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The Cajun Swamp Fire Of Feufollet

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The Cajun Swamp Fire Of Feufollet

The Cajun Swamp Fire Of Feufollet

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

(Soundbite of Cajun music)

BLOCK: One of the hottest things going in Cajun music right now is a band of 20-somethings called Feufollet. They're mostly college students in their early 20s. They live in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun music and culture.

(Soundbite of Feufollet music)

FEUFOLLET: (Singing) (French sung)

BLOCK: I visited Feufollet on their soiree Frances or French night. Every couple of weeks, the band and friends get together at someone's house. Tonight, it's over platters of Boudin, blood sausage, and cast-iron pots of crawfish etouffee.

(Soundbite of talking in French)

BLOCK: They come to eat, of course, to make music and speak French.

(Soundbite of talking in French)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Happy birthday to you.

(Soundbite of people singing Happy Birthday in French)

BLOCK: And the night I visited, one of Feufollet's founders, Chris Stafford, who was turning 21.

Cajun music and culture go deep in this band. Fiddler Chris Segura, who cooked up the etouffee, started going to hear Cajun music with his parents at the age of two. He was playing fiddle by the time he was four. And when he was a ripe old 12, a friend hooked him up with another young fiddler named Chris, Chris Stafford, who doubles on accordion.

Mr. CHRIS SEGURA (Fiddler, Feufollet): So, at first, we would kind of call each other on the phone and play for each other over the phone before we ever met each other, and he came to one of our practices. You know, ever since then, we've been playing together.

BLOCK: And so the two Chrises, Segura and Stafford, became the nucleus of Feufollet. As we talk, they pass around the jacket of their first album, and their friends laugh at the picture. They're little kids. The drummer, Mike Stafford, Chris's brother, was just eight.

Unidentified Woman: What a little muchkin you look like.

BLOCK: So the fans of Feufollet and the older generation of musicians they've learned from have all watched the band grow up on stage, watched them grow into their instruments and their name Feufollet, or will-o-the-wisps.

Mr. SEGURA: The literal meaning is crazy fire, but kind of the reason that we chose it was because it had so many more other meanings, you know. People had no idea what they were. They were these balls of fire that they would see in the swamp, and they would make stories to explain what a feufollet was and then...

(Soundbite of Feufollet music)

BLOCK: Feufollet the band is a shape changer, too. They do lots of straight ahead Cajun songs, and they clearly respect their musical heritage. But they might also toss a version of the Talking Heads song "Psycho Killer" into a live show.

And they like putting at twist on traditional songs. In their latest CD, "Cow Island Hop," they played around and ran some vocals and a guitar solo backward. They included an early electronic sampling keyboard called the Mellotron. They had a lot of fun in the studio tweaking this traditional Creole song "Femme l'a Dit."

(Soundbite of song "Femme l'a Dit")

FEUFOLLET: (Singing) (French sung)

BLOCK: One of the band members dug up the song at the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore, where he was working. It was a field recording from the '50's. As far as they know, no one else has ever recorded it.

Mr. SEGURA: It was kind of just like a blank canvass because the original recording that we heard was just a capella. So immediately there, we can just kind of go wild with instrumentation, arrangements, all kind of stuff, you know, and that - it was like a really fun song to do.

BLOCK: Is this the song with all the horns on it?

Mr. SEGURA: Yeah. We totally maxed out Pro Tools. Like, we could not put at one more track on that song. We used all 48. We even put like trash can on it.

BLOCK: Trash can is in there?

Mr. SEGURA: Trash can, yeah.

(Soundbite of "Femme l'a Dit")

Mrs. SEGURA: I just really didn't worry about what's supposed to be in Cajun music or what's not, you know, so.

BLOCK: Well, that's an interesting thing because there would be a lot of people who are purists, right? Who would say, no, I don't know about this stuff here. You're pushing too many boundaries here.

Mr. SEGURA: Definitely, but I think we kept enough of the whole traditional aspect of it in there, and the producer and engineers really, you know, he's pretty much on the page with everybody as far as that goes, so.

Mr. STAFFORD: At first, you kind of keep it a little convincing, like, yeah, it's like, are you guys sure? Like, you're all kind of going off the deep end here. We're like, no, man, it's OK. Just like run with it. He was like, oh, OK. And then, he got into it, too.

(Soundbite of Feufollet playing live)

BLOCK: After dinner, the band gathers in the living room with a bunch of musician friends from around Lafayette. They settle in on couches and stools in a loose circle, a few gray heads along with this younger generation. They pull out guitars, accordions, and lots of fiddles and tear into a free wheeling Cajun jam session.

(Soundbite of Cajun music)

BLOCK: Barry Ancelet sets down his guitar and steps outside with me. He's a dean of Cajun culture and folklore, a professor at the University of the Louisiana at Lafayette. And he's been listening to Feufollet evolve for a decade now.

Dr. BARRY ANCELET (Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana, Lafayette): The difference between these guys and some other young musicians that I've heard along the way is, these guys are actually fluent in the music, and, at the same time, they're also fluent in the culture.

This means something. They understand the words they're singing. They understand where this comes from. They've known some of the older musicians and learned from them and have a lot of respect for them. They've dug in the archives. They've made this a real part of themselves.

BLOCK: Feufollet are regulars at the now-legendary Cajun Music Festival that Barry Ancelet started more than 30 years ago. He calls it a festival of cultural survival.

Dr. ANCELET: You know, sometimes, I was frustrated and sit there wondering what's going to happen way down the road. Is this going to still be around, you know, 50 years from now? I finally realized, I don't need to worry about that. All I need to do is hand it over to the next generation. Then it's their thing. And seeing these kids makes me think that we're going to fool all the people who predicted our demise for yet another generation.

(Soundbite of Cajun music)

BLOCK: Back inside, the music is hot. Dancers spin and stomp. Feufollet is in the house.

(Soundbite of Cajun music)

BLOCK: You can listen to entire songs from Feufollet's album, "Cow Island Hop," at npr.org. You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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