Theory and Practice of Folklore in Cajun & Creole Louisiana

>>John Fenn: Good afternoon. We’re going to get started here. Thanks for your patience. I’m John Fenn, the head
of research and programs at the American Folklife Center
here at the Library of Congress. And I’d like to welcome you
on behalf of all the staff to the latest presentation in our ongoing Benjamin
A. Botkin lecture series. The Botkin series allows
us to highlight the work of leading scholars in the
discipline of folklore, ethnomusicology, oral
history, and cultural heritage, while enhancing our collections. For the center and the library, the Botkin lectures
form an important facet of acquisition activities. Each lecture is video
recorded and becomes part of our permanent collection. In addition, the lectures
are later posted as webcasts in the library’s website where
they are available for viewing to internet patrons
throughout the world. So, now would be
an excellent time to turn off your electronic
devices, and or put them in airplane mode, lest you
become part of the recording. Today I have the honor of introducing the distinguished
folklorist, Billy Jean Ancelet, a professor emeritus
at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Over the years, we have
presented many eminent colleagues, but few of them have
made a significant an impact on the documentation, public
awareness, and revitalization of their chosen areas
of interest as has Professor Ancelet. Even fewer of them have
been officially knighted by the Government of France
for their efforts [gasps]. Dr. Ancelet was born in Church
Point, Louisiana and grew up in the epicenter of
Cajun and Creole culture. He French as an undergraduate
at what was then University of Southwestern Louisiana, later
to be renamed the University of Louisiana Lafayette, and
received a Master’s in folklore from Indiana University. At IU he taught for a few years
before moving on to a doctorate in Etudes Creoles,
anthropology and linguistics, from the Universite de
Provence in Marseille in 1984. Professor Ancelet’s
life-long commitment to Louisiana culture has
served as a touchstone for his many landmark
contributions as a scholar and a culture activist, both
inside and outside the academy. He cofounded the Tribute
to Cajun Music in 1974, which developed into the
annual Festivals Acadiens. And for more than a decade
hosted the Rendez-vous des Cajuns, an influential weekly
music radio program on KRVS. He has authored an impressive
number of books and articles, has been involved in
a number of recordings and documentary films, and,
as an educator, has trained and guided a generation of
scholars specializing in Cajun, Creole, and Franco-American
culture. Ancelet has served as
chair of the University of Louisiana Modern
Languages Department, as well as the founding
director of its renowned Center for Acadian and Creole Folklore. His many other awards and honors
include being named the Willis Granger and Tom Debaillon
Professor of Francophone Studies in 2005 and being
made a Chevalier in l Ordre des Arts et des
Lettres de la Republique Francaise in 2006 by
the Governor of France for important contributions
to French art and literature. In 2008 he was awarded the
prestigious Americo Paredes Prize by the American
Folklore Socient. And, in 2009, he was named
Louisiana Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment
for the Humanities. I would go on, but I think I’ve
given you a sense of why we are so delighted to have Dr.
Ancelet here today with us. Please join me in welcoming
him for his talk on the theory and practice of folklore in
Cajun and Creole Louisiana. [ Applause ]>>Billy Jean Ancelet:
Thank you. It kind of made me
tired hearing all that. The first part of this
talk deals with how I got into the study and
practice of folklore. The second deals with
what I learned and tried to do after that happened. I will ramble. The story is pretty wild and
woolly, but I had a blast and I got paid to do much of it. I grew up in Cajun — in a
Cajun French-speaking family in south Louisiana. As a child, I spent a lot
of time with the family of my father’s sister
in Vatican, Louisiana. They took care of me
while my parents worked. Only one person in the house
spoke a little English, so I grew up speaking French. When I was in the eighth
grade, I found myself in an academic French
class for the first time. In it, French was taught as though it were
a foreign language. In in the summer of 1967 I spent
six weeks in a study program in Switzerland and France. When I returned, I
called my aunt in Vatican to tell her about my trip. I was talking a mile a minute about [speaking foreign
language] using the grammar and vocabulary I
had learned aboard. My aunt interrupted me saying,
[speaking foreign language] in perfect Cajun French. Baby, baby, it seems like I can’t understand
a word you’re saying. I immediately understood that I was imitating an
imported style of French. That was my first epiphany
concerning the value of the vernacular. Fast-forward to 1974,
I was in Mamou, Louisiana once again trying
to track down Hugh Reed, who you see here with the
black eye, to try to get him to tell me some more
of the fascinating, tall tales that would eventually
make up a significant part of my dissertation, and would
be the subject of several of the conference
papers, articles, and books that would
eventually contribute to my tenure and promotions. I asked a waitress in the
Travelers Cafe if she knew where I might find him. She shot back with a curious
grin, you’re looking for him? When I see him coming,
I hide in the kitchen. I don’t want to hear
all that nonsense. Not long after, I found myself
in a graduate French course at Indiana University
on the literature of [speaking foreign language]. We were considering [speaking
foreign language] from the end of the 17th century, in which
his character tries to get to the moon by filling hundreds
of bottles with dew and rising with them in the morning. The little people he dreams of
meeting eventually make comments about life in his country
of origin and their — from their unique perspective. I raised my hand and pointed out that I had collected
remarkably similar oral stories from Hugh Reed [assumed
spelling] and his brothers, Irving [assumed spelling]
and Revon, in one of which Jim
Israel goes to the moon in a runaway hay
baler by accident and meets little green men
there who comment on life in the storyteller’s
native Mamou. I was fascinated by the apparent
resilience of this tradition and narrative strategy
among people who after — who were, after all
the descendants of the French settlers who left
France in the same 17th-century to come to America — North America, and
eventually to Louisiana. My professor did not
understand why I would bring up such an unrelated issue in
her class on French literature. I realized I might be
in the wrong place. By then, my highly improvised
early research on Cajun and Creole music, folktales, and
language had made me understand that my study of French
was driven by my interest in understanding the Frenchness
[phonetic] of Louisiana. I decided that I would drop
the class, do my best to finish out the semester, and go back
home to rethink my plans. But I had a card in my
pocket from Ralph Rentschler, the director of the Smithsonian
Institution’s folklife program, who had assisted us in preparing
and presenting the first tribute to Cajun music concert
in March of 1974. There he is between
two ballad singers. When I had mentioned
to him that I was going to Indiana University, he gave
me his card with a message on it and said that I should say hello
to his friend, Henry Glassie, at IU’s Folklore Institute. Out of a sense of
obligation after that incident in the French class, I
dropped in to the institute and asked the receptionist,
[inaudible], if there was someone
named Henry Glassie there. I didn’t know that Professor
Glassie was an internationally renowned folklorist. It would’ve been
kind like, you know, going to the College
de France and saying, is there some guy named Claude
Levi-Strauss here [laughter]? She gasped, pointed
behind her to his office, and said, yeah, he’s in there. I heard Glassie chuckle
and say, who is that? I said, I’m Barry
Ancelet from Louisiana. He said, come on in. I introduced myself, handing him
