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Accordions can rock

Submitted photoDelilah Lee Lewis (center) studied Cajun music's roots in Louisiana before joining the Creole Belles with Karen Leigh (left), Maureen Karpan (right) and Karen Celia Heil (not pictured). The Bay Area band plays Saturday at the Foundry.
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Cajun wasn’t yet a buzzword 25 years ago when Delilah Lee Lewis decided to devote her studies and playing to the genre.

The Californian was on a somewhat lonely mission, looking for the music once found only in the remote bayous and prairie dance halls of southwestern rural Louisiana.

“When I first went to New Orleans, the whole Cajun culture wasn’t popularized back then. Now there’s Cajun food, Cajun this, Cajun that. Back then, I looked but couldn’t find anything Cajun.”



Lewis understands why the genre is now recognized around the world.

“It’s wonderful dance music; there’s a growing popularity in dancers who want to dance to it,” she said. “It’s very danceable and infectious.”




Lewis learned first-hand about the Cajun heritage from masters when she lived in Eunice, La., from 1982 to 1984.

“I moved to the southwestern part of Louisiana for three years to study music,” said Lewis. A registered nurse, she worked as director of nursing in a small nursing home there and lived in accordionist Mark Savoy’s music store.

“A lot of musicians would come there to look at the accordions and meet Mark. He’s famous; his accordions are famous,” Lewis explained.

Musicians from around the states and Europe traveled to Savoy’s store, she said.

After her stint in Louisiana, Lewis traveled in Europe for a year – visiting the European musicians she met at Savoy’s store – to further her studies. She returned to California about 20 years ago.

“Cajun was the first music I ever learned. I took a couple of lessons; I loved the music,” Lewis said.

She has played fiddle for the Creole Belles – a four-piece Bay Area band playing authentic, Louisiana Cajun-Creole dance music – for seven years at dance halls, private parties and community events.

Today, Savoy is still at that Eunice store.

“I think her band’s great. For a West Coast bunch of girls who didn’t grow up in Louisiana, they’re doing a great job,” he said Tuesday. “What I admire about Delilah and her group, they have a lot of respect for the Louisiana traditions.”

Those traditions are unique, he said, because of different rhythms and chord progressions.

“Cajun music, the main thing is the rhythm makes it so wonderful,” Savoy explained. “You can Cajunize ‘Mary had a Little Lamb,’ and you have a rocking tune.”

The music was created by French Canadians living in Louisiana.

“Back in the late 1920s, they knew nothing about music. They couldn’t read music, they couldn’t sign their names. They just made this great music,” Savoy said.

“They were totally illiterate. Their primitive form of music was played to have a good time. They had a hard life, subjected to a lot of hardships,” he added.

According to the Cajun French Music Association, more than 9,000 Cajun songs have been recorded since the 1920s. New ones are composed at an average rate of 33 compact discs per year.

— Visit http://www.creolebelles.com for more information.


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