To take the pulse of the astonishing vibrancy of Cajun music and culture, you have to go to the Acadian Festivals, which are being held this year from October 13 to 15 in Lafayette, Louisiana. The opportunity to also discover the incredible friendliness and joie de vivre of these other "cousins" of America, with tasty talk and tragic history.
These Acadians who became Cajuns
If you set foot at Randol's in Lafayette, Louisiana one evening, you will surely be amazed by the astonishing joie de vivre and the friendly atmosphere of the place. Installed in a sort of huge wooden barn, this dance hall, which serves as a restaurant, offers a concentrate of the art of the Cajun party. Its reputation far exceeds the suburbs of Lafayette. At Randol's, the evenings are divided into four stages: drink, cooking, music and dance. We dine while watching the musicians, we dance, we laugh and sympathize with our neighbor. Under the fans, the temperature rises quickly. Even the most stuck find it hard to resist the (human) heat of regulars.
So hard to imagine that our "cousins from Louisiana", who speak tasty French, come back from afar! The history of the Cajuns, of which the city of Lafayette is the capital, is one of tragedy. The Cajuns are the descendants of the Acadians, these French settlers who lived in the Atlantic provinces of Canada. In 1755, then under British rule, they were the victims of the first “ethnic cleansing” in history: the “Grand Dérangement”. Persecuted and despoiled, the Acadians were deported to the American colonies in appalling conditions and half of them died on the way.
In 1785, 1 of them settled in Louisiana to cultivate the marshy and inhospitable lands of the bayou. African slaves, many in Louisiana, then transform the term “Acadian” into “Cajun” and then into “Cajun”. Cut off from the mother country, poor and living in self-sufficiency, the Cajuns find it difficult to maintain their French identity. In 500, Louisiana, sold to the Americans in 1916, prohibited the use of French. Today, only 1803% of Cajuns speak their native language, although their culture has remained very strong. Isn't it today, along with jazz, one of the symbols of Louisiana?
"Let the good times roll"
Since the 1960s, the French-speaking culture of Louisiana has experienced a certain revival thanks to music and song. Singer Zachary Richard is the emblem of the fight for the preservation of Cajun culture. You have to listen to his committed songs that make the Cajuns proud. Lafayette is also the capital of zydeco, a Creole music inspired by Cajun harmony and rhythm & blues. Violin, accordion and guitar are the pillars of zydeco and its tasty variants: zydeco-rap, zydeco-rock and zydeco-reggae.
Lafayette is obviously the home of this musical laboratory which overflows with creativity. And, to take the pulse of the liveliness of the local Francophone culture, nothing better than the Acadian Festivals, which are held this year from October 13 to 15. Launched in 1977 to promote the Cajun identity laminated by two centuries of forced Americanization, this event has continued to grow. Today, outside of New Orleans, it is one of Louisiana's major musical and cultural events. His slogan: "Let the good times roll", or "enjoy life" in Cajun language.
"Go grease your shanks"
Music obviously takes the lion's share at the Festivals Acadiens. The opening of the event coincides with a tradition well established in local life: the Downtown Alive, not to be missed under any circumstances. In the fall and spring, every Friday from 17:30 p.m. to 20:30 p.m., the streets around Jefferson Street are closed to traffic as live bands perform on the streets. An initiative that attracts crowds: nothing is nicer than sipping your beer while listening to good music. On October 13, the Downtown Alive in Lafayette will take on French accents.
Then, all weekend long, you can go “grease your hocks” (dance) near Girard Park in the company of thousands of people, to the sound of Cajun bands or Zydeco. This is where the party is in full swing. Perhaps you will be invited to dance the "potato coward", a dance where couples must hold a potato between their heads without dropping it.
To recover from your frenzied dance steps, the Acadian Festivals offer other activities, because French American culture is not limited to music. These Cajun epicureans love to raise a fork and their food is delicious. A trip to the Bayou Food Festival, still at Girard Park, will convince you. Creole blood sausages, crayfish, crab, jamabalaya, spicy andouille… You will find a wide range of this Métis cuisine which borrows from French, Spanish and West Indian culinary repertoires. As for fans of "shopping" and small souvenirs, they can make a detour to the Louisiana Craft Fair to find the small object to bring back in your suitcases: wooden sculpture, pottery, tinted glass, jewelry and, of course, musical instruments!
Official festival website: www.festivalacadiens.com.
Site of the city of Lafayette: www.lafayettetravel.com.
The site of the Randol's restaurant-club in Lafayette: www.randols.com.
Zachary Richard's website (in French): www.zacharyrichard.com.
Site on Cajun cuisine with recipes: www.relaisgourmand.org.
Cajun music and zydeco news around the world: www.cajunzydeco.net.