Ethnography of Fiddle/Cajun fiddle

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I think that there is some confusion out there about the words "progress" and "change". "Progress" is a movement in the positive direction, whereas "change" can be either positive or negative. What is so great about the English language that would make someone want to abandon French? Personally I find French much more beautiful and wish that I could speak several languages. What is so great about a mobile home or a brick shoebox that would make someone tear down a beautiful, old Acadian home and replace it with something of lesser beauty? - Mark Savoy [1]
Cedric Watson
Cedric Watson

Anthropologist Dorice Tentchoff notes that Cajun enjoyment of pleasurable activities on Sunday is part of the stigmatization she associates with ethnic particularity in a homogenized US culture.[2] Known as "music of the veillée (evening with company)",[3]< 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.[4] It is one of the few extant North American folk music traditions rooted in French chanson [5] which also includes Quebec and Cape Breton traditions, with which Cajun repertoire shares repertoire.[6]

Cajun fiddle[edit | edit source]

According to Ron Yule "Louisiana fiddling had its birthroots in Europe, with fiddling being noted as early as the 1400s in Scotland".[7] The most widely known Cajun fiddler is Doug Kershaw. Zydeco music is a geographically, culturally and musically related style.

Cajun music generally[edit | edit source]

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. The Black Creoles of Acadiana are of West African, mostly Senegambian origin. They arrived in the 1720s on 21 ships from Africa, beginning in 1719 from the port of Whydah, Benin aboard the l'Aurore. By 1732 the colony was 2 to 1 black.( See Gwendolyn Midlo-Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana.) Cajun music is also influenced by Black Louisiana Creole music through the blues and pocket based rhythms. Zydeco dance and the Creole language also are not Acadian. (House dances are of course segregated.) The 1810 census shows Acadiana is 80% Black Creole, slave and free people of color. Many are cowboys with French retired military starting the first cattle ranches. (See Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country and The Roles of Blacks in Cattle Ranching.) 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.[8]

Repertoire[edit | edit source]

Cajun fiddle includes quadrilles, jigs, hornpipes, reels, one-steps, two-steps, airs, mazurkas, schottisches, and waltzes.[9]

  • "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 [11]

Hank William's recording is so influential it is covered in and of itself, as by Dwight Yoakam [12] Others to cover the song included The White Stripes (2005)[13] 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.[14]

Roots[edit | edit source]

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.[15] Double stops in the style of Old time fiddle|Old time fiddlers are commonly heard on Cajun fiddle tracks [16] and even proto-bluegrass influences from early American balladry[17]

History[edit | edit source]

According to Bill Malone and David Sticklin, authors of Southern Music/American Music,[18] 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".[19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. An Interview WIth Myself|Mark Savoy|
  2. Ethnic Survival under Anglo-American Hegemony: The Louisiana Cajuns|Dorice Tentchoff|Anthropological Quarterly|Vol. 53, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 229-241|Published by: The George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research|Stable URL:
  3. 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
  4. M&S
  5. ref name=R&A|Old Time Fiddling Across America|David Reiner and Peter Anick|Mel Bay Publications|Pacific, Missouri|1989
  6. Bayou Memories: Louisiana French Folk Songs and Dance Tunes Interpreted by Gérard Dôle|Gérard Dôle and Marie-Paule| Vadunthun |FW02625
  8. 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
  9. Fiddling in Louisiana|Ron Yule|Original publication 2005 Louisiana Folklife Festival booklet|
  10. 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
  11. title=Jambalya|artist=Bruce Springsteen|venue=Newark State College, NJ|date=1971|url=
  12. title=Jambalaya (On the Bayou)|artist=Dwight Yoakum|venue=Red Dog Saloon|June 4, 2000|url=
  14. title=Jambalya|artist=John Fogerty|venu= South Street Seaport, NYC|date=September 2, 2009| guitar= Billy Burnette|fiddle=unknwon
  15. Balfa|liner notes|"Les Bars de la Prison"|Dewey Balfa
  16. Balfa|Drone Sound: "Grand Mamou" (Arr. D. Balfa, Flat Town Music)| Dewey Balfa|0:55
  17. Old Lonesome Sound| "La Valse des Bombocheurs"|Dewey Balfa| 2:12
  18. ref name=M&S|Southern music/American music| By Bill C. Malone, David Stricklin|1979
  19. M&S, p 61
  21. M& S p 62