Cajun Music, Cultural Revival: Theorizing Political Action in Popular Music

by Mark Mattern

Cajun music is music of the primarily white, francophone people living in southwest Louisiana.(1) Cajun music is distinct from zydeco music played by black Creoles living in southwest Louisiana. Although Cajun and zydeco music share many common elements, especially common French and African roots, they are distinct and should not be confused. The term "Cajun" is an Anglicized rendition of "Cadien," which is a shortened version of "Acadien," the French word for Acadian. Cajuns carne to Louisiana after being expelled from the Acadian region of Nova Scotia for refusing to abandon their French culture, forswear Catholicism, and swear allegiance to the British crown. After years of dispersion and separation, during which time they faced francophobia and anti-Catholicism in their temporary homes in England and British Atlantic seaboard colonies, they were finally reunited after 1765 in Louisiana.

In Louisiana, due in part to hostility from Anglo politicians, most Cajuns were downwardly mobile, and eventually endured an ethnic stigma which portrayed them as "white trash." During the twentieth century, Cajuns were nearly swallowed up in mainstream Anglo culture as several factors combined to break their isolation and exert pressure toward their assimilation and Americanization. These factors included two world wars, which drew thousands of Cajuns into the armed services; nationalistic pressures wrought in part by the wars; the development of the oil industry, which lured many Cajuns out of traditional livelihoods of farming and fishing; radio and television, which introduced new ways of life into traditional Cajun culture; and explicit pressure from the Louisiana state legislature to abandon their French culture in favor of Anglo culture.(2) By the mid-twentieth century, these various factors of ethnic stigma, economic marginalization, and assimilation pressures drove Cajun culture to the brink of extinction.

Beginning in the 1960s, Cajun musicians initiated a cultural revival that would reverse years of assimilationist pressures, partly erase the ethnic stigma attached to Cajun identity, and contribute to economic vitality through tourism. In the late 1960s, when the Cajun Balfa Brothers began playing at folk festivals, most people had not heard of Cajuns or their music. By 1984, when Beausoleil first appeared on the Prairie Home Companion radio program, pockets of Cajun aficionados had appeared in cities far from the bayous of Louisiana. By the late 1980s, most people in the United States and Western Europe had directly experienced some form of Cajun culture, and many were on familiar terms with it. Threatened with extinction as recently as forty years ago, Cajun culture is now thriving. Cajun music has been one of the primary forces behind this cultural resurgence, giving Cajuns a focus for movements to recover pride in Cajun culture, to maintain the distinctiveness of Cajun culture while partially assimilating, and to undo years of social and political hostility against Cajuns in Louisiana.

In this article, I interpret Cajun music in terms of three distinct forms of political action. My primary goal is to widen the discussion of political action in popular music to include forms of political action that have received little attention from researchers of the politics of popular music. One of the characteristics of the literature linking popular music and politics is a tendency to emphasize one kind of political action, which I will call confrontational. This confrontational form of political action is marked by the language and practices of opposition, resistance, and struggle. While this literature offers many insights into the politics of popular music, a narrow emphasis on opposition, resistance, and struggle tends to obscure other forms of political action that are actually occurring in popular music. These other forms may at times represent better strategic choices for political actors, and may be inconsistent with confrontational political action.

In the first section of this article, I will discuss three main kinds of political action and briefly illustrate them with examples drawn from popular music. In addition to the confrontational practices of opposition, resistance, and struggle, I develop two other forms of political action that I call deliberative and pragmatic.(3) In a deliberative form of political action, people use popular music to debate their mutual identity and commitments, and negotiate relationships with others. In a pragmatic form of political action, people use popular music to organize for collaborative problem-solving. Each of these forms is distinct from the resistant and oppositional practices characteristic of confrontational forms of political action. I argue that deliberative and pragmatic forms of political action should be viewed as complementing, rather than replacing, oppositional and resistant forms of political action. Finally, I apply the three kinds of political action to Cajun music, and argue that Cajuns benefit from diverse political strategies.

