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Focus on: Cajun music
Cajun music is the folk music of the French-speaking Acadians of south-western Louisiana, whose ancestors migrated to Louisiana after 1755 from what is now Nova Scotia. The music, mainly derived from medieval French folk music, has integrated the music of many other European immigrant cultures and of black refugees from the Caribbean as well as neighbouring American states.
Cajun music is mainly French in origin. Originally sung unaccompanied, the fiddle became its main instrument from the 19th century onwards. Rhythms were played by triangles, spoons or washboards and the repertoire consisted of waltzes, polkas, mazurkas and country dances. New compositions often integrated black and white influences. The addition of the accordion towards the end of the 19th century, introduced by German settlers in Louisiana, resulted in a genuinely Cajun music, ideal for dances. Traditional Cajun music consisted of the accordion in a lead role with violin, triangle and sometimes a guitar. Of the old dances only the waltz has remained; the polkas, mazurkas and quadrilles having been replaced by one-steps and two-steps.
By the late 1920s a parallel black music had developed. The black Cajuns adopted the Acadians' music, adding their own touches, influenced by African music as well as the blues from the opposite banks of the Mississippi. Hence a new, more rhythmically accented music developed, which would later become known as Zydeco.
The first phonograph recordings were made in 1928. Cajun music was however practically unknown outside bayou country until the end of the 1950s. Recordings were mostly distributed locally, mainly because the songs were only sung in French. Eventually France and other French-speaking communities began showing an interest, and Cajun music at last broke into world-wide popularity.
In the early 1930s string bands became prevalent. The ensembles grew in size and the accordion was used less and less. After this amplified guitars and steel guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, string basses and drums found their way into Cajun music, giving it a sound much like any other country music.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s singer and accordionist Nathan Abshire (1913-1981), an influential exponent of traditional Cajun music, brought about a renaissance of the accordion and the Cajuns started to rediscover pride in their own culture. In 1964 The Balfa Brothers were invited to the Newport Folk Festival and helped spark a Cajun music revival. In 1969 the singer and accordionist Clifton Chenier toured Europe, including France, with the American Folk Blues Festival. Thus, after almost 400 years this French culture had found its way home.
Cajun music in the 1970s and 1980s experienced a huge resurgence that continues today.