Just a few miles from Lafayette, Louisiana, six musicians are putting their all into passing down the heritage of the French language and Cajun music. Their band, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, was formed in 1990 by brothers Louis and Andre Michot, and received a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album. Director Bruno Doria has made a “rockumentary” about the band called On va continuer ! which follows the recording of their ninth album, Kalenda.
The film takes viewers through a world of intergenerational traditions and passion in the heart of Louisiana and will premiere at the New Orleans French Film Festival on February 17 and 19, and on TV5MONDE on March 23. Interview with director Bruno Doria and Louis Michot, violinist and lead singer of the Lost Bayou Ramblers.
What inspired the documentary?
Bruno Doria: I have always wanted to shoot a feature documentary. I met Louis at Dockside Studio Recordings in August 2016 after the floods. I already knew his band and I was a big fan — but I did not let on! I started off making a music video for them with Worklight Pictures, and we bonded. I would often bring my camera to their gigs and film them. After a couple of months, I realized theirs was the story I really wanted to tell.
Louis Michot: Bruno started following us everywhere with his camera. And it just so happened we won a Grammy Award while he was filming us. It was the perfect “denouement” for the documentary; in just 15 minutes it wrapped up a whole 20 years of playing together.
Bruno Doria: The Lost Bayou Ramblers were nominated for the album we had filmed them recording, and so I went to New York with them to keep shooting. After winning the Grammy, we applied for the Create Louisiana grant [supported by TV5MONDE USA], which provides 30,000 dollars to film a Francophone story. And we were selected!
What does the title On va continuer ! mean?
Bruno Doria: Louis and his band are trying to preserve a culture that is disappearing for a number of different reasons, including the floods, people passing away, and a lack of interest in tradition. I chose the expression, “On va continuer !,” which means “We will continue,” because this is what Louis says on stage at the end of every gig. It means they will keep passing on Cajun French and Louisianan traditions to anyone willing to learn.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans. © Worklight Pictures, LLC
What is Cajun music?
Bruno Doria: A fiddle, an accordion, and a triangle are the cornerstones of this music. Just three instruments, combined with the French language.
Louis Michot: Cajun music is an amazing blend of Creole French, Acadian, African, and Native American influences. It is a beautiful American music created from different cultures coming together. French is the original language and emotion of Cajun music, and while it has less of a societal footing nowadays it still exists in the music. It forms its rhythm and offers a way for people to express both themselves and their pride for Louisianan culture.
Why is Cajun French so important in Louisiana?
Louis Michot: Many people still speak French in Louisiana, but the language is hidden and people only speak within families or with close friends. It is almost an undercurrent. Because the language was banned in schools just a century ago, some people still feel a certain shame when speaking it. You have to be close with someone to speak French. It signifies trust. I have played Cajun music for a long time, but I did not understand the lyrics until I learned French. Until then, I was not a good singer. I found my voice the moment I started singing in French.
In January 2018, the Lost Bayou Ramblers won a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album with their ninth album, Kalenda. What does this recognition mean to you?
Louis Michot: We did not expect it at all! It was overwhelming to win because we are completely self-managed. We do all our own work, bookings, management, and more. We have been playing as a band for 20 years and that represents a lot of effort and time. It feels so amazing to be recognized. The Grammy also means Cajun music has its place in America and the rest of the world. It is respected as an American music, as its own genre, and people enjoy it. I believe it will just keep getting bigger and bigger.
What is specific about the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ sound? Who is their audience?
Bruno Doria: The Lost Bayou Ramblers are creating a new generation of people who are interested in Cajun music. They tweaked it a little bit and gave it a rock twist by adding electric guitars to make it more exciting and appeal to more people.
Louis Michot: We gather a very diverse audience of all ages and types of people. Some of them speak French, some do not, and some might not even care about the culture but like our music. People connect with us because they love Cajun music and because we are revamping the genre. We are traditional while bringing our own modern influences.
Andre Michot, accordionist and co-founder of the Lost Bayou Ramblers. © Worklight Pictures, LLC
What do you like about the documentary?
Bruno Doria: I really enjoyed filming the Lost Bayou Ramblers playing live. My favorite moments are when Louis is just being himself and joking around. There is also a beautiful scene in which Andre [Louis’ brother] demonstrates how to tune an accordion, teaching us something unique and new. In the same way that this band developed wanting to teach people and pass on traditions, the documentary is a celebration of life and a culture that will hopefully live on for many years.
Louis Michot: This film really captured what it is like to be a Lost Bayou Rambler. We have fun, we enjoy ourselves, we work hard, and we love what we do. It also shows the juxtaposition of being a French-language band with an American audience. We stand between two different worlds, in both French Louisiana and America simultaneously.
Kalenda features many guests. In the past, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have invited a large number of musicians to record with them. How did it happen?
Louis Michot: Most of our guests are people we met naturally at the Dockside studio, which is where we record most of our music. It is Dr. John’s favorite place to record and he collaborated with us on the album Mammoth Waltz. Scarlett Johansson also recorded her Tom Waits cover album there, and our producer Korey Richey worked with her on it. Then, while recording the song “Coteau Guidry,” we thought it might sound great with a female voice. Korey simply asked Scarlett and she agreed to sing with us. This is what sets Dockside apart: it is such an amazing creative space that it connects everyone who works there and we all feel like family.
=> The documentary On va continuer ! will premiere at the New Orleans French Film Festival on Sunday, February 17 and Tuesday, February 19. It will the be broadcast on TV5MONDE on Saturday, March 23 at 9:30 pm EST.