Three Kinds of Political Action in Popular Music

Confrontational political action is typically cast in the language and practices of resistance, opposition, and struggle. Its major characteristics include heightened militancy, perception of incompatible interests, perception of zero-sum power relations and of zero-sum outcomes, and perception of relatively clear distinctions between the forces of right and wrong. One example of music that is usually cast in confrontational terms is protest music, in which musicians decry the injustices and oppression endured by certain individuals and groups and extol the virtues of favored alternatives. Typically, the intent of protest musicians is to oppose the exploitation and oppression exercised by dominant elites and members of dominant groups. Protest musicians typically couch their music in terms that draw sharp distinctions between the forces of right and wrong as they perceive them. They attempt to advance the cause of members of a favored group, who are typically portrayed in zero-sum opposition to members of one or more other groups, by promoting sympathy and support.(4)

Other examples of music cast in confrontational terms can be found in the work of researchers who rely, explicitly of implicitly, on a Gramscian-Marxist framework for interpretation of cultural politics. The work of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist writing in prison during the 1930s, has been widely used by researchers of cultural politics since its translation into English in 1971. In attempting to make sense of the apparent quiescence of the working class in Italy and internationally, an anomaly in Marxist theory, Gramsci turned to culture as an explanatory variable. He argued that dominant elites maintained control in part through ideological manipulation and control insinuated throughout culture. In part because of the penetration of bourgeois domination--in the form of beliefs and ideologies of everyday life--into culture, workers believe in the legitimacy of the system that oppresses them. Under circumstances of bourgeois political, economic, and ideological domination--or "hegemony"--Gramsci advocated a "war of position" in venues of everyday life including, potentially, popular music, to challenge dominant elites. Many scholars have subsequently used this framework to interpret cultural politics. Within this framework, popular music represents the legitimate expression of members of the subdominant group who resist and oppose oppression by members of the dominant group. It is viewed as a mouthpiece of "the people" and, as such, a communicative arena where group identity and allegiances are defined and cemented, and one of the sites where resistance and opposition occurs.(5)

A confrontational form of political action has a potentially positive role to play in a democratic politics as a way of enlisting support for the political agenda of a particular group, for publicizing a political issue, for drawing citizens into active participation in public life, and for galvanizing action on specific issues. While this confrontational form of political action can make a significant contribution to democratic politics, it is important to note that it is only one possibility among others. Several cautionary notes are in order regarding its potential overemphasis. First, it is important not to limit the strategic political options of popular musicians and others. Sometimes a strictly oppositional and resistant stance can produce beneficial outcomes. Opposition and resistance may be satisfying existentially and may appear to be the only reasonable options for political action in, for example, a context of extreme repression. However, an oppositional stance may also be unnecessarily fractious and counterproductive in alienating potential allies. In these cases, a more conciliatory approach might be more politically fruitful. An oppositional stance may also be doomed to failure when, for example, the choice is posed in either-or terms of winning outright over more powerful rivals. Political actors, especially those in subdominant positions, benefit from the availability of strategies of compromise, adaptation, accommodation, and negotiation of new, potentially democratic, relationships between dominant and subdominant groups.

Second, framing politics as a zero-sum struggle between two opposing forces may motivate the forced erasure of intragroup differences and struggles. In the interests of group solidarity and cohesiveness, viewed as strategically important in a zero-sum struggle with another group, internal differences of political belief and commitment may be viewed not as legitimate expressions of diversity, but simply as mistakes, the result of failure on the part of certain members to realize or acknowledge their true interests. In such a situation, dissident group members may be silenced by a majority or powerful minority. From the point of view of a researcher working within this confrontational framework, it may be tempting to interpret the role of these dissidents in overly simple terms of co-optation--the dissidents have been co-opted by the dominant group---or to drop them from the picture entirely.

Third, framing politics as a zero-sum struggle between two opposing groups may overlook the fluidity between groups. It sets up political relations in black and white terms that deny the presence of border zones between different groups.(6) These border zones represent social spaces between groups of overlapping identity and interest. These spaces may drop out of sight in an analysis couched exclusively in oppositional and resistant terms since they are gray spaces of overlapping, mixed, and dynamic identity and interest that cannot easily be cast in the black and white terms of right against wrong. Worse, they may be uncritically portrayed as the spaces occupied by people who are being co-opted or assimilated by the dominant group, or who are traitors to the cause. Although these charges may sometimes be true, at other times they are not.(7)

The presence of intragroup differences and disagreements, and of border zones between different groups, suggests that we sometimes adopt an interpretive and practical framework of negotiation, rather than an either-or struggle between opposing forces. This framework would emphasize some of the intragroup disagreements and differences over the appropriate stance to members of other groups, and also take better account of the fluidity between different groups. Popular music would be viewed in these cases as a site and a medium for disagreement and debate over both intragroup and intergroup identity and commitments. This takes shape in a deliberative form of political action, which occurs when members of a group use musical practices to debate their identity and commitments, or when members of different groups negotiate mutual relations. Although members of a group typically stand on at least some common ground, they likely also retain multiple differences of identity, interest, and commitment that sometimes emerge as disagreements and conflicts. Unless these are simply squelched, members must engage in the communicative interactions needed to adjust for differences, to negotiate potential compromises, to accommodate each other, and to find or create common ground for action on shared interests. For some people, music provides a communicative arena in which this debate and discussion can occur. Since music is both a reflection and a determinant of the identity and commitments of a group, debate and disagreement over group identity and commitments may appear in the world of music as well as in other communicative arenas.