Rentschler’s card, and he said, oh, you’re from Louisiana. Do you know Dewey Balfa? I nearly screamed, yes, I did. And then I told him
what had just happened. He said, well, maybe this
is where you need to be. I transferred to the
folklore program and was able to preserve my ties
with the French program through other professors there, including linguist
Albert Valdman and Africanist Emile
Snyder, who understood and encouraged my
particular interests. Why folklore? I didn’t even know there was
such an academic discipline until I arrived at
Indiana University in 1974. Soon enough, I found
myself taking classes from Richard Dorson, Linda
Dague, Mary Ellen Brown, Bruce Rose, a literal who’s
who in American folklore. I didn’t know who
any of them were. I found out. But I had already
come to understand, through my experiences
in Louisiana, that the — that the language
was inseparable from the culture
that it expressed. Another thing that was
obvious was that very little of this could be found
on library shelves. Ultimately, getting at
Louisiana’s French heritage and culture would require
— would require — An improvised hybrid
approach involving real people in real time. That approach turned
out to be folklore. And I must say, also, that
some of this had to do with the counterculture
movement. This was, after all, you know,
the late ’60s, early ’70s. And, you know, we were
interested in protesting. Are we good? We were interested
in protesting. And, for us, the
counterculture was protesting against Americanization, and
it involved revitalization of Louisiana French
language and culture. No accident that the Council
for the Development of French in Louisiana was
founded in 1968, 1968 when so many
other things happened. The study of culture,
literature, and language through the lens of folklore
has been the foundation for my entire career, which
I admit I have improvised all along the way. I left in the Indiana University
with a master’s degree in folklore, and eventually
continued my graduate studies at Aix-en-Provence where
I received a doctorate in Creole studies,
combining anthropology and linguistics working with Robert Sonoseau
[assumed spelling] and Jean-Claude Bouvier [assumed
spelling], who were reinventing and reinvigorating the
study of orality in France. My thesis included that story
about the accidental voyage to the moon, among many others that I collected
throughout south Louisiana. I guess that it was fitting
because my theoretical approach to just about everything I have
ever studied has been based on the rich and fecund
principles of storytelling, including improvisation,
vernacular creation, and carnivalesque humor. I also dedicated my
first ever article, published as a folklorist,
to the waitress in the Travelers
Cafe [laughter], who never understood what a
supposedly serious college student was doing looking
for somebody she tried to get away from every day. I’ve often found myself
exploring issues whose academic value has not been
immediately evident. Much of my research is
based on fieldwork in bars, in barbershops, and dance halls and back porches
and Mardi Gras runs. Can you find me? [ Inaudible ] Am I there? No. I will appear to you. There I am [laughter]. From that perspective, you really understand
the Mardi Gras. [ Inaudible ] Oh, I’ll leave that
to you to find. It’s Mardi Gras after all. As per the old saw, it
has not always been easy, but somebody had to do it. My research has resulted in
the usual articles and books, but also in documentary films,
television, and radio programs, festivals, museum and
photographic exhibitions, album liner notes, public
lectures, literary readings, teacher training seminars, reports to state and
federal agencies. I’m grateful and fortunate that
my colleagues and administrators at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have
been flexible enough to recognize the
value of what I do. I’ve had a remarkably
collaborative career by the honor of good fortune
to work with generous, inspiring colleagues,
including editors, filmmakers, sound engineers, production
crews, fellow teachers, folklorists, historians,
linguists, poets, playwrights, screenplay writers,
photographers, journalists, a few politicians,
lawyers, and even a chef. They’ve all provided me with
the countless opportunities for collaboration and
years of inspiration and dedication to
our common causes. They all taught me how to
read and write and look and listen and wonder. I owe a debt — a debt
of gratitude, as well, to the singers and storytellers
and Mardi Gras runners and dancers, including my
family and community of friends, who have always so generously
shared what they know and do with me, most of them
[speaking foreign language], learn much of what
I have come to know from vernacular professors, such
as Dewey Balfa and Ben Guine and Clifton Chenier and
Canray Fontenot, [inaudible], Hugh and Irvine Reed,
among many others. I’ve been honored to work
with them and learn from them, and I’ve come to love
them all as friends. I’ve had the honor of
eulogizing many of them when they passed away. It was never only the songs
and the stories and the crafts, it was the coffee and
camaraderie, the bull sessions and the jam sessions and the
fishing trips and the serious and casual conversations
about almost everything and nothing in particular. The rest of this talk focuses on
the relationship between theory and the practice of folklore
between what folklorists think and how they convey the results
of that thought to a range of audiences from
other colleagues to the general public. First, a word about
theory and practice. Some folklorists have seen
a dichotomy between the two. I have always seen them as
inextricably integrated. I’m typically more interested
in discussing the practice than the theory, but
both are always in play. I came to understand,
for myself, what Regina Bendix
eventually theorized in her — in search of authenticity
in countless conversations with musicians and storytellers
and the makers of things about the [inaudible], as well as what Elaine Lawless
eventually called reciprocal fieldwork by negotiating
meaningful and productive relationships
with countless, generous collaborators,
whom I learned early on were much more
than just informants. In my transcriptions of the
recorded interviews I made with them, I still cannot bring
myself to identify them as L1 and L0 as linguistic
practice recommends. The most — for example, the most I will reduce
Eva Boudreaux, with whom I shared
storytelling sessions and watched shoot squirrels
out of her back door, is EB. I came to understand
what an implement — and there she is
shooting squirrels in the backyard [laughter]. I came to understand and
implement issues that scholars, such as Walter Ong,
Paul Zumthor, Pierre Borgia [assumed
spelling], and Bruce Jackson
articulated concerning orality and the challenge
of interpreting and representing stories
in written form by trudging through an evolution
of strategies to resolve these
issues for my own — for my use in my own work. I came to improvise takeoffs on what Clifford
Geertz called deep play, and what Mikhail Batin
[assumed spelling] and Victor Turner called the
carnivalesque laughter while lying face down in the middle of the [inaudible] Mardi
Gras circle dressed as a pregnant woman waiting
to be ritually flogged and then giving birth to a
bottle of whiskey [laughter]. From that perspective,
you learn a lot. You understand a lot
about Mardi Gras. I came to understand the
importance of performance and contextual considerations
described by scholars such as Roger Abrahams, Kenny
Goldstein, and Nick Spitzer by thinking through the very
real and evolving performance and contextual issues
involved in documenting and presenting folk performers
and putting those into practice in festivals and
concerts, museum exhibitions and documentary films,
in radio programs and community presentations — In what I have come to
call guerrilla academics, sneaking education to people
while they think they’re being entertained. For me, theories are
not ends in themselves. They are, instead, the tools and
blueprints I need to understand and present what I am studying. By any means necessary, to
borrow from Jean-Paul Sartre and Malcolm X, I have imported
some, improvised variance of others, and then I use them. For me, the pursuit of the universal always
began with the local. The universe, after all, is made
