All material © Blues in London. All rights reserved.
Support Blues in London
Feature Article :
Formed in Eunice, Louisianna by three South Louisiana natives, Joel Savoy, Lucius Fontenot, and Phillip LaFargue, Valcour explores both traditional and innovative Louisiana sounds. Chalrie Munn takes us on a journey of discovery...
Who are you & what do you do?
My name is Joel Savoy. I am a musician, but I do lots of things. In fact I don't officially play music for a living - I love it too much to do it for a job. I build accordions with my father, and make tube amps and studio gear on the side. I run a recording studio and produce records.
I like long walks on gravel roads... I live out in the middle of nowhere, and people always ask why I don't live in Lafayette or somewhere like that. They just don't know any better. I'm a bit of an activist. I think of projects, and I do them- I used to have a lot of free time until I started doing all these things! Several years ago, I called up two friends, Lucius Fontenot and Phillip LaFargue, and told them that I was going to start a record label.
That decision makes more sense than I may have realized at the time: Lucius being a very creative artist and photographer (the photos on this page are by him - Ed.) , and Phillip a design and communications master. They knew me well enough to believe me, and jumped on board. I couldn't have done it without them. We're revolutionizing the Louisiana music scene, one step at a time. That's what we're doing.
What's the mission of the label?
To give our local talent the support and dignified presentation it deserves and to provide our artists with the exposure they need. Ultimately, I'd say our goal is to show the world that Louisiana music is evolving and becoming one of our nation's most exciting scenes.
What does the label look for, how do you find it?
We look for local musicians of some extraordinary talent that are going to propel our culture (or our scene in general) forward in an elegant and tasteful manner. We seek out artists that share our vision and our goals of broadcasting quality Louisiana music to the world.
Can you offer a brief background and identity to Cajun and Zydeco for those who don't know?
When the Acadians arrived in Louisiana from Eastern Canada after 1755, they came across all kinds of people. From East to West each area in South Louisiana had its own ethnicities that had chosen to settle in particular locations due to their lifestyle or their work. With their fiddles and their language, they preserved as best they could their heritage from Acadia.
In the 1850's the same thing happened with the Germans that came here to the prairies (Eunice, and surrounding areas) to farm rice. They brought their accordions and their heritage with them and settled among all of these French-speaking Acadians who had been there over 100 years already.
It's not hard to see how the music developed from there. Not just Cajun, but, put the same instruments in the hands of the black folks who were working alongside the Acadians and the Germans, and you get early Zydeco/Creole. One of the first recordings of any of this music was in fact a Creole accordion player (Amédé Ardoin) playing with a Cajun fiddler (Dennis McGee). As each of these different cultures has developed over the years, so has the music they have created, based on other types of music they were hearing, etc.
Is the label based in the hub of the Zydeco/Cajun scene, if not where is it?
We're based in the prairie countryside of Eunice- about 45 minutes North of Lafayette - my home town - and a great center for all things Cajun. While our main talent focus is currently the Lafayette area, we are in touch and current with nearly all of the musicians on the scene from Lake Charles to New Orleans. Perhaps that's a result of me picking up work as a musician with lots of these folks on and off, or perhaps it's a sign of the great community sense we have among our local traditional musicians here. Either way, we are always out and about making sure we know what's going on, and letting people know that we mean business.
What goes on - what are we missing, and what are the developments?
You're missing it all. Have you ever been here? It's incredible! There's a wild energy here right now in the music and art community attracting creative people from all over the world. Get you some culture, come to Louisiana. It's one of those "you have to se it to believe it" situations. Any night of the week, you can go out and hear Cajun or Zydeco music. And you can dance with all the other people there because the audiences are so mixed - you're bound to find someone you fit in with, black or white, young or old. The youth here (or a big chunk of it) goes out on the weekend and listens and dances to traditional Louisiana music. Maybe it's just a fad, but it's impressive none the less!
Who are you aware of in the international scene?
