Following in the footsteps of Cajun innovator Dewey Balfa, the Balfa Toujours have toured tirelessly to preserve Cajun music and traditions. Fronted by Dewey Balfa's daughter, Christine, the Balfa Toujours—meaning Balfa forever—celebrate the Cajun heritage founded by French immigrants in an area of Louisiana known as Acadia. The group's distinctive sound rests on a combination of fiddle and accordion, creating a lively musical brew decorated with French lyrics, and a rhythmic drive perfectly suited for dancing. "Beyond their technical skills as musicians," wrote Cajun Life and Times, "the members of Balfa Toujours succeed in conveying the spirit of the music played by Dewey and his brothers, giving voice to the deep emotions of happiness and sorrow that contribute to Cajun music's universal appeal."
Christine Balfa formed the Balfa Toujours in 1992, following the death of Dewey Balfa. "Whenever you go through a loss like that," she told Michal Shapiro in Roots World, "you have to deal with it in some way. Luckily we had the music to help us." Vocalist Christine Balfa was joined by several other talented players who rounded out the band's lineup. Balfa's husband, Dirk Powell, learned to play the accordion during road trips between Maryland and Louisiana when he was dating her. During the trips, he would balance the car's steering wheel with his knees as he practiced. Kevin Wimmer was born in New York City and had trained as a classical violinist, but after attending a fiddle workshop directed by Dewey Balfa at the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College, he traveled to the teacher's home to learn Cajun fiddle first-hand. Bassist Courtney Granger was Dewey Balfa's nephew, and the youngest member of the group. The group has also been supplemented at various times by Nelda Balfa, Mike Chapman, Tony Balfa, and Peter Schwarz.
In 1993 the new band recorded its first album for Swallow, Pop, Tu Me Parles Toujours. "Pop, Tu Me Parles Toujours," wrote Dan Willging in Off Beat, "was a glorious expression of the foursome's sentiment towards their father, mentor and friend." The album, however, had never been planned as the group's debut. "It wasn't necessarily that we knew this was a first record of a band," Powell told Willging. "It was more a project specifically in the memory of Dewey." The Balfa Toujours followed two years later with A Vielle Terre Haute. "The quality of the musicianship is uniform," noted Jared Snyder of the album in Music Hound Folk, "and Christine Balfa has matured into a strong passionate singer." In A Vielle Terre Haute the band expanded on its traditional sound by adding drummer Mike Chapman.
The Balfa Toujours began recording a series of albums for Rounder Records in 1996. The first, Deux Voyages, was produced by singer-musician Tim O'Brien. The Balfa Toujours also enjoyed playing with other performers, and in 1999 they joined Boi Sec Ardoin on Allons Banser. "For those who love the music of Louisiana—indeed, for anyone who loves good-time music," wrote Karl W. Nehring in Sensible Sound, "this recording is a treasure." The band also busied itself with an extensive tour in 1998, performing at a number of festivals and participating in a tribute to musicologist Harry Smith.
In 2000 the Balfa Toujours recorded Live at Whiskey River Landing for Rounder Records. "If you have never encountered Cajun music before," noted Nehring, "Live at Whiskey River Landing would be a great place to start." The album also cemented the Balfa Toujours' reputation as live performers. "Balfa Toujours … did an excellent job of providing some cross-cultural communication by bringing hot Cajun music and an informative, warm, and funny stage show to Cedar Rapids," noted Steve Horowitz of one show in Pop Matters. Wherever they travel, though, the Balfa Toujours continue to feel a special connection to performing in Acadia, the heart of Cajun culture. "Festivals Acadiens has always been very special for us because Dewey's presence is so strong there," Wimmer told Willging. "At Festivals Acadiens, we have always brought out the best in audiences. There is something about the feeling we have playing there, which has to do with being Dewey's festival and falling in that tradition."
While steeped in tradition, the Balfa Toujours have no intention of repeating the past. "Like a number of other contemporary Cajun bands," wrote David Goodman in Modern Twang, "they pay respects to the traditional music of the Balfa Brothers while incorporating the sounds that reflect the experiences of a new generation of Cajun music lovers." In an attempt to keep the repertoire fresh, the Balfa Toujours have mixed both classic and new songs. "You've got to honor the past, but if you try to re-create it, it's a lost cause," Christine Balfa told Jim McGuinness in the Record. "We write our own songs and try to update the music in a way that's natural. The main thing is that it's soulful." She likewise emphasized the importance of interpreting the music for one's own generation. "I think it's important for each generation to add their own voice," she told Shapiro, also noting that without change, future generations might be puzzled by the band's approach, and ask why they weren't singing "about things that happed in their time."
For the Record …
Members include Christine Balfa , vocals, rhythm guitar; Courtney Granger , bass; Dirk Powell , accordion, fiddle; Kevin Wimmer , fiddle.
Group formed in Basile, LA, 1992; released Pop, Tu Me Parles Toujours, 1993; released A Vielle Terre Haute, 1995; signed to Rounder Records and released Deux Voyages, 1996; recorded Allons Danser with Alphonse Ardoin, 1998; toured United States and released La Pointe, 1998; released Live at Whiskey River Landing, 2000.
Addresses: Record company—Rounder Records, One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140, phone: (617) 354-4840, website: http://www.rounder.com.
An essential element of the Balfa Toujours is the group's dedication not only to Cajun music and culture, but to the preservation of regional cultures throughout the United States. Speaking of Dewey Balfa, Dirk Powell told McGuinness, "He wasn't just about promoting Cajun culture. He was about inspiring people to look into their past, explore their roots, and honor their ancestors." Within that spirit, the Balfa Toujours continue to do their part to carry on the musical linage of Dewey Balfa. "Every time I hear the sound of a lonesome fiddle," Christine Balfa told Terry Reilly in the Courier-Mail, "I feel my father's presence and through playing the music, I hear his voice a lot." Like the Balfa brothers, the Balfa Toujours are musical ambassadors, carrying both Louisiana and family traditions throughout the United States as well as to other countries. "In their own material," wrote Shapiro, "and in their collaborations with Geno Delafose and Bois-Sec Ardoin, Balfa Toujours are promoting respect, appreciation, and unity through music. Dewey would approve."
Pop, Tu Me Parles Tourjours, Swallow, 1993.
A Vielle Terre Haute, Swallow, 1995.
Deux Voyages, Rounder, 1996.
La Pointe, Rounder, 1998.
Live at Whiskey River Landing, Rounder, 2000.
Goodman, David, Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide and Directory, Dowling Press, 1999.
Waters, Neil, editor, Music Hound Folk, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Courier-Mail (Queensland, Australia), October 28, 2000.
Record, September 29, 2000, p. 12.
Sensible Sound, April 1999, p. 78; April 2001, p. 50.
"Always: Cajun Music with Balfa Toujours," Off Beat,http://www.offbeat.com/ (March 22, 2005).
"Balfa Toujours," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (March 22, 2005).
"Balfa Toujours," Cajun Life and Times,http://www.cajunlifeandtimes.com/ (March 22, 2005).
"Balfa Toujours," Pop Matters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (March 22, 2005).
"Balfa Toujours," Roots World,http://www.rootsworld.com/ (March 22, 2005).
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