My Rouses Everyday, January | February 2018
The first time I danced — really danced — to Cajun music was at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou.
On the Saturday preceding the Courir de Mardi Gras years ago, I found myself winding through an early-morning street party towards the sound of an accordion ringing out bright and tinny from a tiny nearby bar. But this kind of pre-noon merriment isn’t just a Carnival-specific happening. Every Saturday for over 65 years, Fred’s has opened its doors at 7 a.m. for a morning full of tunes, hobble-stepping and beers, broadcast live on local radio station KVPI-FM from nearby Ville Platte. A pinprick of a town with no more than 3,500 residents, Mamou has become a touchstone for all things fiddle-and-accordion, and a destination point for visitors from around the globe.
After all, it isn’t called the “Cajun Music Capital of the World” for nothing.
Cajun music traditionally orbits around a triptych of fiddle, accordion and triangle, with lyrics warbled in Cajun French or, occasionally, their English translation. Themes of lost love, family and — of course — celebration are often the heartbeat of traditional ballads, and they have the unique ability to make even the deepest cynic get misty-eyed (or a complete klutz try out the floor at a dance hall).
As master accordion maker and Cajun music expert Marc Savoy writes, “[Cajun music] is a people’s music that expresses…an entire cultural history. It exposes the culture’s heart and soul. It makes no difference if the songs are in a language that the rest of the world can’t understand. What they do understand and connect with is the rhythm of life this music possesses.”
Stumbling out of Fred’s that day, squinting and blinking in the harsh light of the sun, the band played on as I wandered into the crowd of revelers, singing along quietly to myself:
Mardi Gras, what do you bring with you? We bring only a bottle. Oh my dear, oh my dear. We bring only a bottle. And the bottle is drunk …