ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY
The artists in our story grew up listening to hip hop, rock & roll, and pop music just like every other American kid in the 80’s and 90’s. They grew up eating at McDonalds and Taco Bell. However, they also grew up immersed in a regional culture that has defied globalization, surviving in spite of mass media, corporate america, and a deliberate, sometimes violent campaign to eradicate it in the early 20th Century.
ROOTS OF FIRE is a story about musicians pushing the boundaries of a type of American roots music known as Cajun Music. The American part is important because people from Louisiana are often portrayed as not completely American. That idea is used to market Louisiana culture to tourists, and also to malign Louisiana natives in negative stereotypes. This film will break through that mythology to illuminate a progressive music scene that just might save a culture.
Against a background of shuttered rural dance clubs and encroaching globalization, these young artists are evolving the music, while maintaining their roots in the most organic way. They aren’t regurgitating what elders hammered into them. They’re not ironically pulling out fiddles and accordions with a wink and a nod towards pop stardom. They acknowledge that while the music has deep tradition, they feel the pull of their own influences, and that is pushing them to make great new music. These artists stack Grammy nominations, go on world tours, and have achieved international recognition. Perhaps more importantly though, they bring millennials out two-stepping on Friday nights.
This film is about authenticity. When you live on a coast, or work in the media like we do, the quest for authenticity can feel like a search for the holy grail. To put it another way, it’s a noble, but ultimately pointless quest for a mythical object. “Authentic” scenes usually reek of irony, or reveal a counterfeit facade upon closer inspection. The Cajun music community is not trying to be anything other than what it’s always been, hardworking people that want to jam and dance. That doesn’t mean these musicians aren’t pros, because they are. Cajun musicians have been rocking juke joints, dance halls, and festivals all over America since the turn of the twentieth century. They’ve adapted to every trend from 1920’s Texas Swing, to 60’s folk, 70’s rock, and up through the indie scene of the 90’s and beyond. However, through those adaptations, the foundation has remained true, built on a love for the music of the previous generations, and a pride in the French spirit of the region. It’s the best kind of authenticity, one that comes without trying.
This is a positive story, but the history of Cajun music has not always been so rosy. ROOTS OF FIRE will explore where the music is going by understanding the importance of where it came from. We’ll delve into the complex history of how it was spawned through the geographic and genetic mixing of populations from across the globe. Also, how it was shaped through the musical marriage of a black man and a white man coming together to play French fiddle and accordion music during Jim Crow. Through the story of Dennis McGee and Amedee Ardoin, the first musicians to commercialize “Louisiana French Music”, to the horrific death of Ardoin casting the darkest of shadows over it, we’ll delve into how the history of this world has shaped the present.
It is important to note that the shadow of racial injustice created two genres out of traditional Louisiana French Music; Cajun music, and Zydeco music which is traditionally played by Creoles. Even though they grew from the same seed, and have shared cultural DNA for generations, they are still two distinct genres commonly separated by race. Unfortunately, in 2018 there are still racial issues in Cajun and Zydeco music, but those barriers are breaking down. The positive racial story of Roots of Fire is that black and white people are still playing music together in Southern Louisiana. Cajun bands and Zydeco bands are sharing bills and festival stages. Black and white people are dancing together in the Deep South.
It will take a series of films to scratch the surface Cajun and Zydeco stories. This film focuses on the Cajun music community that came of age in the early 2000’s. Through immersive coverage we’ll learn about where Cajun music came from, the struggles of the people who have given it life, and where it might be headed in the future. With artists like Wilson Savoy of Pine Leaf Boys, Courtbouillon, and the Savoy Family Band, Kelli Jones of Feufollet, and T’Monde, and Kristi Guillory of Bonsoir, Catin as well as their bandmates, and a host of other musicians, academics, and culturally important figures, we tap into what makes Cajun music so resilient. There’s no pretentiousness, no hipsterism, no exclusivity. Everyone is invited to the party.
When you experience it for yourself, you can’t help but fall in love.
With our story, we hope to honor and pay homage to those storytellers who came before us, like Les Blank.