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Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California

Modern Pleasures in a Postmodern World

Publication Year: 2008

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 California traces 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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

The appearance of this book is in no small part thanks to the patience and generosity of several key people who have helped me along the way. Among the first to provide valued assistance in this project were Bonnie Wade and Ben Brinner, ethnomusicology faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. Ben’s advising on my dissertation, which served as the foundation for this book, was exemplary...

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CHAPTER ONE: Prelude: Down At The Twist And Shout

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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...

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CHAPTER TWO: Identity Issues, Research Methods, and Ethnography

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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...

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CHAPTER THREE: Music, Dance, and Social Capital

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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...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Wartime and Postwar Creole Migration to California

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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...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Further Creole Migration and Bridging to Other Social Networks

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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...

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CHAPTER SIX: Folk Revival Connection: The Musicians

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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...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Folk Revival Connection: The Dancers

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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...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Later Gulf Coast Arrivals

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pp. 197-247

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...


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pp. 249-258


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pp. 259-266


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pp. 267-269


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pp. 271


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pp. 273


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pp. 275-282

E-ISBN-13: 9781604733372
E-ISBN-10: 1604733373
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604730906
Print-ISBN-10: 1604730900

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2008