Cajun Playboy

Riley keeps it Cajun.

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

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