of-genre treatment was the interpretation by folk-rocker John Fogerty, notably the live performance at the South Street Seaport, NYC, September 2, 2009. [10]

Roots[edit | edit source]

Cajun fiddle style is one of the few extant North American folk music traditions rooted in French chanson [11] which also includes Quebec and Cape Breton traditions, with which Cajun repertoire shares repertoire. [12] According to Ron Yule "Louisiana fiddling had its birthroots in Europe, with fiddling being noted as early as the 1400s in Scotland".[13]

Cajun music is derived from the French speaking Acadian people who had settled in Nova Scotia and been displaced by the British. Blues fiddle has directly influential in the development of Cajun fiddling as with all music in the New Orleans music scene.[14] Double stops in the style of Old time fiddle|Old time fiddlers are commonly heard on Cajun fiddle tracks [15] and even proto-bluegrass influences from early American balladry[16]

History[edit | edit source]

According to Bill Malone and David Sticklin, authors of Southern Music/American Music [17], Cajun music was first discovered commercially in the 1920's with release of Allons a' Lafayette (Let's Go to Lafayette). 1928 - Cajun fiddle had already diverged into variegenated styles, but the most prominent proponent was Leo Soileau of Ville Platte, Louisiana, who started recording in 1928,with Mayuse Lafleur, accordionist,"who met his death from a stray bullet in a tavern brawl in October of that same year". [18] By the thirties, 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. [19] The fiddle was a well established instrument which had been the central instrument in Cajun sound until the twenties when it was somewhat eclipsed by the German accordion fad, which had similar effect in French Canada. But in the Depression era the tide turned, and, according to Stricklin et al, it had never been exclipsed. [20]

Proponents of the style[edit | edit source]

Prominent proponents of the style[edit | edit source]

  • Michael Doucet
  • Dewey Balfa
  • Doug Kershaw
  • Al Berard
  • Breaux Brothers
  • Hadley Castille
  • Harry Choates
  • Varise Conner
  • Sady Courville
  • Luderin Darbone
  • Wade Fruge
  • J. B. Fuselier
  • D'Jalma Garnier
  • Gundula Krause
  • L'Angélus (band)
  • Dennis McGee
  • Rufus Thibodeaux

See also[edit | edit source]

Ethnography of Fiddle

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ref name= Balfa|Cajun Fiddle, Old and New: Instruction|Dewey Balfa FW08362|1977|Record Label Folkways Records|Source Archive Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage|Credits Artist Dewey Balfa | Produced by Tracy Schwarz
  2. M&S
  4. ref name=LBdB|media=documentary film|title="Les Blues de Balfa" |producer= Yasha Aginsky|url="We are here to tell you a little bit about what a Cajun is. A Cajun is a person who his homeland was France. Went into Nova Scotia, at the time Acadia, and settled there and was there for about a hundred years, and afterwards the British took over the territory and then the French-speaking people, the French descendants, known as the Acadians, came down to the South-Western part of Louisiana, and that was back in 1755. So over all of these years, your language, and your music has been preserved from daddy to son or daddy to daughter or momma to daughter."|cited
  5. Fiddling in Louisiana|Ron Yule|Original publication 2005 Louisiana Folklife Festival booklet|
  6. ref name= Balfa|Cajun Fiddle, Old and New: Instruction|Dewey Balfa FW08362|1977|Record Label Folkways Records|Source Archive Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage|Credits Artist Dewey Balfa | Produced by Tracy Schwarz
  7. title=Jambalya|artist=Bruce Springsteen|venue=Newark State College, NJ|date=1971|url=
  8. title=Jambalaya (On the Bayou)|artist=Dwight Yoakum|venue=Red Dog Saloon|June 4, 2000|url=
  10. title=Jambalya|artist=John Fogerty|venu= South Street Seaport, NYC|date=September 2, 2009| guitar= Billy Burnette|fiddle=unknwon
  11. ref name=R&A|Old Time Fiddling Across America|David Reiner and Peter Anick|Mel Bay Publications|Pacific, Missouri|1989
  12. Bayou Memories: Louisiana French Folk Songs and Dance Tunes Interpreted by Gérard Dôle|Gérard Dôle and Marie-Paule| Vadunthun |FW02625
  14. Balfa|liner notes|"Les Bars de la Prison"|Dewey Balfa
  15. Balfa|Drone Sound: "Grand Mamou" (Arr. D. Balfa, Flat Town Music)| Dewey Balfa|0:55
  16. Old Lonesome Sound| "La Valse des Bombocheurs"|Dewey Balfa| 2:12
  17. ref name=M&S|Southern music/American music| By Bill C. Malone, David Stricklin|1979
  18. M&S, p 61
  20. M& S p 62