Thursday, September 14, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Allons a Lafayette'


Allons a Lafayette


Performed by Joseph Falcon and Cleva Breaux; vocals, Leon Meche

Recorded April 27, 1928


It’s the first commercial recording of Cajun music. Now, let’s figure out – what is Cajun music? Who are Cajuns?

It starts back during the time of the French and Indian War. The British wrested Canada from the French, and dealt the French-speaking population of the colony of Acadia a bitter blow – they forcibly exiled thousands of them to Louisiana, between the years of 1755 and 1764. Why Louisiana? For the simple fact that France still controlled it.

This “Great Expulsion” meant that a whole set of language, custom, and culture was transported south and intermingled with the predominant Creole (mixed-race) heritage of the region. They wound up creating a unique and vibrant mini-culture, grounded in spicy and delicious food, dance, and music.

 Cajun tunes come primarily in two forms – the first, a hopping-fast two-step full of juicy chords emanating from the accordion, guitar, fiddle, and percussion quartet that forms the typical Cajun music ensemble; the second consists of dreamy waltzes. This is perfect music for a party, infectious and good-tempered.

Using only an accordion and guitar, Falcon and Breaux create a sonic storm, an onslaught of notes topped by the keening vocals of Meche in Cajun French, itself a unique concoction of colloquial language.

The song is derived from a traditional tune, “Jeune Gens Campagnard,” but it’s sped up and given new lyrics. In “Allons,” the singer is cajoling his beloved, asking her to change her name and get out of town with him, presumably to engage in some hanky-panky. The jolly, light-hearted tune became a hit, guaranteeing that more of this unique music would be recorded, preserved, and celebrated.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Smyrneikos Balos.

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