Savoy Family Cajun Band – Taliesin Arts Centre
The Savoy Family Cajun Band play the Taliesin Arts Centre on Wednesday 26 July, 7.30 pm, on their first visit to Wales, and the only Welsh show on their tour.
Marc and Ann Savoy and their two sons Joel and Wilson are the first family of Cajun music, but fame and fancy titles aren’t their thing. Despite having played on some of the biggest stages in the world, they know that Cajun’s true spirit is more likely to be found at the jam sessions back at the famous Savoy Music Centre near Eunice Louisiana. And yet, that spirit really does inspire the family’s performances and soaks through their raw, sensual, and expert renditions of the some of the best Cajun music you’re ever likely to hear.
The Savoy family have often been called ‘Cajun Royalty’, but you can imagine 70-year-old Marc Savoy, the patriarch of the clan, being none too pleased about that. Fashionable attention or pretentious branding just aren’t his bowl of gumbo. In fact, just about anything grand and fancy gets his goat. His heaven is just getting together with a group of friends at one of the legendary Saturday morning jam sessions down at the Savoy Music Centre. He says:
You play a few tunes, you go socialize, you drink some coffee. It’s fun! It’s the fellowship involved in it.”
What is Cajun?
So just exactly what is a Cajun anyway? There’s still plenty of disagreement about that. Their story goes back to the French settlers who were ousted from the territories along the Atlantic coast, north of Virginia, during the Franco-British colonial wars of the 18th century and who then settled in Louisiana. The home they lost was known as ‘Acadia’, and so they became known as ‘Cajuns’, which remained an insult denoting a rural French speaking hillbilly right up until the late 20th century. Now, it’s a term of pride.
But the gene pool is just about as mixed up in south western Louisiana as it is in any other part of the USA, with Italian, German, Irish, Spanish jostling the French corpuscles in the Cajun bloodstream. Some Cajuns speak French, despite the centuries during which the language was banned and beaten out of young children at school, but others speak English.
Most are Roman Catholic, but not all. Some live in Louisiana, but there are others in neighbouring states. You just can’t pin down a Cajun. It’s probably better that way.
Marc and Ann, as the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, have been performing and recording together since 1977. When the Savoy children became old enough to play in a band the Savoy Family Band was born, and they began to perform all over, delighting audiences with their familial tightness and raw musical talent.
In a typical show, the Band demonstrates the way Cajun music has evolved by demonstrating the early double fiddle – triangle sound or the solo accordion. Early French ballads are added to the program to show other historic elements prevalent in early southwest Louisiana. Between the songs, which are sung in Cajun French, Ann will explain in English what they are all about. Their repertoire combines popular dance hall tunes interspersed with soulful ballads, fiddle or vocal duets, or blues. The songs show the spectrum of Cajun life from sorrow and lost love to nonsense and the joy of dance. The Savoy Family Cajun Band brings the raw energy of the dancehalls of southwest Louisiana to the stage, peppered with humorous and informative anecdotes about life on the Louisiana prairies.
Cajun Cooking Too!
If you would like to make the evening a truly Southern affair, Taliesin are offering a menu with a flavour of Cajun cooking, which is available from 5 pm to 7 pm. Details are available at www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk or by calling box office on 01792 602060.
Growing up on a rice farm
When Marc Savoy (pronounced the French way to rhyme with ‘blah’ not ‘boy’) was growing up on his father’s rice farm just outside Eunice, nobody paid much attention to Cajun music or Cajun culture. In fact, most of the local youth just wanted to get as far away from it as they could. Marc was different. He enjoyed the company of the old people. He loved their humour and their sense of fun. And he loved their music too. The great Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee was one of his father’s tenants. Another farmer neighbour suggested to Savoy Sr. that he should buy young Marc an accordion. He was 12 years old, and he’s been hooked ever since. His friends considered him a weirdo for liking local accordion and fiddle music. But Marc didn’t care that much. To him, there were three things that made life worth living: music, tinkering with the accordion and butchering hogs.
Building accordions at the Savoy Music Centre
In the mid-1960s, Marc began to build his own accordions, because the ones he found in the local shops just didn’t have enough bass. He set up his own workshop and retail space, which became The Savoy Music Centre, a place to which every Cajun music road eventually leads. In 1975 he met Ann, and they married. They had two sons, Joel and Wilson. And that’s the band; father, mother and their two sons. They also had two daughters, one of whom, Sarah Savoy, is a sassy and innovative Cajun star in her own right.
Played to Presidents
The Savoy Family have played at Presidential inaugurations, the Newport Folk Festival, the JFK Centre, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, at festivals all over North America and the world. Ann Savoy has appeared alongside her sons in Hollywood blockbusters ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood’ and ‘All The Kings Men’. She recorded the Grammy nominated album ‘Adieu False Heart’ with Linda Ronstadt and another called ‘Evangeline Made’, also a Grammy nominee, with Ronstadt, Nick Lowe, John Fogerty and a huge cast of local musicians. As well as making and appearing in documentaries and radio programmes about Cajun music, she’s also written the authoritative ‘Cajun Music, A Reflection of A People’.
Joel Savoy is considered to be the finest fiddler in the genre. The legendary T-Bone Burnett, producer of the soundtrack to Coen Brothers film ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’, once said:
everything Joel Savoy touches turns to music.”
Own record label
Joel runs his own label, Valcour Records, as well as helping his dad to build those legendary accordions. His brother Wilson is a hugely accomplished pianist and keyboardist, who also plays in the popular Pine Leaf Boys.
Let the good times roll, Cajun style!
That’s quite a family, I’m sure you’ll agree. But trophies, garlands, and accolades don’t seem to be their raison d’être. The family have been, and still are intimate friends with almost everyone in the Cajun hall of fame; Dennis McGee, Dewey Balfa, Michael Doucet, Wade Fugé, Sady Courville, D L Menard…and more. But fame isn’t their buzz. It’s the sitting around, shooting the breeze, turning some tunes, drinking coffee and maybe something a little stronger from time to time, back home or down at the Music Centre, on a Saturday morning. In short, it’s that ‘fellowship’ so beloved of Marc Savoy. And that’s what makes the Savoy Family’s performances so expert, so unpretentious, so sensual, warm and inclusive, all at once. Perhaps that ‘fellowship’ is what being Cajun is really all about. Laissez les bon temps rouler…let the good times roll!
What is Swansea News Network?
Swansea News Network is a community journalism, not for profit, start-up project that enables people to empower their communities by sharing positive news and progressive stories.
Swansea News Network would love to hear from you.
Do you work or volunteer at a project doing good work in Swansea that you want to shout about? Do you have a gig or event you’d like more of your local community to know about? Would you like to write for Swansea News Network? Are you interested in volunteering? Want to get involved? Have an idea for an article? Enjoy photography or using video? Handy with websites? Fancy yourself as an arts reviewer? Why not read ‘What is Swansea News Network?’ on the website to find out more or email us to see how you could help. We would love to hear from you.
Swansea News Network will feature stories that reflect on our own lives in the Swansea area as well as stories from elsewhere. We want a connected world. As the project develops, we will inform about local and global issues and link people making positive changes within the community. We commit to treating everyone – regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age – with respect, and without judgment or bias.
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Swansea News Network Facebook
Twitter: Swansea News Network