It may be tempting to push this argument further and conclude that all music

represents an ongoing deliberative form of political action. This conclusion would be mistaken. Unreflective, habitual reinforcement of individual and group identity and commitment, whether or not through musical practices, is not necessarily political. To deny this is to deny any meaningful distinction between social and political, private and public realms. While all social life is potentially political, it is not inherently so. Social life becomes political through disagreement, debate, and conflict, when unreflective, habitual reinforcement of identity and commitments is challenged.

Deliberation is a political process and a form of political action in its own right, as well as a necessary preliminary step in forging agreement on common interests and goals for action in other political arenas to address them. In other words, politics does not only occur after the formation of a group in various forms of political action where members of the group assert themselves collectively in various public arenas. The discovery, creation, and recreation of group characteristics is itself potentially a political process and a form of political action marked by disagreement and debate. It is potentially a form of public life in its own right. This form of political action is also applicable to relations between two or more different groups. Music potentially serves as a communicative arena in which members of different groups discuss and negotiate the terms of their mutual relations.

For example, different rap musicians express different, sometimes contradictory, messages and visions in their music. They express different beliefs, attitudes, and commitments, which both reflect existing African-American communities and, at the same time, offer competing visions of what African-American communities ought to be like. Both implicitly and explicitly, rap musicians debate these competing visions through their music as they respond to each other and to their audiences. Since music both reflects and partly determines identity, this debate presumably has at least some determining impact on the beliefs, attitudes, and commitments of members of different African-American communities. Taken together, such debates partly form the character and shape of the communities.

In her application of the concept of dialogism to female rap music, Tricia Rose (146-48, 182) approaches this interpretation. She argues that black women rappers are engaged in an "ongoing dialogue" with each other, with members of their audience, with black male rappers, with black men and women in general, and with dominant American cultural forms. Rose's dialogism resembles deliberation, but is different in that deliberation entails political disagreement and debate while dialogism may simply involve "multidirectional communication." Also, Rose places her dialogism within a larger framework of resistance and opposition, themes which dominate throughout her book. I want to ensure that deliberation stands alone as a distinctive, legitimate form of political action in its own right.

Both of the forms of political action that I have thus far considered---confrontational and deliberative--begin from a presumption of divergent interests. By contrast, the possibility of pragmatic political action begins from the premise of shared political interests. Pragmatic political action occurs when individuals and groups use music to promote awareness of shared interests and to organize collaborative efforts to address them. Pragmatic political action may involve efforts by members of a single group to identify and address shared concerns collaboratively, or it may involve attempts to tie together the concerns of different groups in order to build a collaborative effort spanning different groups. This form of political action is characterized by cooperative and collaborative efforts to engage in mutually beneficial problem-solving. It involves power sharing and the building of collaborative working relationships with other individuals and groups. This does not necessarily require mutual admiration or emotional bonding, but it does require mutual respect, meaning the acknowledgement of the validity of others' claims and a willingness to work constructively with others. Pragmatic problem-solving means that people share a common stake in solving a problem, that they identify that common stake, and that they discover or create the common bases for acting upon it. Examples of pragmatic political action in the world of music include megaconcerts such as LiveAid and FarmAid, which were produced to organize collaborative efforts to solve the problems of hunger and the destruction of the family farm respectively. Another example is Rock the Vote, a voter registration effort which recognizes that we have a mutual stake in increasing voter turnout, regardless of the voters' actual choices at the polls.

These three forms of political action, which potentially occur wherever music is produced and consumed, should not be viewed as mutually exclusive of each other. In practice, it is possible and likely that they will overlap. In other words, the same musical practice might reveal characteristics of more than one of the forms of political action. For example, a concert designed to organize collaborative efforts to solve world hunger might include musicians whose message is couched in highly oppositional, confrontational terms. Also, the different forms may complement each other. For example, deliberation over identity and commitments, in order to define common goals or strategies, may be a necessary prelude to both pragmatic and confrontational forms of political action.

