A SHORT HISTORY OF CAJUN MUSIC AND DANCE.
by Margot Hitchcock.
(Information condensed from an article ‘The Makers of Cajun Music” by Barry Ancelet published 1984 and provided by Andrew & Geoff Le Blanc)
Cajun music and the dance stems from Louisiana’s French population who are descendants from the Acadians. The New World colonists who arrived from France settled at Port Royale in Acadia in 1604. For nearly a century the Acadians thrived in their new homeland, adapting to the area and its climate with the help of the Micmac Indians. The power struggle between the English and the French colonial empires led to Acadia changing hands with the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when England gained permanent possession of the colony and renamed it Nova Scotia. The Acadians were deported from their homeland in 1755 by the British to make way for new English colonists. After being dispersed to various British colonies in 1765 after ten years of hapless wandering, many Acadians began to arrive in Louisiana, which at that time was owned by Napoleon and was a thriving French colony. Here they resumed the society they had known in Acadia.
Within a generation, these exiles had so firmly established themselves that they became the dominant culture in South Louisiana. Most of the French Creoles, descendants of earlier French settlers, the Spanish, Germans, Scots-Irish, Afro-Caribbean’s, and Anglo-Americans in the region adopted the traditions and language of this new society which became the South Louisiana mainstream. The Acadians in turn, borrowed many traits of these other cultures, and this cross-cultured exchange produced a new Louisiana-based community, the Cajuns.
These diverse cultural influences blended with a strong western French/Acadian base to produce what is now called Cajun music. Fiddlers began playing for dances held in private homes where space was made for crowds of visiting relatives and friends. From their Anglo-American neighbours they learned jigs and Virginia reels, to enrich their growing repertoire which already included polkas, contra dances, Varsovianas, Mazurkas, waltzes and the two step.
In the mid to late 1800s the diatonic accordion which had been invented in Vienna in 1828 entered South Louisiana by way of Texas and German settlers, and quickly transformed the music played by the Cajuns. Dance bands were built around the accordion and fiddle with a triangle, washboard, or spoons added for percussion. Some groups added a Spanish box guitar for rhythm. By the late 1920’s musicians had developed much of the core repertoire now associated with Cajun music, with songs sung in the Cajun French language. Cajun musicians played at the National Folk Festival in 1935 in America. In 1965 the Louisiana Folk Federation was formed to encourage the preservation of the traditional Cajun music. The revival movement of the 1960s and 1970s helped to make a veritable fad of folk music, along with Folk Festivals that sprouted across the country. ©
Today the popularity of Cajun music has spread worldwide. We have in Melbourne, the Le Blanc Brothers Cajun band with Andrew and Geoff Le Blanc and Cajun Roux a Cajun band with Nick and Janet and Lachlan Dear and Geoff Le Blanc (who is a descendant of the Acadians) who play authentic traditional Cajun music.
Margot Hitchcock learnt the moves and stepping from dance instructions of the Cajun Two Step, Cajun Jitterbug and Waltz from videos obtained for her by Geoff Le Blanc from Louisiana U.S.A., and London, England.
Margot has also performed and given Cajun Dance Workshops at various Folk and Music Festivals in Victoria and Interstate. She commenced this popular dance style in Melbourne and now it is spreading Australia wide as people experience the fun and enjoyment of dancing to good traditional music.
Margot’s belief is that Cajun music is for dancing and the desire to pass this on to others.
Margot learnt Zydeco dancing from Mona Wilson at the Cajun Creole Festival in West Virginia in 2001.
To read some history on Zydeco Music and dance clink on “What is Zydeco” on the web page of Psycho Zydeco. Zydeco music’s connection to Cajun music is that it is black people’s music of Louisiana. Zydeco dancing is hot and sensual, and heaps of fun.
Give me Zydeco dancing and give me a huge reason to enjoy life. I can never get the smile off my face when I’m Zydeco dancing with a good dance partner. Aieeee…
“Dance to the beat with the rhythm of your feet…..”