Acadian Center preserves regional music

THIBODAUX, La.—While the soulful flavor of saxophones, trumpets and a wailing piano inject the sultry streets of New Orleans with color and movement, communities located just an hour outside of the city pulse with a different sort of lifeblood.

It is the rich reedy call of the accordion and the sharp plucked notes of the fiddle that infuse this quiet city with cheerful energy.

Click on the video at right to see a live performance of Cajun music by Louisiana musicians D.L. Menard and Jerry L. Moody (Video provided courtesy of Jerry L. Moody).  

Nestled in the Northwest corner of Lafourche Parish, La., this small town is home to the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (WACC).

The park, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, was given the mission of preserving the natural and cultural resources of Louisiana’s Mississippi River delta region—mainly, the history and traditions of the Acadians (descendents of the French-speaking settlers that made their homes in South Louisiana).

Bobby Pellerin teaches a girl from the Firstbloom program how to play the fiddle (Photo courtesy of the WACC).

And what better way to maintain your roots than to showcase the heart of any culture: its music?

Jerry L. Moody, a resident of Thibodaux, has been working with the WACC to sustain and promote Cajun culture through music for the last six months. He leads a Traditional Cajun Music Jam Session with his wife, Judith Pringle, every first and third Saturday of the month in the park’s Cultural Center.

Pringle’s first impression of Cajun music was, “How in the world could anybody listen to that?” But after attending a jam session with some contemporary Cajun musicians, she experienced the heart of the music firsthand.

“Tears were streaming down my face as I listened to Courtney Granger sing a tune in Cajun French. I had no idea what the song was about as I did not understand a word of the language. But it left such an impression on my heart that I decided at that moment that I would begin playing Cajun music.”

A student from the Firstbloom program learns to play the steel guitar during a Traditional Cajun Music Jam Session held at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (Photo courtesy of the WACC).

There are four different genres of French music in Louisiana.

In Lafourche Parish, country music is sung in Cajun French. This was because when oil was discovered in the area, a lot of Texan men came down to seek jobs in the factories and married Cajun women. The men still wanted to hear their Texas Swing, so the songs were adapted to Cajun instruments and sung in Cajun French.

Black Creole music, Zydeco music, and Swamp Pop originated in the Eunice area of Saint Landry Parish. The syncopation and timing are faster than the Traditional Cajun music and in the case of Swamp Pop, the lyrics are not necessarily sung in French.

Moody feels that the language is such a vital part of the music that you can’t have one without the other. He refuses to perform any Zydeco because he believes that, over the years, the emphasis has been placed more and more on the technique of the accordion and the words are not being used today like they were in the past.

A young musician from the Firstbloom program learns to play the acoustic guitar during a Traditional Cajun Mlusic Jam Session held at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (Photo courtesy of the WACC).

“In Zydeco songs, the verses are shortened, the concept of the songs is changed, and they just repeat a phrase over and over,” he said.

In fact, the diminishing number of French-speaking Cajun musicians is a real concern for Moody, who wishes to uphold the tradition.

“In the Lafayette area, you shake a tree and five accordion players will fall out. None of them can speak French. None of them can sing in French,” he said.

According to Moody, that diminishes the allure of the music because it was the lyrics that enticed the people in the 1940s and 1950s to listen and it is the words that tell of the lives of Cajun men and women that are important.

Jerry L. Moody (center left), his wife Judith Pringle (center right), and others musicians play traditional Cajun music during a jam session at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (Photo by Bruce Garrison).

“After World War II, the military men returning from war were hungry for Cajun music. The period between 1940 to 1970 became known as the ‘Cajun Renaissance’ and the music grew exponentially at that point,” Moody said.

When Moody was 13 years old, he went to live with his grandmother. It was through her influence that he first began to learn the language.

“My grandma had a unique way of teaching me French. I had to tell her what it was or I didn’t eat it. So, for two weeks, I ate le pain et le beurre—bread and butter,” he said.

The Jean Laffite National Historical Park and Preserve Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center houses a visitor center, exhibits, library, and other public space (Photo by Bruce Garrison).

Since then, Moody has embraced his roots and hopes to share his love of Cajun culture with all those who care to listen.

According to Pringle, it was difficult to find a place that played traditional Cajun music in the Thibodaux community. There were some musicians playing French music, she said, but it was more country music based.

“When the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, under the direction of Angela Rathle, opened the door to the jam session it was exciting to think that we may be able to impact others to join in and carry on a very important tradition, playing for the love of the music,” said Pringle.

The bimonthly jam sessions in the center’s informal performance space are open to any and all guests and people are encouraged to bring their own traditional Cajun instrument to play alongside Moody and his wife.

Jerry L. Moody playing the accordion during a Traditional Cajun Music Jam Session held at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (Photo by Bruce Garrison).

“The Traditional Cajun Music Jam Sessions held at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center are an avenue to carry on the tradition and inspire the young and old to pick up an instrument, sing along, dance, or simply listen.  I find that to be the best part of all.  It is open and waiting for the aspiring as well as the seasoned players.  I love it because it is not a show, although it is entertaining.  It is an opportunity to join in the experience,” said Pringle.

So if you’re in town and looking for some local flavor, stop by the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center.

If You Go:

  • Directions: The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center , 314 Saint Mary St., Thibodaux, LA
  • Phone: 985-448-1375.
  • Time: Every first and third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Admission: Free.

Comments are Closed