Cajun Music and Political Action

Some might argue that the Cajun case can easily be explained entirely in terms of confrontational politics. This approach would portray Cajuns in terms of resistance and opposition to the oppression that they have experienced at the hands of British colonial administrators in Nova Scotia, to class oppression, and to dominant Anglo politicians in Louisiana. Cajuns would also be portrayed as resisting and opposing the dominant Anglo culture, and assimilation into it. This interpretation has many merits. Cajuns have experienced considerable oppression. They do face multiple assimilationist pressures. Many are economically marginal. In short, this characterization of the politics of Cajun music enables at least some analytical grip. However, there are good reasons to avoid casting an analysis entirely in terms of a confrontational form of political action. First, most Cajuns do not understand themselves in these confrontational terms and second, there are plentiful examples of pragmatic and deliberative uses of music for political action which supersede confrontation in importance among Cajuns.

Only in rare cases does the language of opposition and resistance surface in Cajun music or other communicative arenas, including speech, in Southwest Louisiana. Zachary Richard's "Reveille," which appeared during the early years of the Cajun revival, is one of those rare instances. This song, with its reference to the spilling of family blood, family destruction, and "goddamn British," reveals a more militant political orientation than the vast majority of Cajun lyrics, which emphasize themes of love and everyday mundane life. Another political statement slightly tinged with the sympathies characteristic of opposition and resistance appeared on the first longplay recording (Swallow Records 1977) of Beausoleil, a band named after Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, an Acadian who led Acadian resistance to the British and later led one of the expeditions to Louisiana. An inscription on the recording jacket expressed the band members' determination to connect their musical efforts to "the injustice of the British exile," and to use their music to resist the "eminent degeneration of Acadian culture." Most of the original lyrics composed during the revival and subsequently have stayed well away from these oppositional and resistant messages. More typical of the original lyrics during the period of cultural revival were some of Bruce Daigrepont's compositions, including "Two-step de Marksville," describing the founding of his family's hometown, and his "Disco and Fais Do-Do," in which he rues his loss of cultural and ethnic roots and affirms his rediscovery of the beauty and value of his culture. In other communicative arenas aside from musical lyrics, one occasionally finds language and practices characteristic of a confrontational form of political action. For example, musicians and cultural activists Marc and Anne Savoy both take militant stances with respect to preserving Cajun cultural heritage. According to Marc Savoy, "We've got to make war on these things that are undermining our wonderful Cajun culture" (Simoneaux 5B). Their Savoy Music Center is nicknamed "The Bunker," and a sign inside the store once stated that "I don't go to work; I go to war!" As with song lyrics, however, these militant, confrontational sentiments are relatively rare among most Cajuns.

Although most Cajuns do not typically view themselves in oppositional or resistant terms, this does not by itself disqualify an interpretation that emphasizes these elements. Analysts need not accept at face value the self-understandings of their subjects of investigation, which might be distorted or partial. However, such self-understandings should at least give pause to the researcher who wishes to explain the Cajun case in confrontational terms.

Perhaps the most serious objection to couching the Cajun case entirely in terms of opposition and resistance is that such an interpretation distracts attention from the more prominent forms of political action which actually appear among Cajuns, and which ate at least partially inconsistent with a confrontational interpretation. While explicit examples of opposition and resistance are relatively rare, the prominence of both pragmatic and deliberative forms of political action is striking. Many examples of the collaborative problem-solving characteristic of a pragmatic politics can be identified. These typically involve collaboration among musicians, cultural boosters, civic groups and leaders, and various levels of government. Many also involve collaboration between Cajuns and Anglos. Each is based on the recognition of a set of problems to be solved--most notably cultural survival, ethnic stigma, and economic marginalization--through collaborative efforts among various individuals and groups. Some of the specific steps taken by Cajun musicians and others to address mutual problems and concerns include the organization of music concerts, festivals, workshops, and contests; the establishment of collaborative relationships with government agencies and units of government; and the development of educational and apprenticeship programs. Some of these efforts are described below.

During the mid-1960s, Cajun musicians such as Dewey Balfa and other cultural activists, in conjunction with the Louisiana Folk Foundation (formed in 1965 with help from the Newport Folk Festival Foundation), began sponsoring traditional music contests with cash prizes at local festivals such as the Abbeville Dairy Festival, the Opelousas Yambilee, and the Crowley Rice Festival. Additional money was committed to recording Cajun musicians. These steps encouraged musicians to dust off their instruments and begin playing publicly again. In 1974, these musicians and activists organized the First Tribute to Cajun Music,(8) later to become the popular Festival de Musique Acadien, which remains an annual event in Lafayette that routinely draws more than 40,000 music fans. In organizing this First Tribute, Dewey Balfa, Barry Ancelet, and other musicians and activists secured the support of the influential Louisiana politician James Domengeaux and the Louisiana Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL).

