Cajun Son

BeauSoleil Celebrates the Sounds of Louisiana

by Charles Donelan

BeauSoleil.jpgMichael Doucet has experienced a great
journey of discovery of the history of American roots music. Born
and raised in French-speaking Louisiana, Doucet, like many other
young people, embraced rock early on and paradoxically did not
discover his Cajun heritage until he left the country. As an
American in England and Ireland in the early 1970s, Doucet met and
played with such great neo-traditionalists as guitarist Richard
Thompson and Scots fiddler Barry Dransfield. Their motivation sent
him back home to Louisiana, where he began to form Cajun-influenced
groups and research the early history of the music. With the help
of the National Endowment for the Arts and an incredible pool of
experienced musicians, Doucet brought together a broad selection of
Cajun tunes and formed BeauSoleil, now celebrating 31 years
together. Next Thursday, Doucet will bring BeauSoleil to Santa
Barbara for an Arts & Lectures concert. Last week he answered a
few questions from his home in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.

What’s going on with BeauSoleil? It’s our 31st
year together and we decided to celebrate by playing some concerts
here in Louisiana and recording them. It’s out now as a CD, Live in
Louisiana. We went through our old records looking for the 20 best
songs, and then we went out and played them live until we got some
good versions for the record.

I’ve heard it and it sounds great. I know you are a
historian as well as a musician and a bandleader. Would you like to
say something to put the Hurricane Katrina disaster in historical
perspective?
Yes, I would. In terms of history, extreme
weather has always been with the Cajun people, even from the Nova
Scotia years. And the way that Katrina showed how remote some of
these places were from mainstream America, well, that’s nothing new
either. One of the reasons Cajuns came to Louisiana is because it
was off the map. It was off the map 250 years ago, and, as we saw
when it came time to bring relief to these people, it remains in
some ways off the map. As a Louisianan and a Cajun, one has to be
aware of the elements, because it is what shapes the staff for us,
this sense of impending danger. It gives us our work ethic and
enhances the playfulness of what we do, this feeling that it is all
fragile and subject to change and loss.

Wow, great answer. As a person who is dedicated to roots
music and who does not necessarily record or perform with
commercial considerations as a top priority, how did it feel to win
that Grammy Award?
The awards, when they come, are always
a surprise. Winning a Grammy without trying to be commercial, as
you say, is an amazing feat, no doubt about that. I like to think
it is an award we share with all the people in Louisiana who are a
part of our culture. There are so many people here who just play
because they can and because they love it that that’s actually the
norm. Cajun music is not really a genre in the strict sense because
it is a living ethnic music, which means it remains open to outside
influences and reflects the life and spirit of the people who use
it every day. I see what we do as being in a big train with all the
others in this country who love and play music — we’re all
Americans but we can still all be different.

Have you been to Santa Barbara much? Oh yes, we
love Santa Barbara. It’s so beautiful, and the food is great. Also,
one of my favorite musical instrument makers is there, Jim Wimmer,
who makes these amazing violins that are the same size and type as
the Cajun ones I use. We always try to visit him. It’s a great
town.

4•1•1 BeauSoleil plays UCSB’s
Campbell Hall on Thursday, February 15 at 8 p.m. Call 893-3535 or
visit www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu
for tickets.

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