up of an infinity of localities. The practice of folklore
generally starts with fieldwork, the process of gathering
information from cultural sources. For me, it was the only way
to reach the information that was otherwise
missing from the record. The most important, untapped
source for the information on Cajuns and Creoles are
Cajuns and Creoles themselves. The fieldwork-based approach of folkloristics provides a
method to reach that source. The naturally interdisciplinary
nature of folkloristics necessarily
integrating considerations of history and art, text and
context provides the wide range of approaches that necessary
to understand the complexities of culture and tradition,
including oral tradition, traditional music, vernacular
architecture, folk art, seasonal rituals, and
other cultural expressions. Folkloristics also
leads to considerations of important cultural and social
issues, such as conservation, transmission, and innovation
within the context of tradition. And folkloristics and linguistics make perfect
partners in the effort to understand the context
of French Louisiana. Now, getting back to earlier. The reason I knew Dewey Balfa when Henry Glassie asked is
another part of the story. In 1972 I spent an academic
year in France, ’72, ’73. Homesick after nearly
a year away from my native south Louisiana,
I was drawn to an announcement of Roger Mason performing
[speaking foreign language]. There’s the countercultural
connection. There, among many other songs, I heard him playing
what I recognized to be a simplified version
of the Crowley Two-Step. [ Music ] I heard that when I
was buying my ticket. [ Music ] And when I heard that, it
hit me like a ton of bricks. I said, that’s what I’m missing. That’s what’s been missing here. And, so, I rushed down and had
a wonderful evening with him. After the concert, I met with
Mason, an American folk musician who had encountered Cajun music
on the folk festival circuit, and who was then
performing it in France. I told him how much I
appreciated hearing — he was an Army brat and
traveled all over the world. I told him how much I
appreciated hearing the music from home. Growing up in the late 1950’s
and ’60s, I listened to rock and roll like the
rest of my generation, but we heard Cajun music on
the radio, on television, and when it was daddy’s
turn to choose the records. Mason said, if you’re from Louisiana you must know
the people I learned from, Dewey Balfa, Nathan Abshire. I didn’t know any of
them at that point. They had not come up in any
of my classes back home. Mason suggested if I was
interested in learning more, I should look up Dewey Balfa
upon my return to Louisiana. That’s exactly what I did. I want to Dewey Balfa’s
house just south of Basile, introduced myself, telling him about the experience
I had in France. I said, are you Dewey Balfa? Yeah. Well, my name
is Barry Ancelet and I [making sounds
with mouth]. I was talking like
an auctioneer. He said, calm down,
son [laughter]. Come on in, said the spider
to the fly [laughter]. And the rest, as
they say, is history. We started a conversation
that went on — sorry. That’s him. We started a conversation that
went on for nearly two decades. I learned at least
as much from Dewey as from any professor I ever had
in any formal academic setting. People are most aware of my
work in Cajun and Creole music, perhaps because of
the high visibility of Festivals Acadiens et
Creoles, which I helped found and still direct, and the weekly
Liberty Theater live radio show, which I did for 24 years. But what first drew me
to the study of Cajun and Creole folk cultures
was oral tradition. My first book, Cajun
and Creole Music Makers, grew out of my work with
musicians, but it was based more on their stories
than their music. Elemore Morgan Junior
and I got the idea to visit the musicians
involved in the first festival to visit them where they
lived, worked, and played, to interview them about
their lives and experiences, and to photograph them
in their own worlds. This is Vares Connor [assumed
spelling], well-known, or, not so well-known fiddler. Nathan Abshire on
his front porch. What we were doing
was indeed fieldwork, but it felt more like visiting. It was our intention to see
and hear in their own terms, as I wrote in the introduction,
these barbers and bus drivers and farmers and firefighters
and mechanics and masons, who sell discount furniture
and discount gas and insurance and insulation work nine to
five and seven to seven, onshore and offshore, and make
art out of everyday life, because they were
becoming important figures in this cultural
self-preservation experiment. Elemore and I worked for
10 years on the project, collecting oral histories
and taking photographs of these remarkable
performers in various contexts, from their kitchens and front
porches, to festival stages and concert halls, in
Louisiana and far beyond. Around the same time,
I became interested in Louisiana French
fictional tales. French-speaking Cajuns and Creoles had virtually
no literary tradition since most did not have
the opportunity to learn to read or write French. Yet, we did have a tradition
of oral poetry in songs and oral stories in tales. And just because
the storytellers and singers could not themselves
write their own stories and songs, this did not
mean that the stories and songs could not be written
by someone who had learned to write the language
of their expression. In an attempt to place these
traditions and [inaudible] that they represent
on the record, I began recording folktales,
as well as folksongs and transcribing them. Lacking any formal
training in the beginning, I improvised my own first
fieldwork forays based on instinct and good intentions. You know, that road
to hell [laughter]? I found that identifying
potential singers was fairly easy. Friends and family members
were generally aware of those in their midst who can sing. Identifying storytellers proved
to be more of a challenge. Everybody tells stories,
but who knows who does? At least initially, when —
like some of my predecessors, Alcee Fortier, Elizabeth
Brandon, Corinne Saucier. I was using fieldwork techniques
designed to elicit the kind of animal tales and magic tales that clearly illustrate
the connection between French Louisiana
and its historical and cultural roots
in France and Africa. I was confounded by
this curious difficulty in finding those
kinds of stories, found some, but it was hard. And it began to occur to me
that something must be wrong. Corinne Saucier had
written in the introduction to her collection of 33
Louisiana French folktales that her collection of
33 stories was small, but representative of a culture
that was fast disappearing in our mechanized age. I thought, there’s
something wrong with this, because my admittedly activist
perspective made me unwilling to admit that the tradition
was dying and, second, I knew that there
were stories out there because of the thousands
I had heard over the years in my father’s barbershop
where I spent many afternoons after school and around barbecue
pits and in shipping boats — in fishing boats and lots
of other places, in bars. So, I rethought my fieldwork
strategy and I realized that it was more
effective to look for storytellers than stories. That information about carnivalesque humor was
more likely to come from folks in a bar or a barbershop
or a garage than from those running
City Hall or local museums or churches. An essential aspect of my change in methodology involved
being open to any context and form of storytelling. I found people remembered
from long ago — I found that my early method
had exposed the tradition of memory stories that some
people remembered from long ago, but no longer really
actively told. While my new approach exposed
a more active tradition, jokes and tall tales and
personal experience narratives that people were telling
each other on their own, unprompted by a folklorist
question. I basically learned
to shut up and listen. It became — quickly
became clear that stories were not
ends in themselves. The storytellers themselves
were the real treasures. My aim was to consider their
ability to adapt, innovate, create new forms of stories through their talent
and personality. Their willingness to share
their knowledge was essential to the progress of my research. The first time I met Mrs.
