Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings

Traditional music in coastal Louisiana : the 1934 Lomax recordings
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Cajun and Creole music [sound recording]: the Lomax recordings. Buying the wind: regional folklore in the United States. Cajun Folklife, by Ryan Brasseaux. This entry was posted on Thursday, November 13th, at am and is filed under Found in Archives , Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2. You can skip to the end and leave a response.

This volume presents, for the first time, a comprehensive examination of the corpus and unveils a multifaceted story of traditional song in one of the country's most culturally dynamic regions. Through his textual and comparative study of the songs contained in the Lomax collection, Joshua Clegg Caffery provides a musical history of Louisiana that extends beyond Cajun music and zydeco to the rural blues, Irish and English folk songs, play-party songs, slave spirituals, and traditional French folk songs that thrived at the time of these recordings.

Intimate in its presentation of Louisiana folklife and broad in its historical scope, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana honors the legacy of John and Alan Lomax by retrieving these musical relics from obscurity and ensuring their understanding and appreciation for generations to come. Joshua Clegg Caffery, a native of Franklin, Louisiana, is a writer and musician. Historical references can shift to reflect a change in context.

In various versions of "La veuve aux deux maris," a man departs to fight in a military campaign soon after his wedding. He promises his new bride to return soon, but ends up staying away much longer than expected. Upon his return he finds that his wife assumed him dead and is remarrying that very day.

She remarks, "This morning I awoke a widow and now I find myself with two husbands. Versions of "La belle qui fait la morte" have been recorded throughout much of the French-speaking world. Typically, the song tells the story of a young girl who is kidnapped from her father's garden by three young captains. In all versions, the youngest takes her by her white hand a ballad commonplace and a symbol of purity and innocence and puts her behind him on his gray steed symbolic of a loss of innocence. In the French version, they take her to a Paris hotel where she is to spend the night with them Robine In the Louisiana version that Lomax recorded Julian Hoffpauir singing in New Iberia, she is to spend the night with only the youngest captain Lomax There is more possibility in the Louisiana version that the kidnapping could have been motivated by love.

Nevertheless, in all versions, she feigns death to save her honor. When the captains find her apparently dead, they ask themselves, "Where shall we bury her? In the versions from Quebec and Louisiana, they will bury her in her father's garden specifically under the three fleurs de lys. She later wakes to console her grieving father, explaining her ploy. What is interesting is the detail concerning the fleurs de lys. In another Louisiana French version, from Creole singer Alma Barthelemy as recorded by Ralph Rinzler in the s, the maiden is initially found among the laurier blanc but taken back for burial under the fleurs de lys.

While her father's garden could be a flower garden, why the specific reference to fleurs de lys in the North American French versions, a detail that is conspicuously missing from the French version? And why especially three fleurs de lys? Taking history into consideration, the three fleurs de lys were the symbol of the French royal flag, a detail that has disappeared in the contemporary version of the song as recorded in the French Republic.

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After the French Revolution guillotined Louis XVI, images and references to the reviled monarchy were erased, even abolished from popular culture. And in French North American communities, the fleurs de lys have endured as a symbol, not of the monarchy, but of Frenchness. And they are preserved in this song. Pursuing the clues further, if the young girl is to be buried under the three fleurs de lys , the French flag, then she is undoubtedly French. If those who kidnapped her can be reasonably considered her adversaries, then who are they? It is not unlikely that they would be thought of as English.

Why then did the symbol survive? Because it resonated, because it conveyed an element that the singers and their audiences would have understood, if not overtly, at least subliminally.

Consider the fact that there is not one song in the traditional Cajun repertoire that addresses the Acadian exile of directly. Yet many Cajun songs reflect the pain and suffering, the separation and alienation, the broken families and lonely wandering that were the result of the exile.

There are no songs in traditional blues that address slavery directly, but much of the blues reflects its unhappy results. The traditional element of Cajun and Creole music would have acted as a conservative influence. Things change, but in ways that make sense and that feel culturally appropriate.

As many have pointed out, Cajun and Creole music are the result of a remarkable process of cultural evolution.

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I had something to say, and I said it. Since this new-fangled Cajun good-time music was being commercially recorded and broadcast, we concentrated our recording efforts on the earlier unaccompanied Louisiana styles, which we feared were being smothered by the urbanized, orchestrated sound. And Evangeline was a fictitious character created by Anglo-American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the mid th century. Out of stock online. But it is not unlikely that lyrical material in active memory contributed to the development of dance music lyrics. Add to Watchlist Unwatch. Alan could also be quite intimidating.

But it is not unlikely that lyrical material in active memory contributed to the development of dance music lyrics. It seems clear that texts evolved to reflect changing contexts.

And the Lomax collection has made it possible for us to explore this evolution. Without it, it might appear that Cajun music was born around the turn of the twentieth century in South Louisiana. With it, we can see that it went through a major transformation during that time, but that it has thematic and lyrical roots that go much further back.

The process of turning earlier unaccompanied songs into dance music is still going on today, though not exactly the same way. Previously, long story ballads were compressed into relatively short dance music lyrics intensifying the message in small symbolic and impressionistic kernels. She rebuffs him, but gently, explaining that she is too young to consider marriage.

Shirley Bergeron's "La valse de la belle" is expressed in remarkably similar terms, including the recurring reference to the girl as "la belle" though much more briefly in order to function as dance music lyrics. Now, however, groups are actually reviving early songs, preserving the lyrics and fitting them all into an elongated dance song. Since then, other bands have been inspired to do dance band arrangements of unaccompanied material from the Lomax collection. That these old songs would be recycled to become new again would at least be interesting to John and Alan Lomax.

