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American Routes Shortcuts: Cedric Watson and Chris Stafford

Chris Stafford and Cedric Watson
Edwin Remsberg/Edwin Remsberg
Chris Stafford and Cedric Watson

In Lafayette today, our guests are Cedric Watson and Chris Stafford, part of a younger generation that is preserving Cajun and Creole culture by playing the music. Cedric Watson, a fiddler and accordionist who grew up in San Felipe, TX, taught himself the Creole language spoken by some of his elders. Cedric eventually moved to Lafayette where he became involved with several great bands, from the Pine Leaf Boys to his own group, Bijou Creole. Also in Bijou Creole is Chris Stafford, a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and researcher, known for co-founding the band Feufollet when he was eleven years old. We’ll soon hear a bit of Chris and Cedric’s duo set live, but first, I asked the two of them about how playing traditional French music as a duo is different than a full band. Cedric Watson:

Cedric Watson: I feel more comfortable playing like that, especially if I’m playing with someone like Chris, because I don’t have to think about like chords of a song, nothing like that. Let’s say it’s two fiddles or just broken down, no guitar, and no drums, it just feels like there’s less to worry about.

Chris Stafford: Yeah, and we’re more able to king of concentrate on what each other are doing. 

CW: Yeah. 

CS: I mean when I play in the full band with Cedric and Bijou Creole, I’m on guitar usually anyway, so I’m part of the rhythm section, but when we’re in the duo format I’m playing fiddle with him, so we’re kind of paying attention to each other’s phrasing and how he plays a certain melody, I’ll key into that and play off of it you know. 

CW: Yeah like old school.

CS: Yeah so it’s kind of more of like a connection.

CW: Yeah.


NS: Why is it do you think, Chris, that you’re so drawn to traditional French music? I mean, I know you can play your blues and rock and roll too, but what is it about the French music and language that’s important to you?

CS: To me it’s something that we have here that’s unique to this area, and it’s special because of that. I think the fact that it’s like something that we own here in South Louisiana that we kind of created, it’s like our identity, you know.

NS: Not everybody that identifies with Cajun or Creole though takes up a musical instrument or even necessarily speaks the language.

CS: That is true, I mean I’ve been speaking French since I was very young. I was in a French immersion school. I don’t know if I–maybe if I didn’t know anything about French when I was a kid and heard Cajun music if I would have thought it was cool or not, you know, but I think being able to understand the words probably was part of the draw. I don’t know, I’ve just always liked music, and I’ve always liked the accordion for some reason. When I was a kid I was just into it.


NS: Well both of you are of a generation that’s come back to French after sort of skipping a generation. Cedric, you came all the way from growing up in Texas to be in Louisiana. 

CW: Yeah.

NS: And you taught yourself French, sought it out, I mean you didn’t have an immersion program where you were. 

CW: Nope.

NS: Why do you think you became a musician?

CW: I mean I think it was just naturally meant to be. Like when I was a kid, I used to make up songs in my mind, like on the school bus. Before I could even play an instrument or anything, I’d make up a song. Like I’d hear like the bass player or the drummer, all that stuff, and then by the time the day was over, I forgot the tune or whatever. You know I probably started on another one. There was no way to keep these ideas, but I was always a little kind of composer.

NS: So what made you take the leap to find an instrument that you wanted to play and learn it.

CW: Well it was the fiddle.


CW: I wanted to learn how to play the fiddle, and my grandma wanted me to be a guitar player. So she got me a guitar, and she told me that I had to learn some chords and learn a few songs, and she could think about–because if I could learn the guitar, it’s still a string instrument. She knew that much, you know what I mean. She didn’t play guitar, but she took her finger–when she got me one, she took one finger, and she went, “You see? And when you go down that string you see how the note gets higher?” She did that, and she said, “See this? See how it’s doing it on that string too? So you just need to figure out how to make your fingers and learn how to play. Yeah a couple of years later, I found a violin, a Palatino, for $100. It could’ve even been $75. It was cheap enough to where my grandma was like, “Well, guess I’ll get you a fiddle then!” She got it, and I ran down to the post office like everyday.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.