The new indie rock band makes Cajun French its first language.
Sweet Crude started with "Parlez-Nous a Boire." The Balfa Brothers song has been a part of the set for Alexis and the Samurai - Alexis Marceaux and Sam Craft - since their days on tour with Susan Cowsill, and it was popular everywhere they went. They took the Cajun music standard and "put a funky, almost New Orleans bounce rhythm to it," Craft says over coffee. Its popularity made them want to start a project that incorporated Cajun French with indie rock. "We knew that the language would sound good in our music as well," he says. "We can extrapolate on this."
Sweet Crude plays with Caddywhompus and Lost Bayou Ramblers Friday night at Tipitina's, and Craft and Marceaux knew what they wanted it to be like from the start. The spirit of community was important to them, so they wanted a large ensemble with group vocals and tribal percussion. "We love pop music. We love being clever and tongue-in-cheek, but on an academic level, we'd like to create something with some posterity," Craft says. That's their father's influence, he being a traditional jazz player in the New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra. "We knew we couldn't just do a rock band; we had to do something with some cultural significance."
Sweet Crude tries to honor his mother's heritage, she being a Chacherie, which is also part of his name as he shows me on his driver's license. Like so many of her generation, Craft's mother wasn't taught Cajun French, so he and his brother Jack grew up hearing only the occasional phrase of the language that she uttered situationally like muscle memory. Their grandparents died before Sam and Jack were born, so their only connections to the tradition was a 100-year-old great-grandfather who died when Sam was 6 or 7, and visits to Opelousas, which is thick with Chacheries. One of his principal points of contact to Cajun French is musical and romantic partner Alexis Marceaux's grandfather. "I practice on him," Craft says. "Why do you say this and not that?"
He spent a year dedicating himself to learning the language - reading, writing and speaking it daily. A background in Spanish helped, and he discovered a number of resources including CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana), and online communities of young people like himself who were trying to keep the language alive. "The other useful thing was learning Cajun music," he says. "Cajun music sings about the basics of life in everyday speech."
"It's not just us feeling this fever to keep it going," Craft says, and one place he found community was in music. Lost Bayou Ramblers and Feufollet write and sing in Cajun French, and he found inspiration in Houma's Il Derniere, which used the language in its own music. Sweet Crude's music will be heavily but not solely in French, though. "We want to make the music relatable."
The Balfa Brothers inspired the Sweet Crude project in more ways than one. In addition to providing the song that convinced him and Marceaux that there was something musical to explore, but he hears a kindred spirit in their music. "In the '60s, the Balfa Brothers were creating a sound," Craft says. "You can hear a British Invasion skiffle in their music whether they knew it or not. That catalog planted a seed that a lot of groups have taken to the next level. Immediately after the twilight of the Balfa Brothers, BeauSoleil came in and completed their sentence. We're trying to be the next chapter of that."