Sometimes the music-making machine in me, as an adult [still] beginner on the violin, slows down to a crawl and needs a jumpstart. A little shake up the equation. Striving less, ironically. Taking a little time off, relaxing, sitting back and observing more. So. I didn’t practice my violin the other night (okay, the whole weekend), but instead went out with Mr. Classical Girl for a night of watching live music. Not the symphony this time, though. Instead, the Cajun, zydeco, folk-but-not, touch-of-blues-and-jazz, Louisiana-based band, BeauSoleil. Up close. Very up close: second row, in an already small, intimate venue. A way cool night.
BeauSoleil (sometimes billed as “BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet”) was formed in 1975, and the group released its first album in 1977. I learned about them after being seduced by their music in the 1987 film, The Big Easy, their “Zydeco Gris Gris” that opened the movie. The music and the movie hooked me utterly on New Orleans and its culture, which, in my Midwest youth I’d never explored.
BeauSoleil imbues their music with flavors of their native Louisiana. There’s Cajun, Creole, Zydeco, and last night we heard Calypso and Africa-based music, as well. (Loved, loved it!) The band has garnered a dozen nominations for a Grammy Award, winning in 1997 for Best Traditional Folk Album and in 2009 in the category of Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album.
Don Quixote’s Restaurant in Felton, CA, doubles as a bar and music hall, presenting astonishingly good live music and bands. They nabbed BeauSoleil for a night because the band was passing through the region and thought, hey, how about a night of music-making in a local venue? I don’t know if they were aware of how small the venue is, really, just a big room adjacent to the restaurant, filled with lots of folding chairs that night. But the band showed up, we all eagerly showed up, 200-ish of us crammed into the room, and they made damned fine music for us.
The small venue brought a cozy intimacy to the show, the ability to observe the performers way up close, and chat with some of the members of the band during their break (special thanks to Mitch Reed, pictured below, for his time and enthusiasm as we violin/fiddle talked), and really, it doesn’t get much better than that for a night of listening to live music. I must say, my eye was on the *violins all night long, even as I enjoyed the whole group’s unique ensemble sound. (Fun, cool fact: one of the two violins pictured below, on the right, has been tuned a full note lower, so the A string is tuned to a G. Way cooler for Cajun harmony, huh? The secret spice to their music, so to speak.)
I’m crazy about Cajun and zydeco music. For many years, I didn’t even know this stuff existed. I thought it was on the country end of the music equation (ick) or traditional folk (meh). Hearing it for the first time was reminiscent of trying Thai food for the first time, thinking it was just going to be like Chinese food, which I found uninteresting (hey, this was while growing up in white-bread, suburban Kansas City, okay?). Both the Thai and the zydeco proved to be an astonishing jolt to my pleasure seeking sensors. Delicious. Instantly addictive. Utterly satisfying. Where and when can I get more, please?
Watching Michael Doucet perform, I was reminded of how much fun it is to observe a musician in the throes of doing what they do best. The way you could see the art take over, pulse through him, literally a wave, the smile on his face, the way his music was rewarding him. It was like watching someone go into a trance, and they were going to tell you your fortune, a good one, so you were invested too, so enjoying the process, the end result. Pure pleasure.
And that’s what the night gave me, most of all. The pleasure of watching gifted musicians immersed in the pleasure of making great music on their instruments. Which, doggone, has fueled me to go pick up my own violin/fiddle, and go back to making the music myself. A very good thing.
Thank you, BeauSoleil, for your inspiration and for a wonderful (and local!) night of great music!
PS: Take a listen to The Big Easy soundtrack. The song that will forever define BeauSoleil in my mind is Zydeco Gris-Gris, the movie opener. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VORSTvVHSro (This song starts at 19m50 but I highly recommend listening to the entire 47 minutes. Really great music and soundtrack.)
PPS: And check out BeauSoleil’s most recent CD, From Bamako to Carencro. I’m listening to it as we speak. It so very much jams. And, because I love links so much, here’s a great review of the CD from Dan Willging at offbeat.com that says it all so much better than I can. As a classical music fan who also loves world music, it was good fun to read: http://www.offbeat.com/2013/04/01/beausoleil-avec-michael-doucet-from-bamako-carencro-compass-records/
A PPPS but not: *For the record—a violin is a fiddle and a fiddle is a violin, with some exceptions. Mostly the instrument is named, and set up, in the way the musician prefers. I am a violin student who likes to incorporate fiddle tunes into my repertoire, my lessons. I use the instrument terms interchangeably. Fiddle players are less inclined to say “my violin” and they might tune their instruments differently, or have more fine-tuners on the tail, but again, it’s the same instrument. Another interesting aside: when I bought my violin (at Gryphon Music in Palo Alto, and it turned out to be a wonderful place to buy a violin even though it’s mostly guitars there), the luthier who sold it to me said “is this for fiddle or classical?” and I asked why and he said, “fiddlers tend to want fine tuners for all four strings, whereas classical violinists prefer just one fine tuner on the E string.” When I asked if it made any big difference in sound or aesthetics, he gave a little noncommittal shrug and said, “it’s sort of an image thing.” He didn’t say a “snob” thing, but, I have to say, I think that’s some of it. Some classical violinists in training don’t want to be seen as “needing” those four fine-tuners. That’s what’s on starter violins, after all. Student violins. One fine tuner shows you’re good enough to tune the rest with pegs. But hey. I’m not knocking this philosophy. I myself anguished over the choice, the decision in front of me, on which way to go. In the end I put ego aside and went “fiddler” style, with four fine tuners, and am so grateful that I did (way easier to micro-tune). And this is likely way more than you wanted to know about fine tuners and violins and fiddles and what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle, and there you have it, yet another Classical Girl ramble. So happy you read to the end, though!
4 thoughts on “BeauSoleil live: Cajun up close”
In German, we also make this distinction between violin (Violine) and fiddle (Fiedel). The word “Fiedel” seems to be used more often when referring to folk music while “Violine” makes you think of more formal occasions like a classical concert.
I am not familiar with Cajun music at all but I think I remember a song from a film I watched as a teenager (long ago), which was something like: Oh, Madame Suzanne, donnez-moi Alida. C’est la seule que j’aime depuis que j’ai quatorze ans….
But I may be wrong and my French is probably wrong, too.
Ooh, I love hearing about other languages – thanks, Paulina. But a question for you: I took a German class and I learned a violin was “die Geige”. How did I get THAT wrong? It was such an odd word (which is to say, I just couldn’t figure out its derivative).
And your reminiscing of the Cajun music (and the French) sounds spot-on, or certainly close. I’m fascinated by Cajun French. It’s like pidgin English in a way – some of it I recognize from having learned French, and some of it, the pronunciations and likely even the spelling, goes right over my head. A fascinating culture, though, and they’ve brought some incredibly good food to the American table.
“Geige” is correct, too.
You’re right on…The song you’re quoting is called “Madame Sosthene”…awesome version is by Wallace “Cheese” Read on an album called, “Cajun House Party…check it out on Spotify if you can!