Young musicians cling to Cajun, zydeco traditions
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Singer John Mayer sang his hits after local-born bluesman Dr. John performed hometown favorites such as "Iko Iko" on Friday to close out the sun-drenched first day of the 2013 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
They were among the final performers on a day heavy on Louisiana-influenced music, such as T'Monde, a band of 20-somethings that kicked off the festival with century-old, fiddle-heavy Cajun tunes.
"Je vais faire accoire, que tu m'aimes toujours," sang Drew Simon (pronounced SEE-mon), while playing the accordion to lyrics from an old Cajun song that loosely translated means "I'm going to make believe that you still love me."
T'Monde (pronounced TEE-mone), in Cajun French can mean "little world" or "little people." The group based in Lafayette, La., opened one of the festival's 12 stages Friday under sunny skies, 70-degree temperatures and a gentle breeze.
Jazz Fest spans two weekends. It continues through Sunday and then resumes May 2-5.
A strong police presence was evident as the festival opened less than two weeks after the Boston Marathon bomb explosions. Police on foot and in electric carts were out in force and veteran Jazz Fest patrons said bags were checked more thoroughly.
The Cajun band T'Monde performs on the Fais Do Do stage during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Friday, April 26, 2013. From left are band members Kelli Jones-Savoy playing fiddle, Drew Simon on the accordion, and Megan Brown on guitar. (AP Photo/Doug Parker)
Couples danced in the grass as T'Monde played on the Fais Do-Do (FAY-doh-doh) stage, where Cajun and zydeco music would be performed throughout the festival.
Simon, who at 29 is the eldest of the T'Monde trio, said he studied old recordings of Cajun music dating back to the early 1900s. The music was common at Cajun parties known as a "fais do do," where couples would two-step to music played with just a handful of instruments, usually a fiddle or guitar and an accordion.
Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis said Cajun and zydeco music are as important to the festival as jazz.
"There are certain aspects of culture that only exist here," Davis said. "We're the birthright of jazz, everybody knows that, second-line music, the Mardi Gras Indians go along with that. The other wonderful culture in southwest Louisiana is the French-speaking people that are Cajun and zydeco in terms of music."
Davis said about 25 Cajun bands and 25 zydeco bands will perform at this year's festival.
"The younger generations are really keen on the music and keeping it alive, so there's traditional Cajun music, which is dance hall music, and then there's zydeco, which is like French rock 'n' roll," Davis said.