Apprentice programs were established to encourage younger Cajuns to embrace their culture and to reknit some of the frayed cultural connections between older and younger Cajuns.(9) Fiddle, accordion, ballad, and other musical workshops were established at local festivals. Dewey Balfa won a "Folk Artists in the Schools" grant in 1977 from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Southern Folk Revival Project, and the Acadiana Arts Council in order to present discussions and demonstrations about Cajun music in classrooms in Southwest Louisiana. Led by activists such as Dewey Balfa, Barry Ancelet, and Michael Doucet, Cajun music continued to increase in visibility and popularity at local, national, and international levels. The process of diffusion of Cajun music was facilitated by increased touring of Cajun musicians. As Cajun music acquired a national and international audience, Cajun musicians and groups began to receive regular invitations to play at preeminent American cultural venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, at presidential inaugurals, and at other prestigious events locally, nationally, and internationally. In 1982, Dewey Balfa became one of the first recipients of the National Heritage Fellowships, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Folk Arts Program. The revival solidified its national prominence with Beausoleil's 1984 appearance on American Public Radio's Prairie Home Companion. Two years later, the 1986 Grammy nominations in the folk and ethnic category were swept by Louisiana musicians including Beausoleil and Dewey Balfa.(10) This national and international acclaim brought local fame to the musicians, making them "cultural heroes" (Ancelet, "Dewey" 83). This proved to be of great importance in rekindling interest in Cajun music and culture in younger generations, and in encouraging younger people to begin playing Cajun music.

Another prominent illustration of the collaborative attempts to promote cultural vitality is the Rendez-vous des Cajuns, a Grand Ole Opry-like program established in the late 1980s by local activists, the city of Eunice, and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Rendez-vous, broadcast live over several radio stations in Southwest Louisiana, is frequently hailed as a Cajun version of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. The Rendez-vous provides both entertainment and education. Other types of governmental support for Cajun music and culture include occasional sponsorship of Cajun recordings, funding for heritage centers and theme parks which showcase Cajun and black Creole music, and various policies and resolutions designed to promote Cajun tourism. Cajun music and culture ate also supported by civic organizations such as the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors of cosponsors events such as the Festival de Musique Acadienne and Downtown Alive!(11) and local industry, which helps fund and promote cultural projects such as the Lafayette heritage theme parks. The motivation of these governmental, civic, and industrial organizations is economic as well as cultural, as they seek ways to increase both economic and cultural vitality.

Each of these examples illustrates a pragmatic attempt to forge collaborative relationships, many of them between Cajuns and dominant Anglo cultural, political, and economic institutions. The examples provide evidence, much of it inconsistent with a strictly confrontational analysis, of a flexible, pragmatic orientation among Cajuns and a willingness to work with, rather than against, Anglo individuals and institutions. Most Cajuns shun confrontational struggles with non-Cajuns, preferring instead to develop collaborative and accommodating relationships, characterized by power-sharing and cooperation, that yield mutual gain.

A deliberative form of political action can also be identified and it, like a pragmatic politics, at least partly undermines a generalized confrontational analysis. Cajun culture, like other relatively marginalized cultures, faces multiple assimilationist pressures. Some Cajuns fear that change within Cajun culture represents assimilation at work. They seek to preserve elements of a traditional Cajun culture, and object to the introduction of certain new elements. They believe, first of all, that a traditional, authentic Cajun culture can be identified and, secondly, that it should be maintained more or less as it is. Implicit in this view is the fear that cultural change means assimilation or even cultural death. On the other hand, some argue that Cajun culture has long survived by adapting to and accommodating its social and cultural environment, and by incorporating new elements which increase its resiliency and vitality. For them, change is not simply a reality, it is a necessity for survival. This disagreement is debated implicitly and explicitly through musical practices.

