Creole and Cajun music draw from similar influences of French, German, Native American, and Spanish music, with the Creole adding the rhythm and accompaniment of the Caribbean and Africa. Creole and Cajun developed together and drew from each other, blurring the lines. The most common differentiation between the two is that, in the early days, Cajun was performed by whites, and Creole was performed by African Americans. By the 1960s, the two forms had combined so much as to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. The term Creole, as it applies to music, is nearly extinct, as younger generations tend more toward zydeco.
In southwestern Louisiana in the 1800s, the fiddle was the most popular Cajun instrument, though German immigrants spreading outward from central and eastern Texas and New Orleans soon brought the accordian as well. African Americans farmhands at the time sang a rhythmic type of work song called jure, which mixed with Cajun folk music to form la la, a central component of Creole music. La la was primarily rural, played at parties also known as la las, and found in towns in the prairie regions like Mamou, Eunice and Opelousas.
In 1901 oil was discovered at Jennings and immigration boomed. Many of the newcomers were white businessmen from outside of Louisiana who attempted to force the Cajuns and other minorities to adopt the dominant American cultural forms, even outlawing the use of the French language in 1916. Despite the law, many Cajuns still spoke French at home, and musical performances were in French. Even today, some of the current older generation is more comfortable speaking French, though they are bilingual.
Commercial recording of Cajun music began in 1928. These early songs were mixtures of la la, and other folk influences from black, white and Native American traditions. In the late 1930s and 1940s, country music became the dominant influence on Cajun music, and bass and steel guitars were used. Modern Cajun music has begun taking on the influence of jazz and modern country music, resulting in a more polished sound.
A performance by Dewey Balfa, Gladius Thibodeaux, and Vinesse LeJeune at the 1964 Newport Music Festival was one major reason behind a "revival' of interest in traditional Cajun music in the mid 1960s. In 1968, the Council for the Development of French in louisiana or CODOFIL was founded. In 1974, CODOFIL started an annual festival that came to be known as Festival Acadiens . It is still held in Lafayette.
A new respect for Cajun culture developed in the 1990s. Children like young phenom Hunter Hayes got into the music again, inspiring everyone. The most well known Cajun band outside of Louisiana is probably grammy winners Beausoleil , who have joined many country artists in the studio, and served as an inspiration to the Mary Chapin Carpenter hit, Down At the Twist and Shout.
When most people think of Cajuns, they think of pirogues on the bayou. But Eunice – named for the town founder’s beloved wife – is the “prairie” Cajun capital of Louisiana. The week here starts on Saturday mornings, with hot boudin sausage, coffee and the open Cajun jam session at Savoy’s Music Center. This 40-year-old tradition, where old hands play alongside up-and-comers, was started by a local accordion-maker and is still going strong. On Saturday evenings, the historic Liberty Theater broadcasts a live Cajun radio show. It makes sense that Eunice would also house the Cajun.
Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Here, greats like “Doc” Guidry and “Happy Fats” LeBlanc are commemorated, and the story of Cajun music is told. For the rest of the story, visit the Prairie Cajun Cultural Center, which is one of the few places you’ll find National Park Service rangers alongside Cajun chefs dishing up jambalaya.