Today's highlighted Madison-based musical act is The Cajun Strangers.
For much of this decade, a sextet calling themselves the Cajun Strangers have brought a joie de vivre to stages throughout the state with their old-time, high-kicking tunes. Along with some blues and zydeco, the Strangers play traditional Cajun dance music, passing along the sounds that emanate like a beacon from Lafayette and the surrounding country in the heart of southern Louisiana.
Here is how the band describes itself:
The Cajun Strangers play the dance music of the French-speaking culture of southwest Louisiana. The accordion and fiddle are the main melody instruments in Cajun music with the guitar, bass, drums and triangle providing the driving dance rhythm. Most vocals are sung in Cajun French, and dances include the traditional two-steps and waltzes.
We also add a mix of Cajun blues, zydeco and swamp pop with some of these songs sung in English. We teach the traditional Cajun dancing styles but most types of ballroom and swing dancing can be done to our music. In addition to playing dances, the band plays in concert settings, clubs, and for parties and festivals of all kinds.
Additionally, brief biographies of each Stranger -- Brian O'Donnell, John Romano, John Fabke, Karen Holden, Dave Bachol, and Colin Bazsali -- can be found here.
This Cajun sextet released their second album in the autumn of 2006. It was issued on the Louisiana-based Swallow Records, and mixed at Paradyme Productions in Madison. Featuring 16 tracks of their string and aerophone-friendly music, it is titled Valse A Deux Temps, which roughly translates as 'quick waltz.'
More information about the band can be found at cajunstrangers.com, including six songs from their recent album available for listening. They are: "Hey Mom," "Des Hotels," "Viens Me Chercher," "Grand Bosco," "Madeline,' and "Robe Barre."
Holden, the group's dance instructor and t'fer player, was profiled by University of Wisconsin Communications in the fall of 2005, where she discussed the origins and format of traditional Cajun dance music in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She explained the sound:
In the band, Holden plays the t'fer: "Cajun contraction of 'little triangle,'" she says. "It's a traditional rhythm instrument in Cajun music, and it's very important. Rhythm is crucial to Cajun music. When I asked a Louisiana musician what made a good Cajun song he said, 'One that is good to dance to,' and that means rhythm..."
"Cajun music was and is an important part of retaining the culture," she says. "It kept the people together through 'house dances.' Cajun songs are almost always sung in French. By the way -- that's an important difference between Cajun music and zydeco. Zydeco is a relatively new form, barely a generation old. It grew out of Cajun music but also was influenced by jazz, blues and Caribbean rhythms. Zydeco is sung primarily in English.
The Cajun Strangers are more than familiar with the stage, having inspired listeners to dance in clubs and at festivals throughout Wisconsin. A listing of their past and upcoming shows can be found here, while numerous photos of the group in action are available thanks to UW physics professor Clint Sprott.
They're no strangers to Mardi Gras celebrations, having played at the pre-Lenten holiday of excess for three years running at the Essen Haus in downtown Madison. The sextet is returning to the bier hall for a fourth year in a row this week, as they play the Fat Tuesday party with a ready-and-waiting dance floor. The group is appearing twice more locally over the next week or so. On Sunday, Feb. 25, they'll perform in the International Festival at the Overture Center, followed three days later on Wednesday, Feb. 28 with a Free Tunes at Monona Terrace concert. 'Tis a busy season for these Strangers.
This is the latest featured entry from the Madison Music Project, an online database of Madison-area musicians. Please register or update your current profile on the project for consideration in these highlights.