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Acadian Odyssey: Allons au Rendezvous


About This Daily Classroom Special
Acadian Odyssey, created by Ron Dupuis, explores the culture of his ancestors by visiting "real" Cajun towns, presenting folk stories and language, describing the unique Cajun way of cooking, and allowing web site visitors to experience numerous Cajun-related festivals in Southern Louisiana. Ron is a teacher at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge (LA) and former Teachers Network web mentor. 

Allons au Rendezvous (Let's Go to the Get-Together)

"Cajun music is the glue that holds the culture together."--Marc Savoy

Hunter Hayes at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival,

photo: Dan Willging, Dirty Linen

The Soul of a People

Music is the soul of a people and reflects their ways and lifestyle in the song and dance of their get-togethers. "Allons au Rendezvous" (Let's go to the Get-Together) was an expression I used to hear from my relatives when they wanted to go dancing and listen to Cajun music. The Rendezvous was a dance hall in Breaux Bridge. It was down the street from my grandparents and it was the place where many local people went to "pass a good time" on Saturday night. Since there was no air-conditioning at that time and windows had to be left open, I could hear the music till early in the morning.

Saturday was important to the Cajuns because it was the end of the workweek and the day before church on Sunday. And Saturday meant music and a good time..

On Saturday, from nine in the morning to past midnight, all over Acadiana-and especially in its heartland, around Mamou and Eunice and Opelousas-it is impossible to escape the sound of the fiddle, the guitar, and the accordion, the nasal singing of the old Cajun lyrics, the tingle of the triangle and spoons, and the rhythmic clomping of the two-step, the most popular Cajun dance because a two-step works well with the simple rhythms of the songs. (Amy Wilentz, "Bon Temps on the Bayou", Condé Nast Traveler (New York: Condé Nast Publications Inc.; June, 1991), p. 145)

Cajun life is still defined by its music. Cajun music reflects Cajun family life, customs, and language. For the Cajuns, music reveals their deepest feelings and expresses their philosophy of life. Cajun music provides an exciting way to explore and understand the culture and the people.

Cajun music "is a major lifeforce of the Cajun culture. It is vital to the continuation of that culture and by continuing to live, it serves to bond together the generations. Those who can identify with this music can identify with the people because the music is a reflection of the lives, strengths, sorrows, and joys of the people." (Ann Allen Savoy, Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, Volume 1 (Eunice, Louisiana: Bluebird Press, Inc., 1984), p. XI).

Cajun Music History

Early Cajun music was born in the struggle to survive in a difficult living situation. Cajun music reflected the day to day problems and the hardships faced by the new settlers. They worked hard and played even harder. Their music defined a sense of community as several musicians worked together in playing their music for social gatherings.

The first music of Louisiana was brought by the settlers. The music was that of their ancestors, "... beautiful ballads that told stories of bygone years. Many of these songs can be traced back to France and many songs from France drifted to the bayou and prairie region via New Orleans and Nova Scotia." (Savoy, p. 13)

As soldiers in World War II, the Cajuns were used to translate and to act as liaisons with the French allies. The Cajuns were amazed that the language they were forbidden to speak outside their homes in Louisiana, was not only acceptable but respected by everyone they met. They felt very important because they could contribute something unique to the war effort-their language. Their renewed pride in their culture manifested itself in their music when they came home.

Holidays

No holiday is complete without music. The Cajuns have special songs for Christmas and for Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday). They celebrate their holidays enthusiastically and play their music, or sing, or dance with gusto. Even common events such as a "boucherie" (hog butchering), for example, are celebrated with music.

Music & Family

For the Cajun family, music is a way of life. The musicians are primarily self-taught, using borrowed or very inexpensive instruments. The bands are made up of family members, girls and boys, women and men. The songs are based on family traditions, and the same songs are sung within the family for generations.

Music has been important to Cajun families since they arrived in Louisiana. After a long day's work building houses, or plowing the fields, "families would gather... to sing complaintes, the long unaccompanied story songs of their French heritage. They adapted old songs to reflect the Louisiana experience. They sang children's songs, drinking songs, and lullabies in the appropriate settings and developed play-party ditties for square and round dancing... They filled the loneliest nights in the simplest cabins with wisdom and art." (Barry Jean Ancelet, The Makers of Cajun Music Musiciens cadiens et créoles (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press,984), pp. 21-22)

Characteristics

What is characteristic of Cajun music? What are the features of this regional music of South Louisiana, that has become one of the hottest items on the "music scene"? What factors have played a role in the development of this "unique musical genre"?

