Since the 1980s or so Cajun-type bands have sprung up in various parts of Europe as well as across North America. It's a phenomenon that substantiates the fact that Cajun music is a distinct musical genre of nearly universal appeal and not just one limited to a regional following. Of all the local styles of music in North America, Cajun music is unquestionably one of the most popular of them all. Although radio brought hillbilly music and blues to Louisiana in the 1920s, and the first Cajun records came out in 1928, it wasn't until the 1960s that the genre became well known beyond Louisiana and environs. Cajuns have always loved to dance, especially waltzes and two-steps, and Cajun songs, which express a gamut of emotions from deep woefulness to unbridled exuberance, go hand in hand with that inclination. Many of the songs have their origins in old Acadian and French songs, but Creole, Celtic, African, Anglo-Saxon and Amerindian influences were also picked up along the way. While modern-day Acadian songwriters occasionally allude to the deportation in their songs, Cajuns almost never do.
Cajun songs were originally sung a capella or with rudimentary percussive accompaniment but in the 20th-century songs and instrumental music began to be fused. German settlers introduced the diatonic accordion to the region in the latter half of the 19th century and that instrument joined the fiddle as an instrument of choice. Song lyrics, which were often relegated to secondary status, were sung in an accent that remained distinct from that of French-speaking communities in France. Amplification arrived in the 1930s and the Hackberry Ramblers, a string band, added jazz riffs to their playing. The availability of records, not to mention the recording process itself, influenced the Cajuns and in the 1940s traces of honky-tonk began showing up in the songs. In turn Cajun music began to influence such important performers as Hank Williams. It was also in that decade that some important players such as Iry Lejeune, Lawrence Walker and Nathan Abshire brought the accordion back to the forefront after the instrument had more or less vanished from the scene a decade or so earlier.
The arrival of rock 'n' roll bred a style that came to be known as swamp pop, and in 1960 or so the Creole strain known as zydeco started on a parallel course to Cajun music. It was also in the 1960s that cheesy Cajun versions of Top 40 hits began appearing. In 1964 the Balfa Brothers played the Newport Folk Festival, which finally exposed the Cajun genre and its traditional repertoire to thousands of potential new fans. Recordings that folklorists and producers had amassed over the decades were gradually reissued or, in some cases, released for the first time. Just as important, record producer Floyd Soileau started releasing albums of traditional Cajun music in 1967 and the process continues to this day. In 1974 the first Tribute to Cajun Music festival took placed in Lafayette and the event turned out to be a milestone in awakening cultural pride among Cajuns.
As with all other forms of music, Cajun music has seen its share of pioneers, innovators and local stars. Harry Choates recorded his version of "Jole Blon" in 1947 and the song became known as the Cajun national anthem. D.L. Menard, who was heavily influenced by Hank Williams, wrote "La Porte d'en Arrière" in 1962 and the song became the second most famous Cajun song. Canray Fontenot and Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin kept the black Creole tradition strong. In the 1970s Zachary Richard brought a more modern sensibility to the genre while in the 1980s Bruce Daigrepont proved that Cajun performers needn't rely on the usual repertoire: He wrote many new songs, a few of which became classics and a few more helped forge a new bond between Cajuns and Acadians from the Maritime Provinces. There's also a country strain of Cajun, which was explored with varying degrees of commercial success by Doug Kershaw, Jimmy C. Newman, Belton Richard, Joel Sonnier and others. New fusions, such as Wayne Toups' "Zydecajun" sound, were also created.
While females haven't played a big role in the development of Cajun music they've begun to find their place within the last few decades. The most important names are the Magnolia Sisters, an all-women Cajun band that features Ann Savoy, Balfa Toujours, which features Dewey Balfa's daughter Christine, Marce Lacouture, Helen Boudreaux and Sheryl Cormier.
With the help of his innovative group called BeauSoleil, Michael Doucet has been popularizing Cajun music around the world since the 1970s. Michael's brother David, also part of the group, introduced guitar as a prominent instrument in Cajun music. Since the early 1990s or so, many groups and individuals, such as Charivari and, most especially, Bruce Daigrepont and Steve Riley, have continued to breathe new life into the form. At this point in the music's evolution it's no longer surprising to come across musicians from unlikely places faithfully reproducing the Cajun sound from Southwestern Louisiana. >I>Paul-Emile Comeau