Tradition runs deep in Louisiana, but there's always room for rediscovering the old and making way for the new in the Cajun music of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Outtakes caught up with Riley to talk about Cajun and Creole culture before this weekend's Florida Cajun Zydeco Festival in Deerfield Beach.
Outtakes: Steve, could you give me a sense of how your band relates to the tradition of Cajun music and culture?
Riley: Well, music is a big part of life down here. It's been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. That started out when the Cajuns were back in France. Then we were in Nova Scotia for years. When the Cajuns were there, it was called Acadia. We were Acadians and were exiled from Nova Scotia in the 1700s. Most of us made our way to south Louisiana, where we were given land out in the swamps. We've carried our music and our culture with us since the times in France. Music is still a big part of life here in Louisiana. It's a part of every aspect of life here weddings, funerals, weekend get-togethers at families' homes. I grew up hearing this music at my grandparents' homes in Mamou and Eunice. I heard some of the greatest musicians around Dewey Balfa, Marc Savoy, Dennis McGee.
What are the main characteristics of Cajun music?
It's music sung in Cajun French, which differs from Parisian French. It's an older, more archaic French kind of like Shakespearean English. The main instruments are ten-button, diatonic accordion and the fiddle. It's usually two-steps and waltzes. It's dance music.
How have Cajun and Creole music influenced one another?
They've influenced one another a lot. The Cajuns and Creoles have been hanging out here in Louisiana for years. Since the Cajuns got here in 1755, they've met up with Creoles and Indians. The Creoles gave us the bluesy influence that you hear in our music now. Our music has a heavier downbeat. It's slower. It's bluesier. If it weren't for our meeting up with the Creoles, our music would sound a lot like Irish music.
How have Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys created new directions in Cajun music?
We do a lot of songwriting. When we write songs, we take stories and older ideas and make our songs from those traditions. There's always a connection to the past while still making it sound like today and making it modern. We dig up old tunes and bring them back to life. We stay true to the roots while still pushing it forward.
What were your goals on your 2005 CD/DVD Dominos?
Well, we wanted to play more acoustic guitar and get more of a folkie, rootsy sound on this record. We had a bunch of new tunes that we wanted to get down on record, and we also had a lot of older tunes that we had discovered. We usually mix older tunes with originals.
Why did you decide on the title Dominos, and how does the concept of a domino effect apply to Cajun culture?
There's a song called "Dominos" written by our fiddler, David Greely. It was originally about the negative effects of people from one generation on the next. I told David we should entitle the record Dominos. He said, "But that's so negative." I said, "Yeah, but that kind of effect can happen in a positive way." We thought about all the older musicians that we had hung out with and what we learned from them. He rewrote the song to show both the negative and the positive in Cajun culture. Robert Hicks
The Florida Cajun Zydeco Festival takes place Friday, May 19, through Sunday, May 21, at Quiet Waters Park, 401 S. Powerline Rd., Deerfield Beach. The Mamou Playboys perform Saturday, May 20. Three-day passes cost $30. Individual tickets cost $20 for adults; children under 10 are admitted free. Call 954-776-1642, or visit www.Cajun-Fest.com.
Build Your Own Band
What's in a lead singer? Audioslave and Velvet Revolver have gotten along quite nicely without their prima donna leaders. In honor of original Rock Star Tim "Ripper" Owens and new INXS singer J.D. Fortune (the man who lifted the tattered hopes of Elvis impersonators everywhere), we offer our thoughts on how to save the following unfortunate sidemen the indignity of appearing on Rock Star III:
Soundgarden meets Mike Patton
Led by guitarist Kim Thayil and histrionic wailer Chris Cornell, the Seattle quartet blew up and burned out too quickly, calling it quits in '97. With Cornell busy in Audioslave, how about reuniting the group behind one of rock's most versatile and underrated singers, Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle)? Patton's experimental edge and producing skills could have come in handy during Down on the Upside. (It'd be fitting, since Cornell was originally invited to sing for Mr. Bungle.)
Dead Kennedys meet Lee Ving
It's getting hard to keep track of who's heading the DKs; they've gone through at least three replacements since reuniting without their bellicose singer/songwriter, Jello Biafra. Lee Ving, the sometime actor and lead singer for L.A. punk group Fear, brings both the classic punk pedigree and the kind of obnoxious, in-your-face attitude Biafra's known for. (Witness his crowd-baiting in Decline of Western Civilization.) Ving's songwriting skills are displayed well on such classics as "Let's Have a War" and "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones."
The Misfits meet Henry Rollins
There's little in it for Rollins, who's made quite a career out of being himself an angry, testosterone-fueled muscle man. Other than his greater size, he's the perfect replacement for Glenn Danzig. Perhaps in uniting, he and the group might regain a shred of credibility besides, could you imagine an evening of old Misfits and Black Flag tunes? Chris Parker
Picture, if you will, a karaoke night not made up of tone-deaf drunks slobbering on the microphone while some Top 40 song is bludgeoned to death. Imagine, instead, a room full of guitar-wielding drunks and rummies with drum kits and keyboards, all waiting for their chance to fill in the missing parts of prerecorded tunes. While there's no such thing as instrumental karaoke right now, it's not as far off as you may think, thanks to DreamMusician.com. Launched earlier this month, the Weston-based company offers legal downloads for musicians (or American Idol hopefuls) so they can really get inside their favorite songs. For two bucks a pop, you can download special versions of the original recordings, minus a particular instrument or two and you fill in the blank. Just pick your poison, whether it's a Slash-less version of Guns 'N Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle," an a cappella track of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," or anything else from DreamMusician's growing database. (The company is still building on its initial list of more than 1,200 songs.) Think about it: You're getting access to stuff that only studio heads could touch. Until now, that is.
DreamMusician will also target indie bands looking for a little free promotion. "This fall, we'll launch our indie label site, where there'll be entire songs as well as track-by-track versions," CEO Matt Juall says, adding that fans will be able to rank the songs as well. So yes, the School of Rock is now online. The only thing keeping you from jamming out with the stars (besides reality) is a measly two dollars. And if you're upset that your favorite band's not featured on DreamMusician, let 'em know. As Juall says, "We take requests." Jason Budjinski
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