Nadine Landry describes Louisiana’s Cajun culture as a ‘holy trinity’ of food, music and dancing. “People invite you over to dinner, so there is food, and that’s hugely important in Cajun culture. And it takes so long for the food to get ready, you start playing tunes, and then people start dancing,” she says. “So dance and music and food: you can’t really have one without the other. It’s just really, tightly connected.”
The Whitehorse musician was raised in a musical family in the small Quebec community of Pointe-a-la-Croix, although she was born across the bridge in Campbellton, New Brunswick, in the heart of Acadian country. “My grandma was a fiddler, and we’d always listen to the country radio show on the weekends, and every so often a Cajun song would come up. I always liked it.”
After moving to the Yukon 15 years ago, she first ran into her husband, Stephen “Sammy” Lind and his band, the Foghorn Stringband, at the Alaskan Music Festival in Juneau in 2003. “I never saw a band like that, and I was in awe of that band. I danced the whole weekend,” she says.
It was also in Alaska that she encountered a musician named Lee Garrity, who has since passed on. “When I saw him play Cajun music, I was just like, ‘Why am I not doing this?’ This is my first language, and he was singing all these songs in French, and he didn’t speak one word of French.”
Landry started digging into Cajun recordings and books of lyrics and stories about Cajun musicians. “Just listening to Cajun music all the time, I got obsessed with it,” she admits.
Still, when first went to Louisiana in 2010 to study Cajun music on a Yukon Government advanced artist grant, she was shy about speaking French, fearing her accent might not fit in. “I’m Acadian, but I’m definitely not Cajun. But I was really encouraged to just go for it and sing it,” she says. “That’s when I played my first dance in an old dance hall in Breaux Bridge and that’s when we started the Cajun Country Revival, basically.”
Through her husband, she had already met Cajun musician Joel Savoy at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington.
Savoy is a noted musician from southwest Louisiana, a son of Marc and Ann Savoy, who are respected worldwide as ambassadors of Cajun culture. Together with his brother, Wilson, they perform as the Savoy Family Band.
Besides being a multi-instrumentalist, Savoy is an a accordion-builder like his father, and owns his own record label, Valcour Records. “So we recorded a CD, and he asked us to play that dance and stuff in Louisiana, and now whenever he tours, most of the time we’re part of his band, the Cajun Country Revival,” Landry says. “It still baffles me that he likes to play with us, and we love to play with him. We’re just really good friends. When you spend time on the road, making the music is a big factor, but all the hours that you spend not on the stage, you want to be spending it with people you love.”
On Friday, August 7, the Cajun Country Revival will present a Cajun Dance Party at the Wharf n the Whitehorse riverfront, starting at 6 p.m. with a lesson or two in how to move, Cajun-style. “We’re going to teach people how to two-step and how to waltz, which are the two types of dancing you can do to Cajun music,” Landry explains.
Then we’re just going to play two hours straight, and hopefully everybody will dance and have a good old time. “There’ll be the four of us, and we’ll pair down to a double fiddle and kind of go into the early, early days of Cajun music. Before the accordion was brought by the Germans in the 1850s, all they had was two fiddles, so we’ll try to recreate the early days of Cajun music and talk about the culture.”
But what about the third component of the ‘holy trinity’ of Cajun culture? “I think there’ll be some food vendors there, so you can grab dinner between two songs, have a little bit to eat,” Landry promises.
“Yeah. A big old Cajun street party.”