Surviving Switzerland

an expat's experiences navigating the land of mountains, cheese and chocolate

Give that banjo to the Acadian

on June 4, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew I was going to hear some great music at the Francomania Festival my husband and I went to. Nothing surprising about that—The Plaza Francia was the feature group that evening, and is comprised of two former members of The Gotan Project (Argentinean tango melodies set to pulsing electronic rhythms) and French singer Catherine Ringer, a legend in French music. So I was expecting a sensual journey through Latin America, full of dazzling colors and whipped up French passion, and probably some shadowed alleys were lovers cross and tempers flare. I was not disappointed.

But first, I went somewhere else. I went with my husband to the side stage, where three young women from Canada were singing and playing a guitar, a ukulele and a banjo. The group was Les Hay Babies, and I found myself stomping my feet and clapping my hands above my head to the music. For the most part the lyrics were in dialect which is a shameless mish-mash of French, Canadian patois and a smattering of English, either pronounced in English or à la français.

The last time I had this much fun was on Bourbon Street in New Orleans—it’s not what you think. My husband and I had found one of the many bars that offered live music, and this particular one had a Cajun group strumming and pounding away on various instruments and occasionally inviting audience members to fill in on the rhythm section with a tin washboard and pair of spoons. Feet stomping worthy.

Les Hay Babies said (if I understood their French through their heavy Canadian accents, odd dialect and the noisy crowd) that they were Acadians, descendants of the original French settlers in northeastern Canada. Side note about Acadians—these are the same groups of people that were forced from their land and went south to Louisiana to populate the bayous and rivers, later becoming known as Cajuns.

Side note about the side stage bar—I ordered a Canadian whiskey in honor of the band, and the server asked me if I wanted to fill it up with Coke. Coke and whiskey, what? So I asked for just a little bit of water instead, and she finally gave me what seemed to be about a tablespoon of whiskey with four ice cubes and a half a cup of bubbly water and charged me about $8. Ah, Switzerland.

The question I hear the most often when someone finds out I’m an American living in Switzerland is, “Don’t you miss home?” I usually answer that what I miss the most is the people, but not so much the place. But in a way, the people are the home, they are the place.

One of Les Hay Babies’ songs stood out for me in particular. Néguac and Back is a song about taking that long drive home, but that the singers do it less and less because the old hometown has less and less to offer. The Acadian regions and culture are slowly drying up and the youth are moving to the cities, where life is just more interesting. Living in one place, but yearning for another.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Switzerland is more interesting than Missouri, where I grew up, nor would I say Missouri has less and less to offer. Au contraire; the whole Midwest has amazing cultural sites, scenery (maybe not as amazing as Switzerland, let’s be honest), food, sports, events, you name it. It’s just a long drive, so to speak, to get there. I am torn in two. I am homesick today—wishing it wasn’t such a long, long way to get back to windswept plains, rolling hills, wide rivers and the soil where banjos and guitars are played with abandon and accompanied by an audience who clap their hands and shout out loud. I miss the place and I miss the people, just as I am always missing them, even when I’m glad to be living here.

The second album by Les Hay Babies, the aptly named Mon Homesick Heart, has its first clip out. Now, if you are in the mood for some traveling, I put the video to Fil de Téléphone (telephone wires and long distance relationship blues) here below.  Then, if you haven’t got enough, go the Plaza Francia website (http://www.plazafrancia.tv/) and watch their video, too, for an old fashioned, New-World voyage through a guitar, ukulele, banjo strumming indie-folk girl band and then a tango, sultry vocals, electro, French, Swiss and Argentinean ensemble.

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4 responses to “Give that banjo to the Acadian

  1. Allison says:

    Great article! We are very proud of Les Hay Babies. I was one of Vivianne’s high school teachers. They love playing in Switzerland, and I hope to visit this magical country someday.

    • They can come back whenever they want–I will go and have a great time! I’ll even take the whole family this time. My kids were singing along with Chu pas une femme à marier, and laughing every time at the word ‘worrier.’ Oh, and you should definitely visit Switzerland, too.

      • Allison Alcorn says:

        Haha! Yeah we definitely have a unique way of speaking around here… a mix of French and English. One of the teachers from my school has a daughter living in Switzerland so I hope to visit her someday soon! Keep in touch!

        Allison Alcorn

      • Feel free to ‘stop by’ the blog whenever you want, or to sign up for posts. I’ll be working in some travel destination stuff (castles, cities, gorgeous countrysides and hiking), especially this summer when my parents come to visit from the States. Might give you some incentive to come sooner!

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