Lafayette, You Are Here
Listening to Cajun and Zydeco music has always made me feel a bit torn in two, like a stranger in my own country. (If I’d paid more attention in French class I might be less conflicted.) My monolingual shortcomings aside, this music never fails to pull me in completely with its infectious rhythms, ancient sounds and sheer depth of history. Consider it time travel with fiddle and squeezebox.
For over 37 years, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet have been blending traditional Cajun music with elements of Zydeco, New Orleans jazz, Tex-Mex, country, blues and gospel. On this night, the band was a bit slow to start, and percussionist Billy Ware was the busiest guy for the first few songs, switching from triangle to timbale to washboard and back again.
Not until Doucet grabbed a well-worn, golden-patinaed button accordion for Boozoo Chavis’ Lula Lula Don’t You Go to Bingo did the band really take off and get people two-stepping in the aisles. The dancing, it seemed, added to the band’s increased enthusiasm, especially on a Creole jig number when bass player Mitch Reed switched to fiddle, dueling with Doucet on a jaw-droppingly intense and rip-roaring round.
Naturally, after so many years together, BeauSoleil are one tight band with hand-in-glove rhythm and melodies, with David Doucet’s flatpicking guitar and otherworldly ukelele sound an impressive standout.
Introducing Chanson d’Acadie, Doucet gave a short history of the Cajuns, French settlers who colonized present-day Nova Scotia near the start of the 17th century. Expelled by the British in 1755, only one tenth of the original 12,000 made it down to southwestern Louisiana, taking their music with them and eventually blending it with the music of French, African, Spanish and Native American Creoles. The rest, as they say, is l’histoire! (See Louisiana Folklife for deeper historical detail.)
The band covered an old Bobby Charles song, “I Spent All My Money Lovin’ You” (appearing on their Alligator Purse album, 2009) alternating between English and French. The lilting and syrupy “Take It To Me” (Arc de Triomphe Two Step, 1997) and full-on gospel traditional “You Got To Move” were highlights.
Encores included selections from their 2013 album, From Bamako to Carencro, alluding to the connection between Bamako, in Mali, West Africa, and the Lafayette, Louisiana suburb of Carencro. Bamako, a hypnotic instrumental, was made all the more resonant, said Doucet, by the French army’s recent rescue of Mali artifacts from destruction by al-Quaeda terrorists, prompting a shout of “Vive la France!” from a woman in the audience, with Doucet smiling in reply, “Yes, indeed.”