Among the preservationists are prominent musicians such as Marc Savoy, Anne Savoy, and "Nonc" Jules Guidry and organizations such as L'Association de Musique Cadien Franfaise de Louisiane, or Cajun French Music Association (CFMA). These individuals and groups deny the validity of significant cultural change, believing that "we have to make sure that when the next generation comes along, we can give [Cajun culture] to them as it was when we got it" (Marc Savoy, qtd in Simoneaux 5B). The CFMA, which by 1993 boasted eight chapters in Southwest Louisiana and East Texas, and approximately 2,000 member families, sponsors Cajun musical events such as dances, festivals, and contests; organizes local dance troupes and dance contests; provides for French language and dance lessons; and sponsors a variety of social events such as potlucks, family nights, and bus trips. It promotes a basically preservationist and traditionalist agenda by, for example, considering only traditional musicians who sing in French and include a fiddle for their Le Cajun awards, and allowing members of its performing dance troupes to perform only dances deemed traditional.(12)

On the side of cultural change and adaptation are musicians and others who believe that change is the very tradition of Cajun music. According to them, Cajun music "is very much an ongoing process. It's constantly changing, being reinvented and redefined by people who play it, in response to people who listen and dance to it. It's a process rather than a product. The change is a sign of its life" (Barry Ancelet, qtd. in Simoneaux 5B). This argument is correct in that Cajuns have long created their culture by adapting to and absorbing other cultural influences, and this is nowhere more evident than in the world of Cajun music. Historically, Cajun musicians have borrowed, adapted, and absorbed many different cultural influences. Cajun music is a "gumbo" assembled from elements as disparate as French folk music, American Indian chants, West Indies work songs, New Orleans jazz, Texas swing, bluegrass, country and western, Spanish guitar music, Anglo folk songs, '50s rock and roll, field hollers, and pop music.(13) Of course, the controversial question is how far can this assembling of diverse experiences and sounds go and still produce music which can be called Cajun? Preservationists decry the ongoing experimentation in Cajun music as straying too far from authentic Cajun sounds. Implicit in their stance is the presumption that a traditional, authentic Cajun music and, by extension, culture can be successfully identified in the first place. However, even the music of Cajun musicians viewed as traditional, for example Marc Savoy and Dewey Balfa, marks an assemblage of many different influences drawn from different sources in an ongoing historical trajectory. If this is true, the difficulty of identifying a traditional, authentic sound looms larger than preservationists appear willing to admit. Yet, of course not just any sound can be labeled Cajun.

Cajuns clearly do not agree on how much innovation is appropriate of, by extension, what is Cajun music and Cajun culture. Their music gives them a forum for arguing among themselves over these questions. Music provides people of southwest Louisiana with a communicative forum through which these questions of cultural survival and adaptation can be posed and alternative answers explored. Cajun music both goads debate in other arenas about issues of cultural preservation and change and represents a communicative forum in its own right through which Cajuns implicitly and explicitly consider these issues. Of course, music is only one social and communicative forum among others, but for Cajuns it is a prominent one. The Cajun music revival, which was frequently discussed and debated in southwest Louisiana in many arenas ranging from newspapers to informal dinner table conversations, encouraged in many Cajuns an awareness of issues of cultural preservation and change.

Like the pragmatic forms of political action identified earlier, the presence of this deliberative form of political action should discourage simplistic and generalized portrayals of Cajuns as resisting Anglo domination and exploitation. Although it makes at least some sense to portray the preservationists in confrontational terms as resisting and opposing change and cultural assimilation, we should be wary of generalizing this interpretation. Most Cajuns, preservationists included, live comfortably in both francophone and Anglo worlds. More profoundly, contemporary Cajun identity includes a significant Anglo component, as Cajuns selectively adopt some of the beliefs and practices that characterize Anglo culture and identity. It thus makes little sense to argue that Cajuns are opposing or resisting Anglo culture, since this would imply that they are at least partly at war with themselves. Also, a strictly confrontational strategy implies a clear demarcation between Cajuns and others. As the above analysis should indicate, no such clear distinction can be identified. Instead, the line between Cajuns and others is blurred, and boundaries between Cajun and non-Cajun are porous. This considerably muddies the waters of a confrontational analysis, since it makes clear identification of right and wrong more difficult, and undermines the sensibility of an analysis that emphasizes a zero-sum struggle between two opposing forces.