The international Cajun/Zydeco scene? If that's the question, then I'd have to say I'm pretty darn in touch with it. I just recorded with a wonderful Cajun band from Holland called The Cajun Company, my sister has a Cajun band in Paris, and I frequent Europe with various Cajun groups including the Savoy Family Cajun Band. I have friends all over the world who play this kind of music: Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Spain, England, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, etc.
A huge part of the work of spreading Cajun culture has been done by outsiders all over the world, who come down here and are inspired. They go home and tell people about it, and write about, and sometimes even start their own Cajun bands. One of my favorite things about being here is all the wonderful people that we attract from around the world. They come here and are awe struck at the liveliness of the culture, and we are so honored that they 'get it' - it makes for great friendships, and it's fun to be in such a diverse area.
Cajun is usually sung in French - correct me if I'm wrong - do people speak it much?
Well, yes and no. I speak French, as do most of my friends. The majority of musicians in my generation grew up hearing the old folks, be it our parents or others, speak Cajun French and can say a few phrases and understand a little. And we all grew up listening to Cajun Music which is sung in Cajun French. I studied French in College, and have spent a lot of time abroad in Canada and France, so I have a pretty good background in what makes Cajun French different form other French.
Cajun French IS a language. It's not simplified French, and it's not a bastardized version of what they speak in France. It is the evolved version of the French that was spoken 200 years ago in Eastern Canada, which was the evolved tongue of the French that was spoken in France 200 years before that. Being isolated from France for so long, the language is archaic, and different from modern French, because they evolved differently after they were separated.
Today in the Lafayette area, we have all these immersion schools popping up. That's great. Just learning another language is great for the brain. And it's a start at preserving this language. But to me, Cajun French, as spoken by the older generation here, is the most beautiful French of all, and what these schols are teaching is French French. That's why I say it's a start. I'm afraid that we are going to lose those things that make our language different from the Canadians, or the French. There are so few people that are keeping it alive right now. I mean, anyone can come to Louisiana and find someone that speaks French, no problem.
But to answer the question, to find someone that actually speaks Cajun French would be quite difficult. Our songs are sung in our language, and that's going to always be there. But in about ten years, if it's not us (us youngens) chatting in Cajun French at the grocery store, it won't be anyone. So one of our (Valcour) big projects is to get an awareness of Cajun French as a Second Language going, using Podcasts and other media. We hope to work closely with the state to develop a program that will alert people to the seriousness of the situation, and inspire them to take up Cajun French in 10 minutes a day, or something along those lines.
For a novice, what are the 10 quintessential Zydeco/Cajun albums?
Any or all of our Valcour records would be a great place to start. Seriously, haven't you been reading? But all in all, we are more of a current picture of our culture. If one were looking to find some really great earlier recordings of this stuff, I'd suggest the following artists/albums:
Clifton Chenier - 'King of the Bayous'
Wade Fruge - 'Old Style Cajun Music' is c
Canray Fontenot - 'Hot Sauce'
The Hackberry Ramblers
Harry Choates 'The Fiddle King of Cajun Swing'
The Balfa Brothers
Young people in Louisanna are organizing festivals, touring their bands around the world, and successfully side-stepping the unfortunate trends of mainstream American music. It's such a unique cultural microcosm, geographically bound yet open to outside influence, and distinct from standard folk, Americana, Old-Time, etc.
In the southern U.S., the cultural expectations include Bible thumping, racism, and conservatism - but if you go a little further south, into the prairies and swamps of Louisiana, you'll find this young generation that represents a significant exception to the rule. They are incredibly aware of their roots, sophisticated enough to be innovative in their sounds, and worldly enough that the their key audiences are dappled through the U.S., Canada, all over Europe, and out to Australia.
The entertainment industry in Louisiana is seeing rapid growth, thanks to some tax incentives, and with the post-hurricane focus that has been put on us in recent years, I'm curious to see what kind of things spring forth.
So, in order to have your own party - get over my waffle, go here and have a proper listen: