Cajun Music, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
American Culture
American Music

Cajun Music
Cajun music is an important part of the Cajun culture associated with the southern US state of Louisiana. The origins of Cajun culture (and music) lie in the Poitou region of Atlantic France, from which immigrants, called Acadians, settled Canadian Nova Scotia. When the British took over Canada in the 18th century, they expelled most of the Acadians. Those who settled in Louisiana came to be called Cajuns, a shortening of the term Acadian. Their unique language is based on 17th and 18th century French, but has many influences from Native American and African languages as well as from English. Cajun songs today are sung in either Cajun, English or often in a mixture of the two. A related form of music performed primarily by black Louisianans (also sung in a French dialect) is called “Zydeco.”

Until oil was discovered in Cajun country in the 1920s, the Cajuns existed as a world apart: isolated, forgotten, a quaint dot on an ethnologist's map. During much of the 20th century, English-speaking Louisianans tried to stamp out the Cajun language and culture. They never quite succeeded. Over the last few decades, to the contrary, Cajun music, along with Cajun cuisine, has become increasingly popular throughout the United States. As the cuisine has influenced mainstream American cooking, so too has the music had its effect on country music, pop music, and even commercial jingles. Traditional Cajun music is widely played and enjoyed, although contemporary Cajun artists do mix rock, jazz and country strains and instrumentation (often electric) into their music.

Cajun music is absolutely infectious, characterized in some cases by a driving, danceable beat, in others by a gentle, equally danceable waltz rhythm. Simplicity is the key, using Cajun fiddle, acoustic guitar, and a specialized Cajun form of small accordion, which can only play in a single key, depending on its construction and tuning. Lyrics tend to refer to sadness, hardship, poverty, lost love, and other unhappy subjects, which are often at odds with the generally joyous nature of the music itself. The classic Cajun tune Jolie Blonde (“pretty blonde”), a delicate lilting waltz, is so commonly performed and recorded that it is referred to as the unofficial “Cajun National Anthem.”


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