Finally, Cajun survival into the future requires diverse political strategies. While confrontational strategies may prove beneficial in some ways and at some times, Cajuns also benefit from other political strategies. The benefits accruing to Cajuns from pursuing collaborative strategies have been noted above, and are substantial. Cajuns seek collaboration with Anglos and others because they benefit from collaboration in monetary and political terms. A confrontational strategy would potentially result in the loss of these benefits. Having an arena for deliberation nurtures a critical awareness among Cajuns of important issues that affect them, and stimulates debate and public life in general. These collaborative strategies, and other strategies of accommodation, adaptation, and compromise are precisely the ingredients of cultural resilience. As Ancelet says, "Cajuns are constantly adapting their culture to survive in the modern world. Such change, however, is not necessarily a sign of decay, as was first thought; it may even be a sign of vitality" (Ancelet, "Introduction," Cajun Country xviii). For Cajuns, much of their adaptability and resilience is tied to musical practices which allow them to explore new options for adaptation without disappearing as Cajuns.

How much accommodation, adaptation, and change can Cajun culture experience and still remain distinctively and recognizably Cajun? The question is inaptly posed as a mutually exclusive choice between preservation and change. The better question is how much change is appropriate in order to keep a culture vital and resilient without tearing the culture from its historical moorings? The answer to this question is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Cajuns are still around to debate this issue in part because of their music and the different forms of political action that their music enables.


(1.) This article is adapted from two chapters of Mattern, Acting in Concert: Music, Community and Political Action. Some of the information contained in this article is taken from interviews conducted in 1993 with Barry Ancelet, Pete Bergeron, Joe Bodi, Carl Brasseaux, Earline Broussard, Glenn Conrad, Wayne Parent, and Pat Rickels. I would like to thank these individuals for their assistance.

(2.) For example, in 1916 the Louisiana state legislature mandated that only English could be used in state schools. See Brasseaux (Founding; Scattered; and Acadian) for a history of Cajun people. See Ancelet (Makers; Cajun; and "Introduction") for a history of Cajun music.

(3.) These three forms of political action through music are more extensively developed in Mattern. They are partially adapted from Harry Boyte, who uses the categories of deliberative, pragmatic, and insurgent (or protest). I call the third category confrontational rather than insurgent or protest in order to better cluster together a genre of political action which includes struggle, opposition, and resistance as well as protest.

(4.) See John Greenway, Jerome Rodnitzky, and Jeffery Mondak on protest music.

(5.) See Gramsci's Selections from the Prison Notebooks. See Tim Patterson and Manuel Pena for explicit applications of Gramsci to popular music--country-and-western and Texas-Mexican conjunto music, respectively. See also George Lewis for an interpretation of Hawaiian popular music which is less explicitly indebted to Gramsci but couched in similar terms. For other examples of literature, much of it indebted to Gramsci, which emphasizes the resistant and oppositional nature of musical practices, see Horace Campbell, Dick Hebdige, and Patrick Hylton on calypso and reggae music; Charles Keil on African TIV music; Peter Manuel on Andalusian gypsy music; Ray Pratt on several forms of popular music; Tricia Rose on rap music; and Kilza Setti on Brazilian Caicara music.

(6.) See Renato Rosaldo for a discussion of border zones. See also Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands.

(7.) See Patterson and Pena for two examples of analyses which rely heavily on a "co-optation" thesis. In their analyses, early country-and-western and tejano musicians, respectively, were co-opted by external forces such as the recording industry and the dominant Anglo culture. See Lewis for an analysis which treats nonresistant Hawaiian popular musicians as traitors for participating in the tourist industry.

(8.) Despite its somewhat misleading title, this First Tribute included black Creole musicians as well as Cajun musicians. It occurred on March 26, 1974, at Blackham Coliseum in Lafayette. The 8,000 seats inside were full, and 4,000 more people listened outside in a torrential rain.

(9.) For example, Nathan Abshire took on several accordion apprentices, while Michael Doucet apprenticed himself to several of the most prominent Cajun fiddlers still alive. Marc Savoy, at 32 years of age, was the youngest musician featured at the First Tribute. By 1978, the Tribute to Cajun Music, which had become an annual event, included eight (out of the total twenty-two) groups whose musicians were entirely under the age of thirty, while two of the groups were composed entirely of musicians under the age of twenty.

(10.) The other nominees were black Creoles including Clifton Chenier, Stanley "Buckwheat Zydeco" Dural, and Rockin' Sidney (Sidney Simien). Rockin' Sidney ultimately won with his "Don't Mess with My Toot-Toot."

(11.) Downtown Alive! occurs in downtown Lafayette each Friday after working hours in an attempt to maintain the vitality of downtown Lafayette by encouraging people to stay downtown and patronize the downtown bars, clubs, and restaurants. For this weekly event, an intersection is blocked off for live music and dancing. Downtown Alive! is sometimes complemented by Kids Alive! with performers such as the Children's Cajun Band.

