Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I want to be Cajun

This morning, to get away from the news of 500 dead in Haiti--thousands standing on rooftops after flooding from hurricane Jeanne, and the news of 8,000 homeless people unsheltered in New York City, and more drivel about CBS and Rathergate--I played a Cajun music CD on my way to work. I have bought several Cajun music CDs in all kinds of places, music stores, gift shops in New Orleans, and from the Savoy Music Center in Eunice, LA, owned by Mark Savoy, one of the leaders of this generation of Cajun musicians. His wife Ann Savoy, a naturalized Cajun who sings and plays guitar, fiddle and accordion, is also a serious chronicler and collector of Cajun songs and music. (See pictures of that Saturday morning below). I have made a study of Cajun music for the past few years, and felt I was really getting to the core of it when I visited their music store that day. It is not easy to get to Eunice, LA. if you live in Boston. Cajun music makes me want to dance, simple as that. It makes my heart sing. Dancing to Cajun music isn't easy. Recently, we went to hear Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys play at a club near where I work. The dance floor is tiny, but the music just carries people out to the floor. That same week we also went to see Ann Savoy and her band The Magnolia Sisters. Toward the end of the evening, a man asked me to dance. He had that look in his eye that he wasn't really sure if he should ask me or not. Cajun dancing isn't something to be taken lightly. He patiently showed me how he was going to use his arms to steer me back, and how to twirl fast under his arm and step back quickly to the next beat and off we went. I did it! I knew how! We flew around the tiny dance floor. It was wonderful.

In Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, at Mulates Restaurant you can hear real Cajun music and watch as the real Cajuns dance. There are lots of places to go in that part of the world, around Lafayette. It is a regular saturday night thing for them and I am jealous! The man steers the woman around the floor, and all the dancers are in a circle, so no one crashes into each other. The Cajun dancer does not move from the waist up, they glide as they dance using repetitive steps, either the two step or a waltz depending on the song. George commented that the men look like they are pushing grocery carts. The good Cajun dancers heads do not bob up and down like other dancers, they could balance a flower pot on their head I'm sure. The women always dance with their partner going backwards. Around and around they go, and although the beat of the music is very fast...the motion of the dance done well is very smooth. It is very hard to dance to Cajun music, and it is one of my big goals to learn. Dancing with someone who does't know how to do this is a catastrophy, since the beat is so fast and unrelenting. Here at Johnny D's, the crowd listening to the Mamou Playboys didn't really get the hang of Cajun dancing, and were just hopping around and up and down, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Some people think Cajun and Zydeco are the same, but they are not. But I wouldn't give up a chance to hear either one.

I wish I had been born on the Bayou Teche so I could go out every Saturday night and dance to real Cajun music too. Listening to Jo-el Sonnier, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun band, DL Menard or the Balfour Brothers, does wonders to make me forget about the bad news of the day.