Their clearly expressed intention was to preserve the material so that it would be available to subsequent generations. I'm not sure that Alan would have approved of the songs being arranged and pressed into service as dance music lyrics, but through this process they are still alive. He would have undoubtedly approved of another recent trend, however. Marce Lacouture, The Magnolia Sisters, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, and Feufollet have recently included in their performances and on their recordings unaccompanied versions of the old songs.

Beausoleil revived "Belle" Hot Chili Mama , an unaccompanied song that Lomax collected from a singer he identified only as Mr. Bornu from Kaplan. Feufollet also rearranged Elita Hoffpauir's "Les clefs de la prison" to feature a rocking instrumental accompaniment Belle Louisiane These are a few examples among many others of the contemporary recycling of songs that Lomax recorded in South Louisiana in Finally, if Alan Lomax misunderstood some of the cultural effects he observed, he also understood and cared lots about how cultures function, interact, and survive.

He could be difficult in the field and in the scholarly arena, but he never strayed from his unwavering dedication to the principle of cultural equity. And when he was on the trail of an equity issue, he was relentless. Every time he called me over a span of about ten years, he never failed to ask if we were teaching Cajun French in the schools yet. His notions about the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity have been affirmed by many contemporary scholars, including Nobel prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann who concluded his recent book, The Quark and the Jaguar , with a discussion of these very same issues, insisting on the importance of "cultural DNA" His cautions about "universal popular culture" sound remarkably like Alan's warning in his "Appeal for Cultural Equity" that the "cultural grey-out" must be checked or there would soon be "no place worth visiting and no place worth staying" Compare Gell-Mann:.

Just as it is crazy to squander in a few decades much of the rich biological diversity that has evolved over billions of years, so is it equally crazy to permit the disappearance of much of human cultural diversity, which has evolved in a somewhat analogous way over many tens of thousands of years. The erosion of local cultural patterns around the world is not, however, entirely or even principally the result of contactwith the universalizing effect of scientific enlightenment.

Popular culture is in most cases far more effective at erasing distinctions between one place or society and another. Blue jeans, fast food, rock music, and American television serials have been sweeping the world for years. Not only is such a doctrine anti-human; it is very bad science. It is false Darwinism applied to culture — especially to its expressive systems, such as music language, and art. Scientific study of cultures, notably of their languages and their musics, shows that all are equally expressive and equally communicative, even though they may symbolize technologies of different levels.

With the disappearance of each of these systems, the human species not only loses a way of viewing, thinking, and feeling but also a way of adjusting to some zone on the planet which fits it and makes it livable; not only that, but we throw away a system of interaction, of fantasy and symbolizing which, in the future, the human race may sorely need. The only way to halt this degradation of man's culture is to commit ourselves to the principles of political, social, and economic justice.

The sound recordings and videotape footage he collected over half a century constitute a treasure trove that Alan insisted be available to the cultures that provided them. He was delighted to hear years ago that the best material from his Louisiana French collection was being issued on a Swallow double album set subsequently reissued and expanded by Rounder.

He generously provided an extensive statement for the notes. He was more delighted to hear that the recordings were influencing the next generation, contributing to what Dewey Balfa called "the very life of the culture.

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It was he who insisted that the Newport Folk Foundation send fieldworkers to Louisiana. Ralph Rinzler and Mike Seeger went and Dewey Balfa was among the Cajun musicians who performed at the festival in Our own annual Festival de Musique Acadienne in Lafayette is the direct result of the standing ovation Dewey Balfa experienced in Newport.

Alan was always interested in understanding the big picture. He was willing to hazard a theory to get at the reason for the way things are. Even in the cases when he was obviously wrong, he inspired those around him who were frustrated by his opinionated wild guesses to find out the real story to prove him wrong.

When he announced that those who left France to become the Acadians in must have been Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in Poitou, a hotbed of France's religious wars, some of us sensed that this could not be right since the Acadians were eventually deported from their homeland by the British in partly due to their refusal to abandon their Catholic faith.

As Carl Brasseaux has pointed out, well over fifty percent of those who became the Acadians came from a twenty-mile radius around that same town and left for the New World in that same year. Brasseaux also describes aspects of the economic, social, and political climate that contributed to the exodus. Thus, Alan was apparently wrong, but nevertheless contributed directly to the discovery of the truth by taking a stab at it.

In a recent letter to the New York Times responding to Jon Pareles' obituary "A Man of His Time, Voices for All Time," Nick Spitzer insisted that Lomax was "hardly an isolationist," that "he wanted traditional performers to be able to compete within the economic and political realities of modern society" August 11, I agree; Lomax was dead serious about cultural equity and the responsibility of the folklorist to the folk. In his words:. We have become in this way the champions of the ordinary people of the world who aren't backed up by printing presses, radio chains, and B29's.

We believe in the oral tradition, we believe in the small cultural situation, we think that some of these folk of the world have something worthwhile culturally, morally, etc. Now I propose that we should be two-way bridges and form a two-way intercommunication system. We, who speak for the folk in the market place here, have obligations to the people who we represent.

In Louisiana, he tried to enable and encourage Cajuns and Creoles to work toward a future in which Cajun music and what would later come to be called zydeco could survive and compete with the forces that once threatened to wash them out.

Lomax in Louisiana: Trials and Triumph

The wide popularity of Cajun and Creole musicians today gives reason to think that the effort may have succeeded. That this may be a mixed blessing is another matter, but it would be hard to deny that Cajun music and zydeco definitely have a life of their own. So do the scholars that have emerged from the culture. Those of us who worked with Alan learned much about how to read cultural effects, how to establish and argue a case, and how to infiltrate popular culture with tradition.

And the Lomax family tradition of generosity to French Louisiana continues. His daughter Anna Chairetakis recently offered to donate all of the Louisiana footage from the Patchwork project to U.