Iconic Cajun fiddler recounts a life lived in Louisiana and the storied musicians who inspired him.
Mardi Gras 2018 in New Orleans. Cajun fiddle maestro Michael Doucet is strolling with friends through streets filled with revellers—his ears, eyes, and mind wide open to the craziness.
Like everyone else, he’s wearing a carnival mask. Outside a favourite local watering hole he gets talking to a woman in a pink dress and big pink wig. Turns out she’s a singer, guitarist, and songwriter from the city. And despite the mask, she recognizes the man behind it by the give-away tufts of white hair on either side of the head.
“We talked about music and said we should get together to play—so we did that the following week, and soon after we played our first gig,” says the genial Doucet, who lives in Lafayette, some 200 kilometres northwest of the Crescent City.
“We’ve been playing music together ever since—that was Sarah Quintana.”
The day is recalled in Walkin’ on a Mardis Gras Day on Doucet’s latest release, Lâcher Prise (Letting Go), recorded with a new outfit, also named Lâcher Prise—himself on fiddle and lead vocals, Quintana on acoustic guitar and vocals, Chad Viator on electric guitar, Chris French on bass, and Jim Kolacek on drums.
But the song isn’t what you might expect. Rather than uptempo party music, it’s a hauntingly beautiful reflection on lost love, set to the slow, steady, and syncopated marching-band beat of a snare drum.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, Mardi Gras, you just have fun, you get crazy and drunk’. But sometimes you don’t feel that good, and Mardi Gras is a kind of magical day when you can go through these different moods and times. Things happen that weren’t in your plan, and disappoint you. But you don’t stop, you keep on walking, and then you hear everything else, like a great brass band, and you have beads thrown at you. So there’s something on the other side of that door. The song is kind of a lament—and Sarah is the ‘pink-wigged woman’.”
Lâcher Prise isn’t quite what you might expect from Doucet either. The music is from southwest Louisiana alright, but it’s not necessarily Cajun. The album’s musical equivalent of crab stew—one of Doucet’s favourite local dishes—includes zydeco, swamp rock, and 19th century European dance music, with flavours of classical music and New Orleans jazz. While the tempo and character of the songs vary, all are played with the same verve and palpable sense of fun and spontaneity.
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