Eva Boudreaux, for example, she told me four stories, that’s
the lady shooting the gun back in — she told me four stories, including an animal tale
featuring [speaking foreign language], a version of
[speaking foreign language], the first from African origins,
the second from French origins, responding to my
request for such tales. By the time I visited
her one year later, I had had my epiphany and
opened my consideration of tales to include anything
she wanted to tell. She told me seven more stories. Some of them jokes,
personal experience stories. When I returned home that
night, I found a message that Mrs. Boudreaux had
called saying she wanted — she had some more stories
she wanted to tell me. I said, I know. I went earlier today
to record her. My mother said, no, no, she just
called and said she wants you to go back tomorrow because
she’s got some more she forgot to tell you today. I returned the next day and
she told me eight more stories. Over the years, she dredged up
dozens and dozens and dozens of stories from her
memory to tell me, many of them while waiting for
the bass to bite in her pond. Similarly, I first met Ben
Guine while tracking down leads on storytellers the old way,
in Parks, Parks, Louisiana, a place called Promised Land. A little boy who had won
the foot race to my truck when I asked a group of children
for help in finding where people on my list lived,
eventually took me to his grandfather’s house. He went with us to
the last house and heard what we
were asking for and, when we left disappointed because the lady didn’t tell
those kinds of stories, he said, my grandfather tells
those stories. So, we took — went to
his grandfather’s house and there I met Ben Guine, who
quite literally left a plate of steaming crawfish stew
on his kitchen table to come into the living room to tell
us tales, literally preferring to tell stories than eat. Over the years he, too, told me
dozens of stories of all sorts. His remarkable storytelling
talents and wide repertoire of stories eventually attracted
considerable attention, including a filming session by
Louisiana Public Broadcasting on the porch of his little house in Promised Land
along the Bayou Teche. To the astonishment and eventual
delight of his neighbors, who had stopped listening
to his stories years before, but now LPB was there, and
a few weeks later he appears on television and, so,
Ben gets reconsidered in his own community. Based on a philosophy of
cultural activism again, I tried to find ways to
integrate people like this into the ongoing effort to preserve Louisiana’s
French language and culture. Mrs. Boudreaux, Ben Guine, and several other storytellers
appeared in storytelling events at festivals and
schools, thrilling crowds and schoolchildren with
their impressive repertoires and masterful styles. Sometimes in addition to,
sometimes instead of documenting and analyzing past performances
within the scholarly community, some folklorists strive
to program and present one of those next performances in a
setting that will communicate it to a wider audience, not
on the page but on a stage. This practice brings
challenges of its own. For example, the most
sensitively programmed cultural presentation at a folk
festival is not the same as the natural performance
in its own time and place. But some of these
concerns can be resolved, or at least mitigated, with
the same sort of careful and serious study of performance
and context as that produced in the academic setting. Programming issues
were directly related to the activist fieldwork
and archival philosophies at the heart of the University
of Louisiana Center for Acadian and Creole Folklore,
now a part of the Center for Louisiana Studies. The theoretical issues
underpinning the fieldwork that initially led to the
production of the first tribute to Cajun Music Festival, March
26, 1974, as well as the issues that emerged and evolved as the
concert became an annual event, were directly related
to the establishment of the center’s archives. The programming of the festival
was based on an integration of ideas that grew out
of two distinct camps. On the one hand, activist
folklife-based considerations as influenced by the Smithsonian
Institution’s Festival of American Folklife
and, on the other, linguistic-based considerations
that grew out of the Council for the development of French
and Louisiana’s language and cultural preservation
initiatives. Fieldwork and programming
practices evolved based on a desire to discover and present excellent
folk performers from real life context, avoiding
more self-conscious public purveyors of folkloric culture. The fieldwork practices
that grew out of the festival
experience also contributed to the fieldwork practices
that address the collection and analysis of other
traditional genres in French Louisiana,
including oral tradition and material culture. Selecting the collection
of performers who would essentially define
the moment in Cajun music and zydeco each year
posed interesting problems and opportunities for
festival producers, including the incorporation
of young performers and the new emerging styles
that are a necessary part of any living tradition. Dewey Balfa put it best. He said, I’m interested in the
very life of this culture — And how it continues to
evolve its own terms. I don’t want to freeze dry
it or pin it to the wall like a dead butterfly. Dewey was not only a musician,
but what folklorists have come to call a community scholar. That is, a member of a folk
community who has learned to address the issues that
are at the heart of the study and practice of folklore,
such as cultural equity and the relationship between
preservation and innovation within the traditional context. Inspired by Dewey and
enriched by his connections to the Smithsonian folklife
program staff, including, especially, Ralph Rentschler,
who had first recorded him in 1964 as a fieldworker for
the Newport Folk Festival, we prepared the first tribute to
Cajun Music Festival together. The fieldwork we did for the
festival was a natural extension of the fieldwork that had
begun with John and Alan Lomax, who collected folksongs in
Louisiana for the Library of Congress in 1930
— in the 1930’s. The Lomax’s had a sort of new deal style
activist agenda intending for their collection
to serve as the basis for cultural recycling projects in regions throughout
the country. Based on his experience in
French Louisiana in 1934, and from his position on the
Newport Folk Festival board in 1964, Alan sent Ralph
Rentschler and Mike Seeger to Louisiana to identify
musicians who would be invited to perform at Newport
later that year. Following leads from Harry
Auster, who had collected in the area a few years before,
they found Gladdie Thibodeaux, Louis Venesse LeJeune,
and Dewey Balfa, who served as a last-minute
replacement on guitar, by the way. Dewey noted that they initially
thought the crowd hated their music because they
weren’t dancing [laughter]. Then, at the end of that first
song, the crowd applauded. It was an experience the dance
hall musicians had never had, but also one they never forgot. Dewey reported turning
to Venesse and saying, what are they doing [laughter]? He was overwhelmed
by this reception for what was often
dismissed as nothing but chanky-chank
[phonetic] back home. Came back home to
Louisiana determined to spread the good news, that Cajun music was
appreciated outside the area. He maintained close contact with
Rentschler, who became director of folklife programs at
the Smithsonian in ’68. There, Rentschler went on to
produce the annual Festival of American Folklife, celebrating the country’s
rich, cultural diversity. These festivals often
featured Cajun and Creole music that Rentschler had encountered
during his early fieldwork. Through his steady
contact with Rentschler and other folklorists,
Balfa learned to articulate such issues as cultural
conservation and the process of tradition. The first Cajun music festival
was an overwhelming success, surprising even the most
enthusiastic of his organizers. Musicians were selected
according to the — to notions of cultural
authenticity established by Rentschler and Balfa. No crooners, Rentschler
cautioned. His preference for the high,
clear, the high-pitched vocals and unadorned instrumental
styles of early Cajun music
dominated the evening. The concert was structured to feature the historical
development of Cajun and Creole music, ballad
singers, Inez Catalan and Marcus Landry, twin fiddlers
Dennis McGee and Sady Courville, early stylists, Mark
Savoir [assumed spelling], Lionel Leleux, and Vares
Connor, Nathan Abshire, the Balfa brothers, the Ardwin
[assumed spelling] family, as well as more modern
sounds of Clifton Chenier, [inaudible], and the Cajun Aces. Cajun country star, Jimmy
Newman, originally from Mamou, but then living in Nashville,
whose hit Lache Pas La Patate, was in full swing, was used to anchor the concert despite
his sophisticated instrumental arrangements and silky vocals. Even Rentschler saw the wisdom