A lonesome desperate voice is singing of heartbreak and love. Singing in French. A fiddle adds plaintive drones and harmony. A boisterous accordion, all staccato attack and ornate rolls, provides lift and bounce. Beneath this trinity of voice, fiddle and accordion, a rhythm guitar and a great iron triangle jangle out rude chanky-chank. The result is the quintessential sound of the South Louisiana prairies and bayous, Cajun music. The early history of the Cajuns is a tale of endurance against outside forces bent on their destruction.Most of them eventually ended up as subsistence farmers in South Louisiana, where there was already a French population, and where the Spanish government welcomed Catholic immigrants. In Louisiana, they reconstructed their culture and made modifications to suit their new environment. They had contact with new groups, principally Native Americans and free people of color. This environment allowed Acadians, who in their rough and ready French called themselves "Cadiens" or "Cajuns", to combine elements of French, Celtic, Spanish, Native American and African music into a new and unique musical genre: Cajun music. This genre had almost two centuries to develop, mature and mellow before the first entrepreneurs and collectors arrived on the scene to make records. (Steve Winick, "Allons à Lafayette," Dirty Linen, October, 1995 )

The Lyrics

Here are a few representative pieces of Cajun music with the accompanying English translation. They are among the most popular Cajun songs played among Cajun bands.

The very first genuine Cajun song to ever be recorded was "Allons à Lafayette." Here are the lyrics.

Allons à Lafayette mais pour changer ton nom.

On va t'appeler madam, madam Canaille Comeaux!
Petite, t'es trop mignonne pour faire ta criminelle!
Comment tu crois mais moi j'peux faire mais moi tout seul?
Mais toi, mais joli coeur, 'garde donc mais quoi t'as fait!
Si loin comme moi j'su'd' toi, mais ca, ca m'fait pitier!

Let's go to Lafayette to change your name!
We'll call you Madam, Madam Rascal Comeaux!
Little one, you're too cute to do me wrong!
How come you believe that I can make it all alone?
But you, pretty heart, look what you've done!
So far as I am from you, why it's pitiful!

One of the oldest songs of the Cajun repertory is "J'ai passé devant ta porte." It is a very popular old song about a lover who discovers that his sweetheart has died.

J'ai passé devant ta porte, Jai crié 'bye-bye' la belle.
'Y a personne qui m'a repondu! Oh yé yaille! Mon coeur fait mal!
Moi, j'm'ai mis à bien observer. Moi, j'ai vu des chandelles allumé.
Y que'qu' chose qui disait j'aurait pleuré. Oh yé yaille! Mon coeur fait mal!

I passed in front of your door. I cried good-bye to my sweetheart.
No one answered me! Oh it hurts! My heart hurts!
I looked closely. I saw (religious) candles were lit.
Something told me I would cry. Oh it hurts! My heart hurts!

This song is sometimes called the "Cajun National Anthem." It points out one of the constantly recurring themes in Cajun music: unrequited love.

Oh, mais jolie blonde, tu m'as quitté pour t'en aller, t'en aller avec un bon a rien.
Quelle espoir et quelle avenir qu' moi j'peux avoir?
Oh, mais cher 'tit coeur, c'est mourir mais c'est pas rien, c'est d'rester dans cette terre aussi longtemps
Quelle espoir et quelle avenir qu' moi j'peux avoir?

Oh, but pretty blond, you've left me to go away, to go away with that good-for-nothing.
What hope and what future can I have, baby?
Oh, but dear little heart, to die is nothing, its staying on the earth for so long!
What hope and future can I have?

Links

You can go and visit the following sites and listen to some of the basic repertory of Cajun music. You will need the Real Audio player to be able to listen to the selections.

http://user.aol.com/accrdnmn/cajun.html

http://erols.com/ghayman/music.htm

Credit: Harriet J. Bauman, "Cajun Music: the Voice of the Cajun Family," Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

 

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