Sarah Savoy: Cajun, ça fait de la musique la vie
Sarah Savoy & the Francadians is a group of dedicated musicians based in Paris, France, led by Louisiana-born and –raised Sarah Savoy. Brought up by two of the most influential names in Cajun music, Marc and Ann Savoy, Sarah fronts this band of French musicians David Rolland, Vincent Blin, and Manolo Gonzales as if it were any group of similarly passionate musicians playing in the Cajun heartland of Lafayette, Louisiana, where Sarah got her start playing music with her brother, Wilson.
With the Francadians, Sarah performs traditional Cajun music, reaching back as far as the earliest roots of Louisiana music with covers of Amédée Ardoin, Joe and Cleoma Falcon, and Iry LeJeune, among many others, and up to more modern influences such as Steve Riley (Sarah’s cousin), Helen Boudreaux, and Jason Frey, as well as recalling powerful numbers by her parents. The band’s original songs, written by Savoy and Gerard Dole, provide Sarah with an opportunity to speak with a voice until now virtually unheard in traditional Cajun music. Sarah sings in celebration of the modern woman, strong, independent, and fun-loving, rather than only lamenting the traditional position of la femme abandonee. Keeping her audiences dancing, Sarah belts out sassy blues, growls through honky-tonk-inspired Cajun songs of the 1940s and 50s, and wails the bitterness of some of Cajun music’s most forlorn waltzes. Adding a particularly interesting element to their sets to fully demonstrate the influences that these genres had on the artists who wrote some of the most popular songs in Cajun music today, Sarah Savoy & the Francadians include several country and rockabilly songs in their repertoire.
Sarah, when was your first desire to become involved in the Cajun & who were your first idols?
Since I was born in Louisiana to two of the most important musicians in Cajun music (my dad is the leading Cajun accordion craftsman in the world and he and my mom have been playing Cajun music around the world since a few years before I was born in 1978), I guess it was never really a choice or a certain desire, but rather just something that naturally happened. I actually fought it, only wanting to be in punk bands when I was a teenager, then only playing Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline songs later. But I sort of accidentally fell into playing Cajun music, and my youngest brother, Wilson (of the Pine Leaf Boys), was really the one to encourage me the most when he and I would go to Cajun music jam sessions in Lafayette. It still wasn't anything I ever planned on doing to make a living, so when I was living in Russia and came to France to play with the Savoy Family Band, and I met David Rolland, who asked me to start coming to France to play Cajun music with him, I never expected to find myself where I am today! My biggest influences in Cajun music are certainly my parents (Marc and Ann Savoy), my brothers (Joel and Wilson Savoy), Iry LeJeune, Jason Frey, Jesse Lege, Belton Richard, Adam Hebert, Cheese Reed, and Lawrence Walker.
Since I was only a tiny baby when my parents would bring me with them to their gigs, I really couldn't possibly remember my first Cajun gig! I started trying to learn to play "J'ai passé devant ta porte" on accordion when I was about 9, like just about every Cajun kid does, but dropped that idea pretty fast. The first Cajun song I ever sang on stage was "Johnny Can't Dance" when my parents and Michael Doucet were playing at a Cajun music festival in Long Beach, California. Because the Cajun songs we play have such simple chord structures, I really can't say I ever "learned" to play any of them on guitar, but the first song I really learned to play on accordion was ''Tits yeux noirs" when I was 21 and I'm still working on it!
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
So far it's all been great! I don't know if there have been any particular highlights, other than having been invited to play some very important spots in some very important places. For me, though, all the concerts are great because we have so much fun playing together and because we meet so many wonderful, warm, enthusiastic people. The only concert I would call the worst wasn't so bad, really. It's just that we were playing at a festival in France and were put on almost an hour later than we expected to play, then, as we were walking up the steps to the stage, the sound man said, "I don't know what happened, but I accidentally deleted all the settings from your soundcheck!" And the soundcheck had taken about an hour, when normally we only need about fifteen minutes. So the sound was awful both on stage and off, and we were tired and frustrated and playing in very cold wind. But I've heard so many horror stories from other musicians that I really wouldn't say that experience was too bad!
I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the story of “the Francadians”, how that came about?
David just started booking these tours in France for what started as a trio with another fiddle player. Initially I was just going to be playing guitar and singing a bit of backup, but somehow that got turned around a bit. We moved on to getting Vincent Blin to join us, who is really an incredibly talented fiddler, and I wanted some heavy upright bass and asked Manolo Gonzales almost as soon as I saw him to come over to practice with us one day. The band hasn't changed in five years and I hope it never will because we all just work so well together.
What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Probably Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival, both years we got to play there, and also opening for Beausoleil for the Meltdown Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London the year Richard Thompson was hosting that festival. We also did this really wild Country, Cajun, and Rockabilly cruise that left from Stockholm and was a blast because it was full of crazy-fun Swedes! And we've done some really nice festivals in Belgium, too, where we've made great friends.
Are there any memories from the Francadians. Which you’d like to share with us?
Nothing comes to mind right now... We don't act up too much! haha
Why did he think that Cajun music continued to generate such a devoted following?
I'd say that it's probably because it's such fun music. There's something about it that pretty much anyone can relate to, even if they don't understand the French words to the songs. It's got the great rhythm, the driving sound of the acoustic instruments, and the emotional--but not theatrical--quality of the singing style. I think people also appreciate that this music, this very unique culture, and these very special people all live in such a small, condensed area and hold so proudly to our roots while the rest of America just keeps getting more and more artificial and hollow. It's REAL, and I think that's what most people love most about it.
