Lost Bayou Ramblers Keep Cajun Culture Alive And Moving Forward
Okay Louisiana: what’s the Cajun band that’s also psychedelic rock, or maybe even a little punk? Hint: they’re from Lafayette, they were started by two brothers 16 years ago, and they’re a huge force behind younger generations embracing Cajun culture. Still not sure? Think: roaming around slow moving water.
In collaboration with Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Eve Abrams brings us this profile of the Lost Bayou Ramblers.
“If you took a live Lost Bayou Ramblers show and you hear all this sound and these drums and guitars and all different kinds of sounds coming out, and you just turned it all off and unplugged it, boom— you have an acoustic Cajun band,” explains Louis Michot.
“Plug it all back in, and you have Lost Bayou Ramblers.”
When Louis and his brother, Andre Michot, started Lost Bayou Ramblers, they’d been playing music for years — since they were kids — with their father and uncle's very traditional band, Les FréresMichot.
“Andre and I were raised in Les FréresMichot, The Michot Brothers,” says Louis Michot. “We played with them professionally from about 13, 14 years old, but we sat in before that.”
Louis says their dad basically threw them up on the stage, and made them learn the songs
“So we were raised in and around Cajun music, but to me, it was just a part of life. No one told us it was ever special. Or you never met many other kids who were in that same kind of scene.”
Young people called the music "chanky chank" — old folks’ music. Something you heard at the VFW or the community center.
“Or look at my grandson, he plays accordion. Aren’t you proud of him?” jokes Michot.
“Yeah, when lost Bayou Ramblers started in ’99, we were definitely not cool. I’d say people of our age and our generation were like: what are y’all doing? Why are y’all starting a Cajun band? And there was no young Cajun bands at the time except Feufollet, and they were like 6. They were literally smaller than their guitars.”
Louis Michot says people didn’t embrace The Lost Bayou Ramblers until they stopped worrying what their music was, and started feeling it.
When you listen to Lost Bayou Ramblers, you hear what Louis and Andres Michot grew up listening to: Cajun music of course, but also classic rock from their dad’s record collection, and everything on the radio: from Michael Jackson to Led Zepplin to Weird Al Yankovic to Jimi Hendrix.
“You can’t isolate any music, especially not Cajun music because it’s very American music,” Michot explains. “So by us being able to tap into both of our musical worlds and bring them together we’re actually doing Cajun music more justice, because it is an American music that’s been born within those same sounds.”
Louis sings all the band’s lyrics in Cajun French. It’s a language he says he’s had to bust his butt to learn — by going up to Nova Scotia, where the Acadians resided before being expelled to South Louisiana.
Louis’ great-grandparents spoke French, but their kids — Louis’ grandparents’ generation — were discouraged from learning it. In fact, Louis and Andre’s great-grandparents were teachers.
“So they were the ones enforcing the laws that you could only speak English in school. No other languages could be spoken or taught. So it was that whole time of Americanism. Then my dad and his generation learned on their own as part of that revival.”
It used to be the term Cajun — which is a sort-of abbreviation for Acadian — would have been considered an insult. Today, we embrace it, but this word encompasses a huge mixture of histories and peoples. Yes, Acadians, but also: Creole French, Creole African, Native peoples, Spanish, German and Italian. What unites Cajun culture is the language.
“Cajun French is such a beautiful language,” says Michot. “It’s such a piece of who we are in South Louisiana. It’s really the mother language that adopted all the other cultures and has become the transmission of culture.”
Which is why the Lost Bayou Ramblers sing in Cajun French. And not just their own songs. On one of the compilations, En Francais, The Lost Bayou Ramblers play Moi J’aime Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Love Rock and Roll) and Ma Generation (My Generation).
The idea behind the compilations En Francais is to take classic rock songs, whose lyrics people know, and sing them in Cajun French. It’s important to Louis Michot that the language keep going.
“It’s not the same trying to transmit Cajun culture in English,” says Louis Michot. “There’s so much more depth and specifics in Cajun French that’s lost in translation. If you don’t have the original language moving it forward, you’re missing out on a lot.”
Language is one crucial thread binding the Lost Bayou Rambler’s music to the traditions and people they come from. But Cajun music isn’t a museum piece; it’s an active, changing genre of American music. And the Lost Bayou Ramblers aren’t just entertaining. They’re transmitting culture, making sure it lives on and keeps growing.
This profile of The Lost Bayou Ramblers is part of a collaboration with Louisiana Cultural Vistas Magazine. An article about the Lost Bayou Ramblers will appear in the Winter 2015 magazine and website, LouisianaCulturalVistas.org. The Lost Bayou Ramblers play French Quarter Fest on April 11 and Jazz Fest April 25.