Deep in southwest Louisiana, in the heart of the region called Acadia, French speaking people pass down a culture hundreds of years old, rich in music, dance, food, language and love and kinship among family and community.
It is called joie de vivre, or the joy of life, and the sounds and images of that Acadian tradition filled Richard Allen's world as a boy in Lafayette.
It was a childhood filled with the smell of cooking, spicy gumbo on the stove, a cornbread stuffing in the oven, crawfish on to boil and okra frying, with mom presiding over the stove, laughing with the cousins crowding in the kitchen.
Richard loved to watch as everyone from grade school kids to grandparents got together in the yard and dance the twisting, swinging zydeco dance, boots scuffing out the insistent rhythm of the music on a warm summer night.
But what he loved the most was the music.
He remembers his great-grandmother and great uncle playing traditional songs on the accordion, singing in French and stomping their feet on the old wooden porch. Any gathering was a reason to play music and eventually everyone who could play an instrument gathered in a circle and joined in. Men and women with guitars, fiddles, accordions and scrub boards, sometimes more than a dozen at once, worked together in perfect rhythm while voices sang out in French above it all.
Richard grew up to become the third generation of his family to play that music, embarking on a lifelong journey to master the accordion.
Along the way he learned more about the music of his roots and the culture of his roots.
In reality, the music and the culture can't be pulled apart. Zydeco music is the song of the voices and music three hundred years of people who came to south Louisiana seeking fortune or were driven there by fate.
It started out as Creole music, a blend of the music of French Acadians driven from their Canadian homes in the 1700s, of the Creoles descended from French and Spanish settlers, of the Caribbean music of slaves and the gospel and blues of the rural south.
German farmers contributed the accordion, Irish immigrants the fiddle, and Zydeco was born. It first emerged among the Creole people in the 1920s, and they sang about love and the joys of daily life, about fishing and dancing and the work they did, reflecting the world in which they lived.
As Richard learned everything he could about the music that would become his life, he incorporated all the styles of the music of the region, both Creole "la-la" and zydeco, into his personal style of accordion.
As a young man, he immersed himself in the zydeco scene in Lafayette, watching and playing music with some of the best zydeco musicians in the world, including 2011 Grammy award winner Chubby Carrier.
Determined to refine his skills, he moved to Austin and then to Atlanta to complete his musical education. He formed his first band there, called Joie De Vivre, then returned to Lafayette to found two more bands; 503 Avenue C and Magic Pepper Groove.
Today, Richard lives in Seattle, where he is exploding on the music scene with his band Richard Allen and the Louisiana Experience.
He might be a long way from Louisiana, but everywhere he plays, he takes his home with him. At his shows, Richard and his band take over the stage with their high-energy, kick-butt-and-takin'-names music while dancers fill the floor. As they play, they recreate that joie de vivre that is the Cajun way of life, where people eat, drink, sing along, and dance to the rhythms of Louisiana.
A night with Richard Allen truly is a Louisiana Experience. by Polly O'Keary
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