Heart of Louisiana: The old songs

The Cajun waltz "Les Penieres" is a song that existed only in an old scratch recording, until it was given new life by a group of Lafayette-area musicians.

Fiddler Anya Burgess says, "The person who recorded it never had any idea that it might be kind of rediscovered 60 or 80 years later."

Burgess and accordion player Kristi Guillory are part of a Cajun band called Bonsoir, Catin. Some of their "new" releases were pulled from the archives of some of the oldest Cajun music ever recorded.

Some of the old songs were found at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. The Cajun and Creole folklore archives have hundreds of recordings, some of them dating back nearly a century.

Guillory works in the archive, and has digitized and preserved countless hours of music - some of it from field recordings in someone's homes, other songs from one-time records made in hotel rooms.

Guillory says, "They'd set up one room and just get bands to come in. And they might pay a band 50 bucks for a session. My grandfather recorded some stuff in the 1935 during the swing era. And there's recordings he made that he never heard."

Burgess is a transplant from New England, where she learned to play old Appalachian songs - and then she discovered Cajun.

Burgess says, "I love hearing the original tune, I love hearing how they played it and just that whole era. I'm kind of an old soul."

There is a coarseness, an unpolished edge to the old recordings, something very real that has survived for generations.

Guillory says, "Nobody said this is how you are going to play this song. They came upon this instrument and interpreted what they heard in their heads and made this completely different sound."

In the old recordings, you hear the origins of newer, popular Cajun dance songs. Musical fads like Texas swing, honky tonk, boogie woogie and rock have morphed the original tunes.

Burgess says, "For somebody who's used to listening to more polished sounds, you might listen to the old stuff and think, they're playing so scratchy or out of tune, their timing is so off. But to me that's part of what's interesting about it, you know, it's very real, it's very genuine."

Guillory says, "You can argue that Cajun music is probably one of the first American musics. It was born here, it is what it is because it's here in Louisiana."

And now those pure sounds are getting a second chance.

You can hear some of those re-recorded old Cajun songs on the albums of Bonsoir Catin, an all-female band based in Lafayette. For more information, go online to http://www.bonsoircatin.com/web/