Styles of Cajun Fiddle

ifiddlemag Jun 05, 2020

I'm going to talk today a little bit about the different styles of Cajun fiddle. My family is from Louisiana, which is the Northern prairies of Cajun country, but I live in South Louisiana, the Southern part of the Cajun country, which is the Bayou region, the swamps. And I wanted to talk a little bit about the two different styles of the northern region, the Prairie area. We had a lot of Scotch-Irish settled there. And so you find a lot of reels and Contradances and even some jigs. In the southern part (we'll say Lafayette parish) you had more waltzes and bluesier songs. So you had more of a blues influence. So in the northern part, you had people like Dennis McGee, a very Irish name playing reels and Contradances. And in the southern part, you had black fiddle players and black accordion players playing one-steps and blueses.

And the two different styles are pretty interesting, but they do all come together to form Cajun music. So Cajun music naturally has a bluesy influence to it. So Dennis McGee actually played with a black accordion player named Amede Ardoin, and he played a lot of waltzes and a lot of blueses and Dennis kinda added this almost kind of Irish fiddle to it that was really unique, really special. Down here you had a real sharing of culture because you had white accordion players like Octa Clark who, as a kid learning to play accordion would go out at night. He would go behind the black dance halls and bring his accordion with him. And he'd sit in the back of the black dance halls, outside the building, and put his ear to the building. And he would try to hear what they were playing and mimic the different African rhythms and syncopated rhythms that the Creoles were playing.

So you had white people down here in the southern part of Cajun culture, playing very bluesy and very Creole. And then you had in the northern part, this interesting mixture of African-American rhythms mixed in with Irish fiddle and it came together to form a really interesting style of music. So definitely here in Cajun country, you have the northern part and the southern part which are a little bit different in styles. But again today in this day and age, it's kind of all been blended and mixed, but back in the days of the house dance days- we'll say the 1920s he styles were more identifiable. And so in the north, you had reels and Contradances, and then in the south, you had more blueses and one-steps. They even had this thing called slow drag, which is kind of interesting.

And that was a very African bluesy slow dance played on the accordion, but you could also play it on the fiddle as well. So just wanted to talk a little bit about that. So when you listen to Cajun music, if you really want to understand the origins of it, listen to the old 78 recordings. Listen to Amede Ardoin and Dennis McGee; that gives you a good taste of the Northern Evangeline Parish area with that Scotch-Irish African mixture. And then to get a good understanding down here, what was going on in the Lafayette Parish region, listen to an accordion player by the name of Moise Robin who was a white guy, but played in a Creole-style because he used to cut sugar cane with these Creole guys.

And when it would get really, really hot and they'd take a break under a tree to cool down, someone would pull out an accordion. It was usually a Creole and he would play old-time Creole dances. And Moise learned from these sugar cane cutters, how to play that style. So a real mixture of styles. It didn't matter if you were black or white, there was just a real mixture of styles. So I just wanted to talk a little bit about that and thanks for joining me and check out MitchReedMusicLessons.com. I'm very honored to write this article for iFiddle Magazine and I hope you enjoy tuning in again. Thank you.

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