of Dewey’s brilliant plan to use Newman’s popularity
to attract a crowd that would then be there to
hear the rest of the evening. It worked. The many in attendance
commented then and later that they had come to
hear Newman and were, in some cases reminded of,
and in others, surprised, by the power of the more
traditional performers. The festival packed Lafayette’s
Blackham Coliseum far past fire code. Despite lightning,
thunder, and driving rain, it turned out to be the
largest mass rally of what came to be called the Louisiana
French Renaissance Movement. I knew the fire — you
can see the crowd there. I knew the fire marshal
wouldn’t shut us down because his dad was playing
in the third group [laughter]. Southern politics. Organizers also saw
the opportunity to use the energy produced
by this initial concert to fuel a long-term project. In the momentum of the moment, the university created
the Center for the Acadian and Creole Folklore to integrate
this new field of study into the academic community. Balfa, who had seen the benefit
of the archives at the Library of Congress, and at the
Smithsonian Institution, insisted that we needed a
similar bank of information on ourselves in Louisiana. When I pointed out that I didn’t
have the financial resources to produce an archive,
Balfa pointedly asked, do you have enough
money to buy one tape? I said, yeah. He continued, then buy one. Go out and record an interview
and put that tape on the shelf. Then record another one
when you can afford it. And when you put that second
tape next to the first one on the shelf, you have the
beginnings of an archive. He was right, as usual. The beginnings of
the archive were just that homemade, and it worked. But, at the same time, counsel
for the development of French in Louisiana bought
dozens of tapes and funded early recording
efforts using fieldwork tapes in French radio programming. Soon enough, we also
received financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation
that paid for hundreds of tapes, which were recorded and
gathered on the shelves to extend the archive. We also contacted folklorists
who had worked in Louisiana in the past, such as Lomax,
Auster, and Rentschler, who were all happy
to provide copies of their fieldwork collections. So, gathered — finally gathered
in one place for the first time, the center’s archives provided
a sense of the evolution and development of
Cajun and Creole music from unaccompanied
ballad tradition to contemporary dance
band styles. Fieldwork on oral tradition and material culture
was added as well. The field work of students and colleagues enriched our
understanding of who we were and how we had come
to be that way. But the collection was not
meant to be an end in itself. Instead, it was always intended
to serve as a resource — a resource for cultural
recycling. For example, when the
center acquired copies of Lomax’s 1934 field
recordings, it was not only to repatriate this important
research for archival purposes. Copies were also
provided to the families of the original performers and contemporary musicians were
encouraged to use the collection as a source for new,
brand-new old songs. This eventually happened. Where’s my cursor? Well. I was going
to let you hear it.>>You can see it on the screen.>>Billy Jean Ancelet: You
can see it on the screen? [ Inaudible ] Okay. [ Music ] This is [inaudible] from the
Lomax recordings from ’34. [ Music ] Oops, sorry. And this is from 2007. [ Music ] Isn’t that remarkable? As Anna Chairetakis,
Alan’s daughter, said when I played
some of this for her, my God, it worked [laughter]. In the spirit of cultural
recycling, scholars and staffers associated
with the Center for Acadian and Creole Folklore have
participated in the production of festivals and special
performances, television, radio programs, and offered
classes and workshops through the university’s
French and Francophone studies and music school programs,
produced books and articles, communicate new discoveries,
and interpretations to the local community, as well
as the scholarly community. There were precious few books
and articles available on Cajun and Creole culture, and most of
the few that there had been done by outsiders who often
misunderstood the culture. I became interested in writing
so that there would be some, but books and articles do
not reach the larger — the large audience of Cajuns
and Creoles themselves, who especially needed
to have access to information about themselves. So, center associates
explored other ways to disseminate our findings. We joined forces
with record producers to release archival recordings. We worked with radio
producers and filmmakers to produce special programs
and documentaries, collaborated with educational
institutions to make singers and storytellers
available for classes and special lecture series. This research typically
focuses on contemporary, as well as historical
aspects of these issues, considering folklore as a
vital ongoing process rather than a stagnant product. Of particular interest is
the process of Creolization, the unique blending of cultures
that occurred in Louisiana to produce the folk
architecture, music, oral tradition, and
cuisine of the region. Through this range
of activities, we try to integrate both sides
of folkloristics, the scholarly, and the public without
getting caught in the perceived
trap between the two. Folk festivals have often — tend to follow a high-energy
model oriented toward large audiences developed
decades ago at such events as the National Folk Festival
and the Newport Folk Festival. This method of presentation
is had positive effects, not the least of which has been
providing the national level validation for regional
folk performers by having them perform on
stages high off the ground with fancy electronic
amplification before large, enthusiastic audiences, often alongside nationally
known performers. This method also has
certain limitations. A quieter, more intimate
performance genres are difficult to program in such
high-energy settings. In most cultures, ballad singing
is intended for listeners, that is, without dancing. It does not usually
happen before thousands, or even hundreds, of people. In a large festival
setting, both audience and performer must be prepared
for this change in format. Smaller, more intimate so-called
workshops can provide a more familiar intimate setting, but
even these may not be enough to set a cultural event in
its best performance context. By carefully — drawing on
careful observation of the rules in nature of cultural
performance in a natural setting,
folklorists can develop better, more sensitive, and
more effective and less abusive methods
of presenting folklore and folklife in public settings. Storytelling, for
example, has been one of the most difficult cultural
features to program effectively in a festival setting. Usually storytellers are
tacitly expected to perform as standup comics, though
many do not possess the skills for entertaining the masses, nor
are they necessarily interested in developing those skills. But settings can be
renegotiated to work better for performer and
audience as well. Storytelling is generally, by
nature, an intimate performance that occurs among a small group
of people who know each other and share a common
language and references. Some storytellers can go a long
way toward reaching a festival or a concert size audience,
which may number in the hundreds or thousands, but a crowd that large will strain
even the most outstanding traditional performer. During a performance
of what used to be our university’s French
House, Creole storyteller, Ben Guine, that I met that
night over crawfish etouffee, renegotiated his audience
in a remarkable way. A crowd of some 70 people showed
up to hear his extraordinary — this extraordinary
storyteller perform. He was pleased with the show
of interest, but, as he began, I noticed that something
was off. He was telling well,
but he wasn’t taking off as I had heard him do so often
while listening to his stories in his living room or
on his front porch. I realized later
that he was straining to engage every person
in the room. He realized this before I did. I was sitting next to him. About a third of the way through
the first story he accidentally bumped my knee during one
of his expansive gestures. He was trying to hug everybody. When he noticed I was within
reach, he turned his chair to face me and proceeded
to tell me the stories. I was an audience he could
handle, tapping and pushing and pinching me to make
appropriate points. I was also an audience
he trusted, because I understood
the stories. He knew that. He hit stride and the rest of the evening the crowd
watched him tell me stories, which was much better
for everyone concerned. When I realize what had
happened, I began experimenting with new formats for
programming storytelling based on the concept that Ben had
instinctively put into practice. This programming strategy, a
sort of theater in the round where storytellers tell each