(12.) In one controversial decision, CFMA banned the use of the popular Cajun jitterbug by its dance performer members on the grounds that it is not traditional. CFMA is correct in that the Cajun jitterbug is a relative newcomer to Cajun culture. It was invented within the last thirty years by non-Cajun folkdancers from New Orleans who regularly drove to Mulate's Restaurant in Breaux Bridge near Lafayette to dine and dance to Cajun music. The dance caught on among Cajuns as well as non-Cajuns, and now it is called the Cajun jitterbug. CFMA's position on this is vulnerable to criticism since, if one examines the history of Cajun dance, it becomes apparent that dance forms have been regularly, if not frequently, transformed, added, and dropped and that any attempt to define a "traditional" Cajun dance form requires a dubious assertion of preeminence for a particular time period. As recently as the late nineteenth century, Cajuns danced quadrilles, minuets, waltzes, polkas, and mazurkas. Of these, only the waltz survived into contemporary use. The Cajun two-step was added later, probably imported from Texas during the Texas swing era in the early twentieth century.

(13.) This diversity of musical influences appears in the work of individual Cajun musicians such as fiddler Dewey Balfa, contemporary innovator Wayne Toups, Beausoleil's Michael Doucet, and Zachary Richard, each of whom cites a variety of influences coming together in his work. Balfa cites Bob Wills of Texas Playboys fame as one of his primary influences (see Ancelet, "Dewey" 79). The music of Wayne Toups is described as "a sound infused with good, healthy doses of traditional Cajun a la Iry Lejeune, overlaid with upbeat jazz rhythms, country and a touch of rock" (Booth 42). The style of Beausoleil's Michael Doucet has been described as a blend of "vast historic knowledge with aggressive eclecticism and brilliant technique. Doucet has played rock, and he understands avante-garde jazz. Such wild influences are amply evident in his daring rhythmic/harmonic forays" (Sandmel). Zachary Richard says of his music that it is "a holy trinity mix of Cajun, Zydeco, and New Orleans rhythm and blues cooked in a rock-n-roll pot" (Simon A-13).

Works Cited

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--. "Introduction." Cajun Music and Zydeco. Ed. Philip Gould. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992. ix-xxi.

--. The Makers of Cajun Music. Austin: U of Texas P, 1984.

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.

Booth, Karen. "An Affair of the Heart." The Times of Acadiana 12 Dec. 1985: 42.

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Brasseaux, Carl. Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a People, 1803-1877. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1992.

--. The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginning of Acadian Life in Louisiana 1765-1803. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1987.

--. Scattered to the Wind: Dispersal and Wanderings of the Acadians, 1755-1809. Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, U of Southwestern Louisiana, 1991.

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Mattern, Mark. Acting in Concert: Music, Community and Political Action. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1998.

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Pena, Manuel. The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working Class Music. Austin: U of Texas P, 1985.

Pratt, Ray. Rhythm and Resistance: Explorations in the Political Uses of Popular Music. New York: Praeger, 1990.

Rodnitzky, Jerome. Minstrels of the Dawn: The Folk-Protest Singer as a Cultural Hero. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976.

Rosaldo, Renato. "Ideology, Place, and People without Culture." Cultural Anthropology 3.1 (Feb. 1988): 77-87.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1994.

Sandmel, Ben. Jacket notes. Michael Doucet with Beausoleil. Parlez-nous a Boire. Berkeley: Arhoolie 5034, 1984.

Setti, Kilza. "Notes on Caicara Musical Production: Music as the Focus of Cultural Resistance among the Fisherman of the Coastal Region of Sao Paulo." The World of Music: Bulletin of the International Music Council 30.2 (1988): 3-21.

Simon, Dixie. "Zachary Richard Comes Home to Scott." Advertiser 14 Feb. 1993: A-13.

Simoneaux, Angela. "Growth, Not Change, Is Seen as Key to Preserving Traditional Cajun Music." Sunday Advocate 22 Mar. 1992: 5B.


Beausoleil. The Spirit of Cajun Music. Swallow, 6031, 1977.

Daigrepont, Bruce. Stir Up the Roux. Rounder, 6016, 1981.

Michael Doucet with Beausoleil. Arhoolie, 5025, 1984.

Richard, Zachary. Mardi Gras. RZ, 1005, 1974.

Mark Mattern is assistant professor of political science at Chapman University, Orange, CA. He is the author of Acting in Concert: Music, Community, and Political Action (Rutgers UP, 1998). Critical comments can be sent to him at mattern -at-