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Louisiana Music – A Necessity of Life

Louisiana Music – A Necessity of Life
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By Mary Cowser

The unique musical qualities and the countless talented musicians that have hailed from Louisiana are world-renowned. Fresh new sounds continue to emerge from our state due to the distinctive blend of cultures combined with the time-honored influences brought into the state by countless nations. You could say that New Orleans is the heart of it all.

You can compare the evolution of the Louisiana music styles to the Mississippi River. Many other rivers flow into it to make a mighty flowing body of water. In the same way, Louisiana music is from a great number of cultures and styles that flow through it and become absorbed by it along the way.

Louisiana has a prolific source of traditional ethnic music to say the least. The earliest music was originally from France, which had Irish and Scottish influences. After its arrival to Louisiana, the music absorbed Caribbean, Spanish, and German effects as well.

The first music in Louisiana was ballads that had no accompaniment other than the clapping of hands, tapping of feet, or pounding on a table. The lyrics were about the suffering from a hard life, about family, and humorous stories. Weddings, funerals, and small gatherings of family and friends are where these songs were frequently heard. Some families had songs affiliated with their family name and at special gatherings; someone would usually ask a family member to sing their song.

The first instruments added to the lyrics were fiddles. On occasion, two fiddles were played with one for the melody and the other the backup. They eventually added the accordion, which is still a major part of the Cajun sound today. Other instruments were added as the different styles evolved.

Music continued to develop into an essential part of the Cajun social life. The social gatherings usually held in homes, became known as a Fais do-do. The story goes that Mothers who were anxious to join the party and dancing would take their child to a room away from the noise. The impatient mothers would tell their child to Fais do-do, which means go to sleep, and that became the name of the social events. Whether that story is true or it is one of the countless stories from Louisiana folklore, no one is sure, but I prefer to believe it is true.

The music is everywhere. There are times in the French Quarter that visitors rarely see, in mid-afternoon on weekdays before the crowds arrive. It can be quite peaceful and quiet, at least compared to how it will be in a few hours. Nevertheless, as you pass each business, whether it’s a bar, restaurant, gift shop, or voodoo shop, you will hear music radiating from each open door.

The music initiates an irresistible urge to dance. You simply cannot sit or stand motionless while listening to the rhythm of that intoxicating sound. If you suddenly start dancing in the street, I guarantee that instead of giving you strange looks; people will start dancing with you. Go ahead and try it the next time you are there and see what happens.

Another common sound you might hear on the streets of New Orleans is brass instruments and a drum playing the blues. In many cases, when you locate the source of that music, it is a band leading a funeral march. The mourners and frequently a horse-drawn carriage holding the casket with the deceased move slowly down the street in route to their resting place. People from Louisiana use music to celebrate a person’s death as well as to celebrate their life.

There are multitudes of music festivals all over Louisiana every year; however, one of the best times is the “New Orleans Jazz Fest 2015” coming up from April 24 through May 3. This year is an example of the diverse music styles that abound from Louisiana.

Every year the festival includes an impressive line-up of jazz greats and this year may be the best one yet. The jazz masters will be there as always, such as Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Harry Connick Jr., and all the rest, but this year, they are including something for everyone. Artists and groups such as Elton John, Keith Urban, The Who, Lady Gaga, Pitbull, No Doubt, and Chicago are only a fraction of the entertainment that will be performing on one of the 12 stages.

If the night before was rough or if you just feel like going to a place where the music is outstanding, without the rowdiness of the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street is where the locals go. Although it is in walking distance from Bourbon Street, it has a much different atmosphere.

You can hear the distinct music styles of New Orleans in this two-block area with about a dozen bars. In addition to jazz and R&B, you can enjoy other sounds such as reggae, funk, Zydeco, Cajun, Latin, rock, or whatever happens to be there at the time. Therefore, if you are in the mood to just sit back and listen to good music, Frenchmen Street is an excellent place to go.

If you love music, then you will love New Orleans. If you love New Orleans, then you must love music. Whether from a band with only a fiddle and a bass in a tiny hole in the wall bar or Pat O’Brien’s Piano Bar where the house is packed and everybody sings, music is everywhere in New Orleans.

For the people of Louisiana, music is not merely a pastime… for them it’s a necessity of life.


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