This is American Routes Live with Louisiana Cajun singer-songwriter, guitarist and accordionist Zachary Richard. Zachary Richard’s music is folk rock, Cajun, boogie and blues. The many styles serve him well. He’s been called the most American of French songwriters and the most French of American songwriters. Zachary is a passionate French language advocate and environmentalist who loves birds, people and their songs on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.
Nick Spitzer: Tell us a little bit about growing up in Scott and the music world around you, the culture world, your family, just set the scene for us.
Zachary Richard: Yeah, my mother just celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday last Saturday, and she’s living in the house in which she was born. And your question just evokes that very meaningful and influential time in my life when my grandparents–she’s living in her parents’ home, my mother was born and she’ll probably leave this Earth in that house. And the house sort of turned into this open house salon where people would come and go and my grandmother would dance “les quatre coins du mouchoir.” She would take a pocket-handkerchief and put it on the floor, and she would dance on the four corners without ever putting her feet on the floor. Now, it was a big handkerchief, but it wasn’t a sheet. And, this was the atmosphere that I grew up in as a small child.
NS: The house could be a dance hall, a music hall, a gathering place.
ZR: I’m convinced, Nick, that the reason that I’m so attached to French and the language and the culture, is because I’m trying to recreate that experience that I knew as a young child because it was so–I mean “joie de vivre.” In a lot of ways we’ve lost that, and I don’t think we can recreate it or go back to it, but it was one of the most influential things on my societal behavior. But I’ve always been fascinated by French culture, and I didn’t really grow up listening to Cajun music. I mean, my family’s not musicians. My father joked that the only thing he could play, and badly, was the radio, and it was never part of my culture until much, much later and I just kind of stumbled upon it, and I discovered this incredibly rich heritage, which has inspired me. I don’t consider myself to be a traditional musician, but I am inspired and touched, and I love the tradition, and I respect it very much.
NS: Well you’ve got a good crew here today to back you up to do all these things. You can do blues, you can do Cajun, zydeco, a little bit of everything. What’s next on the plan here for you?
ZR: It’s a little Mambo tune. It's a song that was inspired by the Jena Six–you’ll remember in 2006, and it’s a very–
NS: Tell them about that.
ZR: It’s a hard song to sing because what the Jena Six were were six young Black men in Jena, Louisiana who were charged with attempted murder when they beat up a White kid. That was after the oak tree that they would sit under, there were nooses that were found. And all of this horrible heritage is coming, and it's sort of like “une pustule,” like a pimple that needs to pop or something. I don’t know if we’ll ever really come to terms with it. But this song was written back in 2006 when it happened, and it is somehow a cry in the dark in this troubled time. “Jena Blues.”
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.