|The Balfa Toujours Tribute to the Balfa Brothers, a
special program at the Liberty Theatre in Eunice, February 3, 2001, offered a truly
memorable night of Cajun music. The band, led by Christine Balfa, daughter of the late
Dewey Balfa, performed songs that are part of the Balfa traditionin other words,
songs that are at the heart of Cajun music.
The show opened with "The Hick's Wagon Wheel Special," followed by "L'Anse aux Pailles Two-Step" sung by Christine; "La valse d'orphelin," sung by Courtney Granger, Dewey Balfa's great nephew; "Mon bon vieux mari," sung by Christine; "'Tit galop pour Mamou" with twin fiddles played by Dirk Powell, Christine's husband, and Kevin Wimmer; "Chère Bassette," sung by Nelda Balfa, Christine's sister and a member of Balfa Toujours during the group's first years; and "Les blues de Cajun," sung by Courtney.
Accordionist Robert Jardell joined the band next. He once played with Dewey Balfa (moviegoers may recall him in scene with Christine and Dewey in The Big Easy) and with Nathan Abshire, whose performances with the Balfa Brothers provided some of the great moments in the history of Cajun music. Burke Balfa, the only surviving Balfa brother, also joined the band on stage playing triangle. Robert Jardell performed "J'étais au bal," "La mauvaise nouvelle," Nathan Abshire's signature song, "Pine Grove Blues," and "La vie d'un musicien."
Up until this point, the band played, in the old style, without drums. Geno Delafose, the Creole and Zydeco accordionist from Eunice joined the band for the final numbers, playing drums just as he once did as a boy with his father, the late John Delafose.
Christine sang the Cajun tongue twister "Step It Fast" ("T'en as eu, t'en n'auras plus"), and then Nelda performed one of her songs, "La marraine" ("The Godmother"), transforming memories of a tragic experience into beautiful music in the Balfa tradition (the song is recorded on Balfa Toujours' a vieille Terre Haute CD). Dirk Powell sang "Keep Your Hands Off of It," a song on the group's 2000 CD, Live at Whiskey River Landing. Courtney offered his rendition of one of the great Balfa Brothers songs, "La valse de bambocheur."
Dirk Powell and Kevin Wimmer recreated the old-style twin-fiddle sound with "Le reel Frugé" with Christine on triangle, performed by the group as a tribute to her mother, Hilda, whose maiden name was Frugé.
By the time Christine sang "La valse des Balfa," an intensely passionate song about forsaken love, the radio broadcast had ended, but the crowd wasn't ready to leave.
As an encore, Balfa Toujours performed "Les veuves de la coulée," a song that the Balfa Brothers often used to end their performances, but the crowd still wasn't ready to go.
When the audience shouted out "La chanson de Mardi Gras," Balfa Toujours obliged, and then, in response to more insistent requests, they played "Cajun from Church Point" (with Basile, Mamou, and other towns tossed into the lyrics). It was almost 30 minutes after the end of the radio broadcast before the audience finally gave in and let the band leave the stage.
Throughout the program, Dr. Barry Ancelet, folklorist, head of the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and probably the world's foremost authority on Cajun music, offered insights into the songs and told stories about his recollections of Dewey Balfa and the other Balfa brothers. Almost every Saturday night since 1987, Ancelet has served as host of the "Rendez-vous des Cajuns" Radio Program.
All of the Liberty Theatre programs are, in their own way, special events that are not only entertaining but offer audiences insights into the unique music and culture of Southwest Louisiana.
But the Balfa Toujours program was a genuinely extraordinary occasion when people from throughout the region and beyond gathered together to pay tribute to the legacy of some phenomenal musicians who played a central role in reviving and preserving a musical tradition that now has admirers worldwide. Seeing and hearing that legacy carried on by the Balfa family and by other musicians who played with Dewey Balfa and who share his devotion to Cajun music gave everyone a renewed appreciation for the abiding value of a wonderfully rich musical heritage.
All photographs and text by David Simpson.