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Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California

Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California: Modern Pleasures in a Postmodern World

Mark F. DeWitt
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California
    Book Description:

    Queen Ida. Danny Poullard. Documentary filmmaker Les Blank. Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records. These are names that are familiar to many fans of Cajun music and zydeco, and they have one other thing in common--longtime residence in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are all part of a vibrant scene of dancing and live Louisiana-French music that has evolved over several decades.

    Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern Californiatraces how this region of California has been able to develop and sustain dances several times a week with more than a dozen bands. Description of this active regional scene opens into a discussion of several historical trends that have affected life and music in Louisiana and the nation. The book portrays the diversity of people who have come together to adopt Cajun and Creole dance music as a way to cope with a globalized, media-saturated world.

    Ethnomusicologist Mark F. DeWitt innovatively weaves together interviews with musicians and dancers (some from Louisiana, some not), analysis of popular media, participant observation as a musician and dancer, and historical perspectives from wartime black migration patterns, the civil rights movement, American folk and blues revivals, California counterculture, and the rise of cultural tourism in "Cajun Country." In so doing, he reveals the multifaceted appeal of celebrating life on the dance floor, Louisiana-French style.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-337-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Prelude: Down At The Twist And Shout
    (pp. 3-16)

    When I first heard “Down At The Twist And Shout,” it was performed live at a dance circa 1992–93 in Berkeley, California, by a local “swamp boogie” band, Tee Fee. Since that band was performing many original songs, I assumed that this was one of them, and all the more so due to its apt portrayal of how many of the dancers in attendance that night, myself included, had been introduced to the music. I mistakenly thought that the song was a tribute to Ashkenaz, the Berkeley club where we were dancing and where one or two Cajun or...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Identity Issues, Research Methods, and Ethnography
    (pp. 17-39)

    When approaching the music and dance of living ethnic groups actively appreciated by others, be it zydeco or Balkan music or salsa, it is difficult to escape a rhetorical opposition of insiders and outsiders. Indeed, the first chapter employs this opposition in describing the tableau of “Down At The Twist And Shout” (a band of insiders and a dance floor full of outsiders) and in analyzing the song’s possible receptions using a range of perspectives from outside to inside Louisiana French culture. This prevalent habit of thinking in terms of insiders and outsiders has had a fundamental impact on the...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Music, Dance, and Social Capital
    (pp. 40-48)

    In mid-December 1995 I received an invitation from Josephine, a dancer I knew, to a birthday party at Harry’s place, a generously sized farmhouse in Sonoma County, California. The party would start at 2:00 PM on December 30 and food would be provided, so “just come.” I forgot to find out whose birthday it was, and repeated attempts to phone Josephine the night before and that morning failed because the line was always busy.

    By the time my girlfriend and I show up with a bottle of wine, people have already started eating. I had been to this house once...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Wartime and Postwar Creole Migration to California
    (pp. 49-74)

    The next five chapters present a history of how the local scene developed in the context of concurrent events in Louisiana and in the rest of the country. As noted in the previous chapter, the various social sub-networks that comprise the current Cajun and zydeco dance scene in northern California did not all come together at once. The chapters are organized chronologically according to when specific sub-networks joined the scene, beginning with the Creoles in the 1940s to 1960s (chs. 4 and 5), revivalist musicians beginning in the late 1960s (ch. 6), revivalist dancers in the early 1980s (ch. 7),...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Further Creole Migration and Bridging to Other Social Networks
    (pp. 75-116)

    Creole migration to California continued well beyond the wartime and immediate postwar periods of the 1940s. Although the wartime boom in jobs came to an end, military bases continued to operate and serve as stimuli to the local economy and as destinations for servicemen and their families. Social inequality in the South and differential economic opportunities still made California look attractive as a place to live, and the foothold that Creoles had gained in the Bay Area during World War II eased the way for friends and relatives to follow. Most of the Louisiana French people active in the northern...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Folk Revival Connection: The Musicians
    (pp. 117-160)

    While the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s has not by any means been the only source of outsider interest in Louisiana French music and culture, it has certainly been an important one. Well before the 1980s Cajun craze, folk revivalist interest in Cajun music in the United States and France helped to energize musicians in Louisiana such as the Balfas, Marc and Ann Savoy, and Michael Doucet, as mentioned in the last chapter. In this chapter we will see how some revivalists from a hotbed of old-time country music and bluegrass activity in northern California found...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Folk Revival Connection: The Dancers
    (pp. 161-196)

    While revivalist musicians and revivalist dancers came at different times and by different routes, both groups had accumulated strong cadres in northern California with well-developed social networks before the enthusiasms of a few of them turned to Louisiana French music. Just as the folk musicians who got interested in Cajun and Creole music early would go on to contribute musically to bands that play for dances, international folk dancing provided a pool of people who were curious about other cultures and welcomed the challenge of learning new dance steps and styles. A handful of these dancers became interested, then pulled...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Later Gulf Coast Arrivals
    (pp. 197-248)

    So far, in tracing the growth of the Cajun and zydeco scene in northern California we have seen a number of foundational elements: the history of ethnicities and musics in Louisiana, black migration in the 1940s to California, the growth of international folk dancing in that same decade, and folk and blues revivals that whetted outsiders’ musical appetites for Cajun and zydeco in the 1960s. Of the historical changes, none was more profound than the civil rights movement, which not only changed the legal basis for race relations in the United States but also provided a positive identity model for...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 249-258)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-266)
  14. Discography
    (pp. 267-270)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 271-272)
  16. Interviews
    (pp. 273-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-282)