other stories while the audience listens in, became the basis for the Louisiana Storytellers’
Pavilion that travelled to festivals throughout
the state in 1984. By 1974, when Dewey Balfa talked
the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana into
sponsoring the first Tribute to Cajun Music concert,
he had already come to understand enough about
the dynamics of context and performance from his
own experiences to know that a Cajun crowd would dance
if it were at all possible, as they did every Saturday night in dance halls throughout
south Louisiana. The intent of the concert
we were producing was to enable Cajuns to appreciate
the value of their own music by getting them to listen to it. So, he strongly suggested
holding the concert in a setting where dancing would
not be possible. That evening 12,000
Cajuns wiggled in their seats [laughter] in
Lafayette’s Blackham Coliseum and listened to the sounds that they had only heard
before while dancing. Sometimes festival
organizers develop new ways of presenting culture
based on own observations of performance in
its own context. Sometimes participants can do — can and do take over
with their own theories about context and performance. Over the years, Dewey Balfa
was visited by many folklorists and invited to many festivals. He learned from them
what he needed to know to guide his own efforts to
regenerate interest and respect for Cajun music in his
native south Louisiana. This information also turned
Balfa into quite an expert on folk festival theory,
sometimes to the chagrin of festival organizers who
have not always thought out the issues as
well as he had, and certainly did not
feel them as he did. There are many examples that
illustrate Dewey’s understanding of culture’s process
rather than product. For years, he tried to convince
festival organizers to allow him to come with his current
band as he performed in dance halls every
Saturday night. He eventually won a partial
victory coming with most of his dance band, but
he was never allowed to bring along his steel guitar to the Smithsonian Festival
of American Folklife. The argument was that the
steel guitar was too modern, an inappropriate and
inauthentic addition to traditional instrumentation. That’s tradition from
their perspective. Never mind the fact that
Dewey Balfa, long recognized as a pillar of cultural
preservation in America, chose to perform weekly with
a steel guitar in his band, just as dozens of
other Cajun bands did. In 1978 he finally
confronted festival personnel, Smithsonian festival personnel on the issue asking them
pointedly, are you trying to present Cajun music as you wish it still
were, or as it really is? And there was that exact same
deafening silence in the room. He was allowed that year to bring along fiddler Dick
Richard, who also played to his own steel guitar. Small steps. In 1985, Dewey delivered a
brilliant extemporaneous address on the traditional
process from the stage of the cultural conservation
area of the Washington Festival. Invited as an outstanding
example of the effort to conserve America’s
traditional culture, he pointed out halfway
through a 45-minute set that he had been playing some
traditional songs, songs that he and his brothers had — Learned from the
family tradition. He went on to say that he now
would like to play some songs that he and his brothers
had composed recently. He went on to say that he didn’t
have to turn around to know that what he just said had
made some people backstage very nervous, because he was there to
represent cultural conservation. But, for him, cultural
conservation did not mean preserving things. For him, cultural conservation
meant preserving the life of the culture, the process. And, if he was successful,
then the culture was going to be alive and well
and continue to grow and evolve it its own terms. And, if this effort
was successful in his native Louisiana,
then 50 or so years from now, some young musicians were going
to need some songs that were 50 or so years old to play. So, he had made some and
he was going to play one. He did. He played [inaudible],
and the stage personnel and audience were
delighted to hear that his new song sounded
just like the old ones from his family tradition. He kept this remarkable
demonstration by pointing out, he was not one to
leave a point alone, explaining that they
sounded like the old stuff because they were coming
from the same tradition and through the same process and
being performed by the same guy, so why wouldn’t they
sound familiar? But it was brand new. Festival organizers should
never be afraid to be surprised. The people we invite to perform at festivals sometimes are
undereducated, but never — I’ve never found many
to be unintelligent. In a sense, Dewey’s presentation
was much more successful and authentic than
the authentic like one that was originally intended for the cultural
conservation stage that day. The audience and festival
personnel alike had the opportunity to learn a
fancy lesson about culture. After years of performing
in such context, Dewey learned well how
to operate the machinery. In this case, he was
aiming his message in two directions at once. The immediate message was
aimed at the audience, but that message and its
reception was obviously meant to rebound backstage. At the Liberty Theater we did
a lot of field work on the fly, sometimes discovering things that were happening
right on stage. This is Mitch Reed playing
with Goldman Thibodeau. He was there to play with
another group and decided to play with Goldman
and, so, why wouldn’t he? Sometimes the field work was
very close to the presentation, as in the case of
Horace Trahan’s debut. Some of you may know Horace
Trahan, young Cajun musician. Helena Putnam, our
Liberty stage manager, reported hearing a remarkable
young accordion player and singer at a jam session at the [inaudible] Acadian
Culture Center next door earlier that afternoon. During the Liberty
show that night, she recognized the young
man sitting in the audience and pointed him out to me. I had learned to
trust her instincts. On a whim, and trusting
her based on years of shared mutual observations
from our backstage perspective, I went down into the
audience while a song was on, was being played, and invited — asked him if he would
be interested in performing a song or two. Yes, sir, he said. And he came up and we crowbarred
him into the proceedings that evening, the
performance that evening. Got him alone sitting
on a chair in the middle of the stage during
a stolen moment between scheduled performances. The crowd spontaneously
gave him a standing ovation. Not bad for an improvised debut. He eventually returned
to perform many times with his own band and others. Another example, and the
final one I’ll give you, is — has to do with negotiating
performance and context on the fly. It comes from an idea I had when the [speaking foreign
language] was looking to include a Louisiana
French component to their event in 1999. In an attempt to take
into consideration issues that context-minded folklorists,
such as Frank Proschan and Charles Cantwell
[assumed spelling], have addressed calling for
more holistic community-based programming at folk festivals, I suggested they invite the
Basile Mardi Gras as a group. Within this group I suggested
they would have cultural critical mass that would
include culinary traditions, the communal gumbo, traditional
music, the ritual song, and music played for
dancing at the host’s houses, and material culture,
mask and costume making, as well as the performance
of the ritual itself. Festival organizers were
eventually convinced to try this integrated
presentation, rather than the more
typical approach that would involve
disparate bearers of various traditional arts. So, Basile group went to — went to Quebec where they
demonstrated the various aspects of their Mardi Gras. Visitors could watch the masks
being made then try them on. They could watch the making
of the gumbo then taste. They could listen to the
music and dance to it. Then the Basile group was asked
to put the whole affair together and demonstrate a run. The museum organizers
said, well, what does this —
how does this work? What does it look like? Which they were happy to do. They had demonstrated their
tradition before at Liberty — at the Liberty Theater,
as well as a few outings at the Louisiana
Folklife Festival in several cities
within the state. But the only real way to demonstrate a Mardi Gras
run is to run Mardi Gras. It’s the only way that the
carnivalesque dynamic can be conjured. So, they cracked up a
performance in the museum. Now, of course, Mardi
Gras runs are not static. They move. The whole point is
to visit and disturb or tickle what you determine
to be your host community. So, they headed out the back
door after this performance — Formed up in the park
behind the museum, and headed out into the streets. They didn’t have a clear
idea of where they were — where they were, but they
instinctively improvise the route and headed down
