Friday, 20 July 2012

Scojun: how Scotland never invented Cajun music


Dick Gaughan, on the sleeve notes of his album Handful of Earth, wrote that Scojun Waltz was "an attempt to prove that cajun music originated in Leith."  When I read that as a 16 year old back in the 80's I thought it might be true.  My mate Andy, who knew a lot about folk music, told me it was a joke.   I felt a bit stupid at the time and let it go.

A couple of years later I came across the Celtic-Cajun-Indie-Country band Def Heights Cajun Aces who were great in a Pogues and Les Negresses Vertes sort of way.  There it was, Scotland and Cajun once again.  It bugged me for a bit but then I forgot about it for years.

It all came back to me last week as I read Greil Marcus's Invisible Republic.  The book is about Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes.  A lot of the songs on the album were inspired by Appalachian music - the mountain music of the US east coast, stretching all the way north to south and connecting hillbilly to cajun.  Appalachian music derived from the music of Europe and Africa - the folk ballads and fiddle music of England, Ireland and Scotland and the african-american blues.  Oh ho, a connection between Scotland and Dylan.  What about Cajun?

Cajun music might be associated with Louisiana but it came south from the Acadians of Canada.  According to wikipedia, Cajun contains "clear influences from the Poitou region of France and the Scottish/Canadian influences of their earlier homeland."

It looks like Scottish immigrants go to Canada taking with them their fiddles and ballads.  Once there, they get together with some French musicians and make a new sound.  They move south to Louisiana and experiences other influences - accordion music from Germany and a rhythmic type of singing called Jure from African-Americans and Creoles.  The triangle was added and the definitive Cajun sound emerged.  In 1981 Dick Gaughan wrote a tune to try to prove the Scottish connection and a few years later an excellent group called Def Height Cajun Aces emerged and released, I think, one solitary album.

The connection isn't water tight but to explore it further I've bought the books pictured above : The Imagined Village by Georgina Boyes and It Still Moves: Lost Song, Lost Highways by Amanda Petrusichi.

Why am I doing this?   I have no bloody idea.  I'm no nationalist and I don't really believe that everything worth inventing was invented in Scotland or by Scots (although quite a lot of things were).   I think I'm doing it for the journey.  I suppose I could just read music books for the sake of it but it's seems a bit more fun when I'm on a mission.

One other thing, Gaughan clearly did have his tongue firmly in his cheek.  His updated notes on the song on his website say the tune: "was written one morning sitting in Andy Irvine's kitchen in Dublin.  Something about it felt vaguely Cajun but it was also obviously Scottish, hence the lousy pun in the name."  My mate Andy was right, it was a joke.

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