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Gulf Coast Highway

Cajun Music

Michael Doucet

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Louisiana-based Cajun music has roots in unaccompanied, narrative ballads brought by European settlers. Sung at weddings and funerals as well as informal parties, these ballads told stories of love and death, humor and nostalgia. Cajun songs, traditionally sung in French, fused narrative balladry, Irish and Anglo-American reels and jigs, and Black and Native American folk traditions.

The earliest instrument that typified Cajun music was the fiddle. In dance halls and house parties called fais-do-dos, two fiddlers performed together-the lead playing melody, the other playing back-up. The powerful accordion sound soon joined the twin fiddles along with percussion inspired by Creole music.

In the 1930s and 1940s, steel guitars, mandolins, and banjos entered the scene, bringing a country-western swing to Cajun music. (This strong country influence differentiates Cajun music from the closely aligned zydeco music.) The Cajun bands of today are incorporating electric guitars and amplified instruments, proving that the Cajun sound is continuing to evolve.

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