the sidewalk looking for the nearest bar [laughter]
doing their ceremonial begging routines for passersby who had
no clue what this was about. Luckily, most seemed to
figure out fairly quickly that this must be some
festive performance associated with the nearby museum. I was pressed into
service to hastily explain to those they encountered
what was going on. Some understood a
bit and smiled. Most had little or no idea
how to take the performance and shied away from the group — Clutching purses, bags,
and children [laughter]. The museum and festival workers
didn’t know this would happen either, but were reluctant
to restrain what they had, after all, asked
the group to do. We were, quite frankly,
all intrigued to watch the spontaneous
carnivalesque improvisation. The group processed down the
street with a small entourage of handlers trying to buffer
the public as much as possible. They finally made it to a bar, which should be familiar
territory, and went inside. They asked for permission to
perform, gathered together, sang their song, danced
to the music provided by their accompanying musicians,
and then genuinely begged for donations from
everybody inside, including drinks
from the bartender. Alerted to the situation
and made aware that this was a spillover
from the nearby [inaudible], everybody happily cooperated
and the group left happily. But Mardi Gras is also about
challenging thresholds. So, once back out of the street,
they escalated the stakes. They gathered at a
bus stop and waited for the next bus [laughter]. I was able to convince Captain
Ryder [assumed spelling] that this might not be a
good idea, since neither of us knew Quebec
City bus routes and how far the bus
would take them. They toyed with the idea
of boarding the bus anyway, mostly to make me nervous, then they resumed their
procession along the sidewalk after a brief standoff
with the bus driver over who should be
collecting money. They hit the next bar they saw. The experience from the first
bar was virtually repeated. When they left again I was
able to convince the captain that this was just a
demonstration run after all and that we could head
back to the museum now. He agreed and led
his contingent back, but not without interacting with everyone they
passed along the way. When they were safely
back into the museum — They sang their song
again, danced a bit more, and then served and
ate the gumbo with all who were there according
to their tradition. To the relief of organizers,
no one had been lost or hurt or too offended, but it was
definitely more Mardi Gras than they had anticipated
[laughter]. It was probably less than the
participants would happily have done if given more reign. The group had extracted
something like a Mardi Gras feeling out
of this artificial experience by insisting on going
out on their own terms and temporarily ignoring
efforts to deter them. So, where does this leave us? All sorts of highly
technical studies have derived from a study — academic
study of folklore. And, in my experience, I
found that the possibilities of focusing, especially
on performance and contextual theory
in folk arts programming in the public sector, didn’t
need to be conflictual. Their cultural imperatives
in each performance of traditional culture,
including setting, time, constant negotiation between
performers and audience, to consider — the consideration of these complex features
have led to a lot of studies. Many of these focus
on the capturing of traditional performance for
contemplation and analysis. Folklore’s espousing contextual and performance centered
approaches have insisted on the importance of studying
the very life and nature of the cultural performance in its most natural
expression and setting. Well, that’s what Dewey
Balfa was hoping for. Their discoveries and subsequent
theories can and do serve to adapt and improve public
presentation of folk arts, whether within a community-based
cultural presentation, in a cultural presentation
destined for visitors, as well as members
of the community, or in a multicultural
presentation outside the community. Conversely, folk —
public folklore — the public sector folklorists
can and do extract and engage in performance theory by observing how
performers adapt themselves to unfamiliar settings and unfamiliar settings
to themselves. These strategies can be
identified to help refine and improvise future
presentations and settings. And we’ve studied
lots of things. I’m going to hastened
through the next few moments. We’ve studied lots of
things, such as the evolution of house types, from what we
found in France and Acadia, the Canadian Maritimes, and
how those got improvised in Louisiana. The addition of porches, which
shows cultural confluence of the Acadian and
African [inaudible]. And then, what happens
when that house type is in everybody’s head and you
build a modern house on a slab? And what happens when
Katrina and Rita blow through and you get flooded? Things are constantly being
negotiated in very smart and meaningful and
ways that make sense. Food, you know, some — there are notions of
traditional food ways that didn’t accommodate. If you get stuck in history,
they don’t accommodate for Cajun eggrolls, crawfish
tamales, microwave rue, and some other things that
strain the imagination. [ Laughter ] All the while, we also enjoy
hamburgers and fried chicken with iced tea and Dr. Pepper without feeling we are betraying
our Cajuness [phonetic]. So, I was going to give
you a few examples of — in the world of Cajun music,
but let me just do one. Basically, it has to do
with, how do you get — how did we get from
performing here back in the ’30s to performing here today? There’s a remarkable
difference between the music that was played here and the
music that’s played here. For one thing, there
was no electricity. For another thing, it was
essentially for dancers. It was in the dance
hall, closed off. Courting is going on. People are paying attention
to the music only to dance to. Here, as Dewey pointed
out, what’s happening? Well, people are listening,
people are watching, people are gathered in a
remarkably different way. And, so, musicians will
obviously renegotiate what they’re playing. This is an example of what Ralph
Rentschler recorded the Balfa brothers playing in 1964, a
song called Parlez-Nous a Boire. [ Music ] So, what happens if
you’re — if you’re young, a member of [inaudible],
and you’re playing in front of a crowd that looks more
like that festival crowd? What will you come up with? Well, this is what
Chris Stafford and [inaudible] came up with. [ Music ] Now, you know, that probably
upsets the sensibilities of some people who
think of Cajun music as historically traditional. But I’m here to tell you from
my observations in Louisiana, if you don’t do that, then it’s
stuck in a preservation hall. It’s dead. You may not always like it. Dewey Balfa famously said of
these kinds of matters, he said, I don’t like what they’re doing, but I sure am glad
they’re doing it, which I thought an absolutely
brilliant observation. Some of the stuff that
people do are designed to produce arouse from a crowd. [ Music ] You can hear — [ Music ] In the opening of that
version of the Bosco Stomp, he’s letting the crowd have a
chance to cheer and get into it. People started doing all
sorts of reimagined songs. Style was shifting within
a traditional repertoire. People like Steve Riley and the
Mamou Playboys, would do things like four-part harmonies
on old classics. [ Music ] And something about it works. Rearrange openings for crowd
effect, stringing together two or more traditional tunes to
produce medleys, rearrange songs for obvious dramatic effect. These strategies have influenced
subsequent generations as is evident in
the arrangements of many contemporary
Cajun groups. Eventually, fiddler
David Greely learned to play a swamp pop saxophone to accompany accordionist
Steve Riley’s forays into zydeco and swap pop. People — things were
changing even faster than some festival
organizers were expecting. When Steve Riley, who was
sort of our, you know, hope for the future, stuck
in the past kind of guy, imitating the past, heir to
Dewey Balfa, except actually, he ended up being heir to
do it because he continued to think about as Dewey did. When he — in 1994 he pulled a
big, red, chromatic accordion out of the bag on
stage at our festival. The south Louisiana crowd
experienced a moment, not unlike the one experienced
by the Newport Folk Festival in ’65 when Dylan began
to play Maggie’s Farm. But, as Bruce Jackson has
pointed out, that crowd in ’65 in Newport was not mad at Dylan. They were mad at Peter Yarrow
for trying to get him off. They were actually loving it. When festival producers
heard the new licks, there was some consternation
and concern that the traditional Cajun
music’s fair-haired band was sliding toward the
progressive side. What was undeniable was,
that the crowd loved it. A remarkable exchange of e-mails
I had with Greely and Ben, manager and bassist Peter