I left Louisiana ten years ago for what I thought would be only for 6 months. I went to Moscow, Russia, straight from Louisiana in February. That was major culture shock for a girl who grew up in such a warm climate and in such a small town! So it wasn't long before I got terribly homesick. I remember that evening so clearly. I started making a roux to cook a gumbo, and I put on a CD of Cajun music, and I felt like I was home again. That was the moment I realized that, because our culture is so different from any other, I can bring it with me anywhere I go. Even though I always miss my family deeply, I can at least play this music and cook this food that provide me with a really strong link to them. Every time I'm cooking Cajun food or playing songs that remind me of my family, I think of all the wonderful moments we've spent in the family kitchen or at the Saturday morning jam sessions at my dad's music store and I feel incredibly energized by that bond we share.
How was your relationship with the other Cajun bands?
Good, I think. Since I never wanted to do this professionally, I'm not at all competitive like a lot of musicians in Europe are, and I think they appreciate that. I'll pass gigs on to friends if I know someone who could do the job better than I could or if I just don't have time. So the other musicians do that for me, too. That's kinda how it works in Louisiana, and I think that integrity and ethics in this and in any business are really important.
Which of historical Cajun personalities would you like to meet?
I guess I've met pretty much all the best already! Cleoma Breaux Falcon was pretty cool, but I don't think I'd have liked her personally, or maybe I should say she probably wouldn't have liked me...haha
When it all began for the Cajun in USA?
What do you learn about yourself from music?
How much my roots really mean to me.
When did you last laughing in gigs and why?
We laugh all the time at our gigs! On stage we're constantly teasing each other, egging each other on, acting silly...we just have so much fun that we can't help but laugh!
Which artists have you worked with & which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best friend?
I can't say I've really worked with a lot of professional musicians, but I have made some really good friends out of encounters with other musicians, like Hazel Scott, Johanna Divine, Cedric Watson, Cory Seznec...I'll leave out so many people I almost hate to start the list!
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about Cajun music?
My parents and my brother Wilson, I guess, but really just from listening very, very closely.
What was the last record you bought?
I listen to all kinds of music, so the last CD I actually bought wasn't Cajun. In the same day I bought a 2-disc live recording of a great Irish quartet, Kimber's Men, and a 3-disc country music compilation featuring some of my favorite country stars, like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, and Dolly Parton.
TIME Magazine called my dad "the godfather of Cajun culture" and I'm sure he is.
Make an account for current realities of the case of the Cajun music in USA
It's still going strong. There are Cajun and Zydeco music festivals, clubs, dance classes, and workshops all around the US all the time. In Louisiana there are more and more younger bands popping up all the time, but the older, more practiced musicians still get the respect they deserve for keeping the candle lit. There are also a lot more women playing Cajun music than when I was a kid.
Which is the most interesting period in Cajun scene and why?
For me that would be the late 1950s to the mid-1960s because of the rock'n'roll and country influences of the time, but that's just because I love all the music of that period so much.
From the musical point of view, is there any difference and similarity between Cajun & blues?
There are a lot of Cajun blues songs--Blues de Bosco, Pine Grove Blues, Blues de Cajun, just to name some of the first ones that come to mind, but there are very many!
Zydeco is a lot closer to blues than Cajun is because the accordion usually used in Zydeco has more notes that the Cajun accordion does, so that works better for different blues scales. Zydeco also usually has electric bass and drums, too, and the overall rhythms are a lot closer to blues.
What do you think are the landmark albums for the Cajun music, what characterized the sound of Cajun?
This is a pretty simple answer, but even though Cajun music certainly existed before, and even though it isn't entirely necessary in a Cajun band, for me the style of the accordion playing characterizes the sound of Cajun music. The landmark albums would definitely be Joe Falcon's recordings, like "Allons a Lafayette," which were the first ever made of Cajun music.
What characterize the philosophy of Cajun life style?
Cajuns aren't interested in just working all the time to make a lot of money and move up some corporate ladder. They don't understand why anyone would want to do that. Cajuns usually work just to afford a decent home, a reliable means of transportation, and their general livelihood so they can enjoy their time off with their families and friends. Why work yourself to an early grave for money you don't even have time or energy to spend, or for junk you don't need? Better to work all week so you can take your date out to dance and have dinner on Saturday night or invite your friends over to a big meal Sunday afternoon! Life in Louisiana is about living from the soul.
What are some of your favorite Cajun tastes?
Boudin and jambalaya and boiled crawfish and alligator poboys!
What is the “think” you miss most from bayous area?
I'm actually from the prairies of Louisiana, and not from the bayous, but other than my family and friends, and the general way of life there, I do miss Louisiana crawfish, tasso, and lots of wide-open spaces!
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a message for the Greek fans?
I guess I'll just see where the music takes me! I'm enjoying touring and seeing the world, but I know I'll have to slow down a bit once my daughter starts school. I do hope to eventually move back to Louisiana, but that will probably have to wait another couple of years. Do we have Greek fans? That's pretty cool! I guess my only message would be the same I tell everyone else--keep it real and let the good times roll! If you're having fun doing something that is coming straight from your heart, you're bound to be successful at it.
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