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Innovation in Preservation: BeauSoleil, January 30 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 23 January 2009 19:08

beausoleil1.jpgAs Michael Doucet tells it, the Acadian people of Louisiana have in their blood a penchant for both adaptation and preservation. They moved from France in the 17th Century and colonized Acadia - in what are now the Canada Maritime provinces and Maine. And many settled in Louisiana after the Great Expulsion of 1755 and became Cajuns.

"I think our culture has always looked at this - and not necessarily intellectually, but more on an emotional level - that you would adapt to whatever was around," Doucet said last week in a phone interview from his southwestern-Louisiana home. "That's how the Acadian sort of ethnic culture continues to be vital today, because it adapted.

"That's what we're doing now, is adapting to where we are now."

Doucet is the leader, singer, and fiddler for the Louisiana-based Cajun band BeauSoleil, which will be performing at the Redstone Room on Friday, January 30. The Grammy-winning group is also nominated in this year's awards for its Live at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival record, and Doucet will compete with his band in the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category for his solo record From Now on. The winners will be announced on February 8.

The band also has a new studio album - its first since 2004 - called Alligator Purse, which features guest appearances by Dr. John and 10,000 Maniacs' Natalie Merchant, among others.

Being Acadian, Doucet has been adept at keeping one foot in the past and one foot in the present during BeauSoleil's 30-plus years. Preservation of Acadian music has always been one the ensemble's goals, but the music isn't static, he said.

Doucet said he's particularly fond the culture of the late 1920s, but "we're not there. We cannot go back. But it's to know what creative wellspring that those people - our neighbors - gave us. ... You don't want to forget those people. ... But at the same time, we have to live right now, which is a changing time. ...

"Just the word ‘creativity' means you're flowing," he said. "It means you're not stagnant. It means you're not a fly in amber. In a way, you're carrying tradition with you, but you're not saying, ‘But this it.' Or ‘This is where it stops.'"

At the outset, Doucet said, one aim was to preserve Acadian culture in Louisiana.

"The idea was to bring this back to people here, because people had forgotten this," he said. "People had kind of snubbed this music as antiquated or whatever. ... And the French was diminishing a whole lot. ... There was a certain pride that was missing. ...

"We knew the preciousness of it. ... It wasn't really thinking about us, perpetuating ourselves. It was mostly the elder musicians. And we had a great time, because we got to play with them, and learn from them, etc."

Another goal was to tour all of the United States - something that a French-singing group had never done, Doucet said. It would be a way to spread the seeds of a culture that was in danger of disappearing.

"At that time, in the '80s, I was realizing that the people that I grew up with, the elders - who predominantly spoke French and really held on to the culture - were dying, and when they died, the culture died," he said.

Wider exposure came from the BeauSoleil soundtrack to the 1986 film Belizaire the Cajun, and the band's track for 1987's The Big Easy. A growing interest in (and commercialization of) Cajun culture in that decade provided BeauSoleil with its opportunity to tour nationally.

"We gave it six months," Doucet said. "See what happens in six months. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Well, we've been doing it ever since."

Alligator Purse grew out of a 2005 benefit in upstate New York for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Doucet said. While there, BeauSoleil partied at a studio with the likes of Dr. John, Merchant, and the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian.

When the time came to record a new album, Doucet said the band decided to return to the studio and invite some of those friends.

"But it wasn't like, ‘Oh, we're going to change this song or do this thing for this person or our guests,'" he said. "'Cause I'm always leery of guests."

Instead, the guests had to find their own places in the songs. "Since we all partied together, we kind of knew each other, so it was easier," Doucet said. "So I think what came out is a very organic representation of what we do and how we do it and how we relate to music as a whole.

"We had our songs pretty much picked, and whoever kind of wanted to play or liked this song played in the song, and we just did it like that. It seemed to work perfectly."

Doucet said he was particularly surprised by his duet with Merchant on "Little Darlin'." "That was my scratch vocal that I sang on there," he said. "Just sing it, and so did she, and it was like, ‘Whoa! How long we been singing together?'"

beausoleil2.jpgHe added that the studio facilitated a loose, natural, and spontaneous vibe. "We like to play things live," Doucet said. "We're not big on doing overdubs. And so this studio had a lot of room, a lot of good mics, very comfortable, everybody had a room, it was beautiful in the spring, and it was away from here."

Recording all the tracks in four days also kept the band from over-thinking. Laying down tracks in Louisiana gives the band the luxury and curse of trying to get things perfect, he said: "You kind of keep on building it instead of letting it be what it is. ... And so when you're away from here, it gives you a more introspective look at it, as what the music is, 'cause you kind of shed all the frills, and you kind of just get right down to the heart of it."

For all his talk about living in the present and moving forward, Doucet said it was striking to recognize how true Louisiana Acadian music has remained to its roots. In 1973, Doucet traveled to France, and "they looked at us as being the youngest form of creative French folk songs. Which really surprised me that anybody outside of Louisiana knew about this music. Then I realized that some of the songs ... were so closely united with some of the French folk songs [and] how small this world was."

BeauSoleil will perform on Friday, January 30, at the Redstone Room, 129 Main Street in downtown Davenport. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, visit RedstoneRoom.com.

For more information about BeauSoleil, visit RosebudUS.com/beausoleil/.

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