Schwartz, demonstrated that band members were
keenly aware of these issues, as well as the effects
of changing context, audience expectations
at home and on the road, and the tensions between
artistic and cultural integrity. So — What happens? It continues, and
people continue to experiment producing new
songs, some of them that take on the audience, issues
of cultural and natural and linguistic erosion. Listen to the first words. [ Music ] And this is Steve Riley and the
Mamou Playboys’ typical opening song at outdoor concerts. It’s called Danser
san comprendre, Dancing Without Understanding. [ Music ] Why am I sing — [ Speaking Foreign Language ] In a language you
don’t understand? Why am I singing in a
language you don’t understand? And he goes on to say, you know,
say [speaking foreign language]. It’s not enough to dance
without understanding. You’ve got to fully engage. I mean, they were taking
on the crowd saying, you know, yeah, that’s fine. You all are dancing
and pretending to love this stuff,
but it takes more. You’ve got engage more. And there were other
things that, you know, toyed with what was going on. [ Music ] Why not? Some, including poet, [inaudible] explored
possibilities, including Cajun hip-hop
and neo-metal. Others, Ann Savoy, Jane Vadrene
[assumed spelling], Megan Brown, Kelli Jones, Savoy elected to
explore in other directions. [ Music ] That’s an old song from
— there I am again. That’s an old song from
the Lomax collection. And, obviously, recycled and
rethought and regenerated. But they all continue to
produce music that is playful and thoughtful and challenging,
as we expect young music to be. At the same time, it’s as
respectful and grounded as I hope it would be. Young Cajun music
is a perfect example of what Dewey Balfa meant
when he said he wanted to preserve not the music
itself, but the process that produces the music, so
that musicians will continue to innovate and improvise new
forms that both surprise us and reassure us at
the same time. And this brings us
back to Henry Glassie. This an obviously ongoing
process, undoubtedly influenced by the past, but
not trapped in it. In the spirit of Glassie’s
definition of tradition, as quote, the creation of
the future out of the past. Dewey Balfa also said, a culture
is preserved one generation at a time. Cajun and Creole cultures have
endured in their own terms into the present
generation, what happens in the next will continue
to decide their futures. They have remarkable
filtering systems. Once again, it is
critically important to consider the context,
especially those who consume all this
cultural activity. How long will young Cajun and
Creole bands play what they play without some sort of
crowd to play for? Turning the fieldwork gaze
toward the crowds exposes a simple truth, what works
doggedly it endures, and what doesn’t work
fades mercifully away. Yet Dewey, who learned
about cultural activism from the intellectual
descendants of Alan Lomax and Charles Seeger, realize
that we should not leave such things entirely to the
laws of natural selection, and urge that we water the roots so that the tree might
have a chance to live. Despite the admittedly activist
perspective that we share, we both know you can’t force the
passage of tradition on anyone. What I have tried to do is
to observe it, understand it as well as I can, and
present the results of that understanding in
as many ways as I can — I can think of, including
academic reporting, media presentation,
public presentation. In that public presentation I
have tried to make it attractive and available, and then step
back and watch what happens, and then try to understand that. And folklore and fieldwork
continue to be the best ways to understand this process that
evolves at the speed of life. Thank you. [ Applause ] Sorry. Sorry, that
was a little long. But we have maybe a
little time for questions? [ Inaudible ] Yeah, sure. Uh-huh? [ Inaudible ] [ Laughter ] [ Inaudible ] We don’t pass people along. [ Inaudible ] But, yeah, and you know,
sometimes, you know, musicians who are aware of this
have challenged the fourth wall. I remember back in
1980 something, Rockin Dopsie had
a 50-foot cord. We were always wondering, why
does he have a 50-foot cord? And in the first song he stepped
back and took off and jumped into the crowd and played. It was like — and this was
like before mosh pits, right? So, I think the — to me, the
most important thing to take, one of the most important
things to take out of — out of all of this is,
that it’s a mistake to confuse history
and tradition. You know, history is what
happened in the past, and tradition is what came
from it, but is still going on, and it’s still happening and it’s producing what
we’re experiencing today. And, in that regard, it has — it has a quality of the
present and even the future. And sometimes it surprises
us in ways that we kind of wish we weren’t surprised,
but too bad, you know. We’re not cultural
policeman, and we shouldn’t be. Yes? [ Inaudible ] Well, in the words of
Mark Savoir, [inaudible], and a musician from south
Louisiana, one begins with a C and the other begins
with a Z [laughter]. There are some tendencies,
and, you know, you could probably tease
them out toward the edges, but there’s so much
common ground in the middle that I don’t know why — I’m
not sure it’s all that useful. Zydeco is proudly the product
of the Creole community, the African Creole
community of Louisiana, and Cajun music is the product
of the French Acadian community, but they owe so much to each
other, and they’ve inter — they’ve interlaced in so many
ways and influenced each other in so many ways that — and that
is what’s wonderful about it. It would be kind of like — it
would be kind of like trying to analyze a gumbo [laughter]. You know, yeah, there’s flour
and oil and onions and chicken and garlic, but it’s better
just to eat the gumbo. [ Inaudible ] Of what? [ Inaudible ] Hippy Ti Yo. For a long time people —
well, there are a lot of words like this, like zydeco
itself, right? People thought, well, that’s
the [inaudible] in French. Except the problem is,
that the way it’s used, [speaking foreign
language], what, are you going to string bean all night? No. So, it’s not a
noun, it’s the verb. And, you know, without going
into a long explanation, if you look to France
[inaudible]. Where’s the other place
this stuff came from? West Africa. And there, that term, seems to
be closely associated to dancing and courtship rituals. [ Inaudible ] A lot of people thought it was
[inaudible] the term tie yo, which is the Cajun French
word for a hound dog. They thought it was about
two [inaudible] hound dogs, [speaking foreign
language], they stole my sled, except that doesn’t make
a lot of sense either. Well, how would dogs be stealing
a sled, and why would they? Well, it turns out that
hippy ti yo, the whole term, and don’t carve out
the ti yo part, hippy ti yo is what Cajuns
heard cowboys from Texas yelling when they were herding cattle, as in yippi yi yo ca
yea gallop [inaudible]. That makes a lot more sense, those bums from Texas
were stealing our sled [inaudible] dogs. But sometimes when you
point out these things that you’re discovering through,
you know, linguistic analysis, it makes the people nervous. No, no, I want my beans,
I want my dogs [laughter]. Sometimes knowledge is
inconvenient [laughter].>>[Inaudible] questions?>>Billy Jean Ancelet: Yeah,
yeah, sure, as many as you like. Yes? [ Inaudible ] I have had a blast. [ Inaudible ] What’s that? [ Inaudible ] Yeah? [ Inaudible ] Yeah.>>Do you know why?>>Billy Jean Ancelet:
Well, [inaudible]. There are different
places to play. That erosion of the traditional,
historical dance hall began when restaurants started
programming [inaudible] along with, you know, [inaudible] and started making spaces
in their restaurants. So, and more restaurants
were regularly [inaudible]. So, dance halls started
[inaudible]. But, you know, nobody — there aren’t any house
dances anymore either. [ Inaudible ] Yes, yeah? [ Inaudible ] And sometimes that stuff is
surprising, which is good. I often say that
when the process that I was just describing is
really in stride and hitting on all eight cylinders, it’s
working well, it produces things that both surprise us and
reassure us in the same moment. We say, wow, I didn’t
see that coming, but I see where it came from.>>One more question.>>Billy Jean Ancelet: Okay. [ Inaudible ] [ Laughter ] I could tell you, but —
no, there are people who — [ Inaudible ] And by the way, we
just last year, just this past year we revisited
something that we had done in the ’80s, and that
is we did an exhibition, a museum exhibition of traditional instruments
made in south Louisiana. [ Inaudible ] Steel guitars, drums, percussion
bands, violins, [inaudible]. So, if you want — if you want
to play that badly [inaudible].>>We probably should
wrap this up. But I wanted to thank
Professor Ancelet for coming and for [inaudible]. [ Applause ]

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