Archive Files of Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco Musicians
Posted between 1999 and 2008

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Balfa Toujours at LSUE,

Plus Dirk's Mountain Music

Click here for high resolution photos of Balfa Toujours on Flickr.
balfa34.jpg (9252 bytes) During their appearance on the LSUE campus March 23, 2000, as part of the Spring Performing Art Series, Balfa Toujours offered a show similar to the ones they give on the road around the world: invigorating, passionate renditions of traditional Cajun music, together with short, engaging comments about each song and about the Cajun culture in which the music has its origins. The program included songs from all of the group's albums, Cajun standards like "Les flammes d'enfer" and even "You Used to Call Me," the Clifton Chenier song that, incidentally, Christine, her father, and Robert Jardell briefly sing together in the movie The Big Easy after the audience has endured listening to Dennis Quaid sing a few lines.
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Kevin Wimmer and Dirk Powell played a couple of twin fiddle numbers in the old style, including "Le Reel de Frugé," with Christine offering spirited accompaniment on the t-fer. The song  served as a tribute to her Frugé relations on her late mother's side of the family.

In the next picture, Courtney Granger is shown singing "I'm Proud to Be a Cajun from Church Point," changing the lyrics in one place to refer to Basile, Christine's home town when she was growing up. Craig Guillory can be seen playing bass.

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Appalachian Music
at the Liberty Theater

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The Liberty Theater is ordinarily the home of Cajun music, sustaining a tradition that reflects the courage, strength, and love of life of a people who overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges in their arduous passage from Acadie toward a strange land where they would shape a unique culture whose purest expression is probably found in their music. During a break in Balfa Toujours’ performance in early April 2000, the Liberty also became briefly home to Appalachian music that Dirk Powell cherishes as part of his heritage from his ancestors in Elliott County Kentucky, passed down to him from his grandfather, whose banjo playing held him in awe when he was a teenager. Accompanied by Christine Balfa on guitar, whose own ties to the Cajun musical heritage are equally strong, Dirk gave the Liberty audience a sampling of his talents as a banjo player and as a fiddler in the Appalachian tradition. 

Audiences who do not have an opportunity to hear Dirk perform Appalachian music live can hear him play on several CDs. Two recent albums, Hand Me Down, produced by Dirk Powell for Rounder Records and released in 1999, and Songs from the Mountain, released by Howdy Skies Records in 1998, display Dirk’s remarkable talent and artistry playing both instruments. In Hand Me Down, he demonstrates that the banjo can be a source of both powerful and delicate music, and the fiddle playing on the album offers an Appalachian version of the joys and sorrows that also resonate under the bows of Cajun fiddlers. Most of the songs are traditional, including two hauntingly beautiful ballads sung by Ginny Hawker, "Keys to the Kingdom," an oldtime gospel song, and "Poor Soldier," a simple yet profound lament.  Jim Miller’s natural, unaffected vocals on other songs like "Wild Bill Jones" and "Moonshiner" also contribute to the album’s traditional sound. Christine Balfa plays guitar on the CD. Dirk also wrote instrumental pieces for the album and an imaginative gospel song, "The Cradle, the Coffin, the Cross on the Hill." In the last song on the CD, "Ride with the Devil," Dirk gives his interpretation of the theme song of director Ang Lee’s film of the same name (he performed other versions of the song on the movie’s soundtrack).

Songs from the Mountain is a unique album. In it, Dirk Powell, Tim O’Brien, and John Herman perform songs that are either played by characters in Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel, Cold Mountain, or Appalachian music that in some way evokes the atmosphere of the novel. Cold Mountain tells the story of a wounded Confederate soldier who has abandoned his cause late in the war and has embarked on a dark, unrelenting pilgrimage toward his homeland in the mountains of North Carolina. In alternate chapters, the novel tells the story of the daily struggles of the woman whom the soldier loves as she tries to carry on with her life running a farm after the death of her father. Several of the songs–for example, "Wayfarin’ Stranger," "Fair Margaret and Sweet William," "Back Step Cindy"–are actually sung or played by characters in the novel. Other songs like "Lonesome John," "The Blackest Crow," "The Drunkard’s Hiccups," and Stephen Foster’s "Hard Times" are suggested by lines and images in the novel or are related to the novel’s themes. All three musicians also contribute their own tunes or lyrics suggested by the novel.

Charles Frazier himself researched the music of the period while writing the novel, and the narrative in the novel refers to "music that sums up a culture and is the true expression of its inner life." This sense of connection with a whole way of life expressed through music seems to be one reason why people are attracted today to traditional music. That traditional way of life, whether Appalachian or Cajun, is deeply independent, resisting the encroachments of mass culture, and audiences respond to the music, perhaps because for many in their present lives achieving such independence seems beyond their own grasp.

Other albums featuring Dirk Powell include If I Go Ten Thousand Miles (1996) and Tony Furtado and  Dirk Powell (1999), both on Rounder. The latter album offers a variety of musical genres, including Cajun tunes. One of the cuts on Jay Ungar and Molly Mason's 1999 CD, Harvest Home: Music for All Seasons on Angel Records features Christine Balfa singing "La Chanson de Mardi Gras" with Kevin Wimmer and Jay Ungar on fiddle and Dirk Powell on fiddle, horse clops, and accordion.

Time Again, another CD of Dirk's Appalachian music, was released by Rounder in 2004.

Click here to see Balfa Toujours at the 2000 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Click here to see Balfa Toujours at the 2000 Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette.

Click here to return to the first Balfa Toujours page.

Check out Balfa Toujours' MySpace Page.

Visit Balfa Toujour's Official Web Site.


All photographs and text by David Simpson.

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