This is America, Speak Cajun

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Lafayette, Louisiana—One of the larger themes behind this trip has always been, amorphous as it might sound, to make some sense of the map. Part of that is geographical: Do these towns with the funny names on the map really exist? Did Vermont quietly leave the Union without anyone noticing? But it’s cultural, too. You develop an odd sense of what a particular region is like if you spend your entire life reading about it without ever once walking its streets and talking to its people. For most of my childhood, for instance, my mental image of Atlanta came exclusively from old photos from Civil War anthologies: black-and-white, bustling with horse-drawn carriages, and prone to periodic outbreaks of cholera. Think of it as cultural autodidacticism.

So on that note, it was kind of awesome to arrive in the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana and discover that, in the heart of a region possessed by a “This is America, Speak English!” nativism, you can go to a gas station, or a convenience store, or a diner, or anywhere else locals tend to gather, and with a little bit of luck, hear people speaking an Old World tongue passed down from their exiled Canadian ancestors and kept intact over three centuries. For lack of a better analogy, it felt a bit like Samwise Gamgee’s first encounter with the elves.

Whether Cajun will surivive a fourth century is unclear; the handful of aging fluent speakers I talked to all had the same complaint: The younger generations just don’t feel the need to keep the tradition alive. And that’s probably true. But if Cajun  fades away as a spoken dialect, it’s at least sticking around a little while longer in musical form. In Lafayette, at the epicenter of Acadiana, we caught a twinbill show at a local bar featuring two popular Cajun bands, the Pine Leaf Boys and Feufollet (which translates to something like “Will-o-the-Wisp,” I think). Both groups were young—twentysomethings, mostly—but the crowd covered a much wider range, all there to hear the distinctive accordion- and tambourine-flavored Old World rhythms.

Anyway, this was really just an excuse to post some cool (and pretty unique) music, so here are the Pine Leaf Boys:

And here’s Feufollet, below the jump:

*Note: This analogy, preposterous as it sounds, actually holds up pretty well—especially when you consider that both groups were more or less exiled to their current locations and inhabited a unique but isolated landscape that few others dared move to. And I’m done.

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