Femme: A Celebration of Women in Acadiana Music
Acadiana Center for the Arts
March 7, 2018
Women’s voices have always had a place in this part of the world. In the rural areas of southwest Louisiana, surviving was a challenge. Women were in charge of managing home and hearth. Cajuns and Creoles settled here, two distinct cultures, not always seeing eye to eye, had one thing in common, the way music lightened the load.
Singing dispelled grief, spoke to the almighty, sang fancifully about love, sadly about loss, gave women who sang together a sense of community, and helped the tedious hours of cooking, laundering, gardening, church going pass by. A woman needn’t have a great voice. That was not the point. Finding a place in her emotional center, a place to live vicariously, express hope, desire, dreams, that was the point.
Anna Laura Edmiston, musician, mother, has lived in those internal places. Her experience singing in a popular French speaking band is the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface was her desire to uncover the roots of music that saturates this city every day of the week and acknowledge the women for whom it was a staple of everyday life.
Watching Linda "Ronstadts’s Canciones De Mi Padre," that used visual backdrops and staged performances, inspired her to create an homage to the rich regional history of Cajun and Creole music. Femme is a quietly powerful acknowledgement of the deep roots of the music of two cultures that rang true so naturally.
Edmiston's collaboration with stage manager Lian Cheramie, video editors Chris Segura and Pudd Sharp, original illustrations by Erin Broussard, and digitization by Anne Boudreau animated Acadiana in a singularly satisfying production.
Finding women to fill out the cast of Femme: A Celebration of Women in Acadiana Music must have been difficult. Not because there weren’t enough women who are tuned into their culture and perform it but because there are so many that she ran the risk of offending women not invited to sing in the program. Most of the women are members of well-known bands and skilled players on accordion, fiddle, banjo and guitar.
Edmiston arranged the program in four parts: Kitchen, Outdoors, Church, and Living Room. The stage setting was as simple as the kitchens and living rooms in which they were sung. A few small tables, a bench, a few chairs, the women sang and we filled in the rest with our imaginations. Edmiston’s sense of pacing was pitch perfect, balancing the emotionally charged songs with those with humor and levity. Since the songs were mostly in French, for the non-French speakers, the facial expressions and tempo of the songs were enough to tell the difference and respond accordingly.
Some of the songs in the Kitchen set were sung a cappella as two women folded the laundry, probably just the way they would have been sung in the countryside. The Broussard Family’s demonstration of Juré dancing and singing was kinetic, playful and soulful all in one.
As good as the singing was, some of the most poignant moments in the program were three video and audio excerpts used with permission of the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, courtesy of The Association for Cultural Equity. Watching Mercedes Vidrine explain how to make a roux (1987). Dorestine Ledet explain Juré music and dance (1979), and Lula Landry hilariously explain her memory of “Le Petite Anna à Mogène Meaux “(1979) were positively captivating and perfectly calibrated to tune us into a mindset whose explainers have all passed away.
Lafayette is still the cradle that holds the traditional music and women who cherish it. Tonight’s multi-generational musicians sustain it, and remind us of women’s role in holding it together with their voices lifted in song.
Ann Savoy, Jane Vidrine, Kristi Guillory, Anya Burgess, Megan Brown, Desirée Champagne, Anna Laura Edmiston, Sasha Massey, Lori Lemelle, Christine Balfa, Amelia Powell (Christine's daughter), The Broussard Sisters Juré, Lisa Trahan, Renée Reed, Jill Merkl
Acadiana Center for the Arts
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.
Videos to follow...