Friday, June 20, 2014

Ragin' Cajuns: Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

When I lived in Milwaukee in the late 80s and early 90s, a friend was really into zydeco music.  It was my first introduction to music from Louisiana.  My girlfriend (now my wife and one of the hosts of the Global Music Show) and I were introduced to some zydeco artists through this friend, and went to see Wayne Toups and Zydecajun during a Bastille Days concert.

But my first real introduction to Cajun music occurred when Megan and I lived in San Antonio and drove to Louisiana to meet some friends for camping.  As we drove across western Louisiana, the music on the radio was full of accordion and violin, and the vocals sounded almost like the lonesome twang of country except they were in French.  Then a DJ came on and started talking.  "What's he saying?" I asked Megan.  "I don't know," she replied.  "I thought you knew French!" I exclaimed.  "That's French, but it's no French that I know," Megan said.

After living in New Orleans, I came to appreciate Cajun music, after attending concerts at Tipitinas and attempting to Cajun two-step to the likes of Bruce Daigrepont and other Cajun artists.  While classified by many as a "world" music, I began to see it as a uniquely American music, sung in French but with a lot of rhythms borrowed not only from the old world but also from the new.  It certainly gets your attention, especially when a good, upbeat song comes on.

One of the well-known Cajun bands of Louisiana is Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.  Originally formed in 1988, they have released 10 albums, of which two have been nominated for Grammys in the traditional folk category.  They have gone from being a primarily traditional Cajun band to one that blends their unique personal style, and sometimes a bit of blues, country and rock, with more traditional forms of Cajun music.  The band consists of Steve Riley on accordion, Sam Broussard on guitar, Brazos Huval on fiddle, saxophone and bass, and Kevin Dugas on drums.  Original guitarist Jimmy Domengeaux died in 1999, and co-founder David Greely retired due to hearing problems.

I first heard the band when Megan brought home their double CD The Best of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.  The selection provided here is footage of a Tiny Desk Concert they did for NPR Music in 2011.