Michael Doucet is crazy about Cajun music. And as the leader of Beausoleil, the best Cajun band on the planet for the past 30 years, he knows better than anyone that in order to survive, the genre must be an ever-evolving journey with fresh detours.
The French settlers of eastern Canada, after refusing to pledge loyalty to the British crown, were exiled in the 1750s. Nearly 5,000 of them took refuge in Acadia, Canada, and ultimately, the frontier bayous of Louisiana, where they preserved their language, religion, and culture. More than one million Cajuns now live in the prairie country of southwest Louisiana.
Doucet, an Acadian descendant who grew up in Louisiana speaking French, learned his craft first-hand while in his twenties from his Lafayette neighbors, Creole and Cajun-playing masters like Dewey Balfa, Canray Fontenot and Dennis McGee. But rather than rehash what he learned, singer/songwritier/fiddler Doucet honors those forbears by creating original music that stretches, yet still fits within, the Cajun tradition.
Beausoleil's style encompasses slices of various genres, including western swing, gypsy jazz, swamp pop, zydeco, folk, blues, country and even surf-rock. Some critics have called the brilliant sextet the Cajun Grateful Dead, thanks to its long organic jams onstage. Most songs are sung in French (and introduced in English by Doucet), but it's the emotional undercurrent, rather than the words, that carries the music.
For a tasty sampling of Beausoleil's eclectic work, check out their latest release, last year's emotionally-charged Beausoleil: Live in Louisiana, which features a dozen timeless tracks, including jigs, ballads, two-steps, blues, and baisse-bas. Then you'll understand what the fuss is all about.
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Michael Doucet & Beausoleil, Lisa Haley & the Zydekats, and Bob Malone at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $20. All ages.