On Va Continuer! / Asteur
directed by Bruno Doria
starring Louis Michot, the Lost Bayou Ramblers
Over the past two decades, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have emerged as one of the leading advocates of Cajun music and culture. They have a deep appreciation of the history and traditions of the French speaking people of Louisiana, yet see it as a living and still evolving culture. To celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers are releasing a deluxe DVD/CD package comprising the On Va Continuer! documentary and Asteur live album. The DVD follows the band through the making of the album Kalinda. The story takes viewers from the recording sessions at Dockside studio through to the Grammy Awards where Kalinda won Best Regional Roots Music Album. Asteur captures the Ramblers on stage paying homage to their Cajun predecessors and pushing the music into the 21st Century.
Saying that On Va Continuer! Is a making of an album story does the film a disservice. The making of the record is the connecting thread running through the story, but the focus is really on the living traditions of the Cajun people. Louis Michot takes us up and down the bayous and introduces us to the people and places that ground his music. Director Bruno Doria, wisely let’s Michot show us what is important to him about Cajun culture. He lets us see how music is a part of life on the bayou. We see Michot and company playing at back yard parties, playing music around the diner table with friends and eventually, taking those sounds out to the rest of the world.
The documentary’s title translates as “We Will Continue”. Without getting on a soapbox to lecture about the importance of Cajun traditions, Michot shares his love of the people he grew up with and their resilience in a changing world. Louis casually shares how he didn’t learn French at home because his grandparents were teachers who wanted their children to be able to succeed in an English speaking world. Louis talks about how he began to pick up French when he started playing in Cajun bands as a teenager. He also shares how busking around Ireland and playing with Irish folk musicians gave him a fuller appreciation of his own musical heritage.
In the film we meet the people who are keeping the culture alive. Michot shows how he built his home using boussillage, a traditional construction method using clay and cured Spanish moss. He takes us into his home where we see the music passing to the next generation. We meet the people who make the accordions using the old style tuning techniques. We meet the blacksmith who makes T-Fer’s (triangles) from hay tines. We meet the man who crafts fiddles “The triangle, the fiddle and the accordion are the root of Cajun music. If you have those, and the French vocals, then you’re playing Cajun music. No matter what else you have on it, everything else is just rock and roll.”
Asteur, means “right now” in Cajun French and that’s what the live album does. It captures the Lost Bayou Ramblers in this moment, twenty years on from their beginnings, playing venues around the New Orleans area, including Tipitinas, the Maple Leaf, Preservation Hall, and d.b.a. The album captures the raw energy of the band’s traditional side on tunes like “Cote Clair”, “Rice Pump” and “Granny Smith”. “Bosco Stomp-New Iberian Haircut” throw down some Pogues-ish punk rock vibes. The Lost Bayou Ramblers visit the psychedelic swamp where Dr. John found his gris-gris on the hypnotic “Kalinda.” “Vermillion Vortex” and “Tune Up” leave the dance halls behind for drone excursions that would make Lamont Young and John Cale happy. The disc closes with the Ramblers coming home with “Les Mardi Gras,” a tune that celebrates the rural version of Carnival in Louisiana.
This 20th Anniversary package is a gift to the long time fan and a wonderful introduction to those just discovering the Ramblers, or Cajun music. The film provides the context, the culture and the environment where the music lives. The live album brings us on the road where the traditional mesh with modern sounds to keep the music moving forward. Toward the end of On Va Continuer!, Louis Michot expresses faith that the culture of French Louisiana will survive. The Lost Bayou Ramblers are doing their part to make that happen.