"Petits Sans Mamans, Petits Sans Papas"
Mainstays of Grammy-nominated Cajun music group Magnolia Sisters, Ann Savoy and Jane Vidrine have been performing together for nearly 40 years. Fais Do Do: Louisiana Lullabies is their latest release—a songbook/CD issued under their names, and a sequel of sorts to the Magnolia Sisters’ 2005 children’s CD Lapin, Lapin: Historic CHildrens’ Songs of Louisiana.
“‘Lapin, Lapin’ means ‘rabbit, rabbit,’ and is my eldest daughter Sarah’s favorite record,” says Savoy, whose daughter grew up to be a Cajun musician and cookbook author, while her sons Joel and Wilson are top Cajun musicians who appear on Fais Do Do, and younger daughter Gabrielle is an artist/photographer who contributed to the new album’s graphics.
Ann Savoy, of course, is also the wife of legendary Cajun accordionist/manufacturer Marc Savoy, and herself a renowned Cajun musician—not to mention historian and author of the acclaimed Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People.
“We quietly did Lapin, Lapin, which had happy, peppy stuff and included games and coloring,” continues Savoy. “But it required a big research project of authentic and historic traditional Louisiana Cajun songs for children. We received a grant from the state and created a huge archive, out of which came Lapin, Lapin—and the lullabies that became Fais Do Do.”
The new album, which takes its name from a traditional Cajun dance party, is strictly a Savoy/Vidrine project.
“We were going to do a lullaby record at the time of the first one and just got busy doing other stuff—and everything takes forever!” says Savoy. “Jane’s daughter is having a baby, so she said, ‘Let’s complete the project,’ and now Sarah’s having a baby, so we’ll be ready for both babies.”
The 18-song Fais Do Do: Louisiana Lullabies CD comes in an 8½-inch square 28-page booklet with French lyrics and English translations, music transcriptions and guitar chords, and photos.
“I designed the package, and Jane transcribed the music,” says Savoy. “I also hand-tinted the photos: Some are historical and a lot of them are family. Gabi tinted the last one of the two girls at a tea table—my mother and aunt. It was quite a labor of love.”
As for the songs, Savoy notes that some come from the famed Alan Lomax Collection of folk music, some from recordings made by pioneering south Louisiana folklorist Catherine Brookshire Blanchet.
She singles out a “particularly strange and beautiful song” in “Petits Sans Maman, Petit Sans Papa” (“Little Ones Without Fathers, Little Ones Without Mothers”).
“It comes from an old poem written by an anonymous Creole slave about children who live in the woods, don’t have parents, and what they do to live: ‘We run in the woods and and gather wild berries...catch birds...fish for perch.’ Little children wild in the woods! We found it in a hundred-year-old article about Creole slave songs, and it had an amazing vocabulary—but no music, so we used two traditional Creole melodies.”
“Petits Sans Maman, Petit Sans Papa,” along with “Je M’endors” (“I’m Sleepy”) were originally recorded for a previously released Je M’endors: Cajun and Creole Lullabies album compilation.
“They came out so well that we got permission to put them on our album, then used the same format in having cello on a lot of the songs—since it’s the most beautiful instrument in the world,” says Savoy.
South Louisiana singer-songwriter-guitarist-cellist-bandleader Caleb Elliott and Baton Rouge Symphony principle cellist Molly Goforth play cello on Fais Do Do. Vidrine plays lead guitar, Savoy plays backup guitar, and Lee Tedrow plays slide guitar, with Joel Savoy on violin, mandolin and banjo, and Wilson Savoy on piano.
“‘Fais do do’ is mentioned in almost every song,” Savoy says, adding that the phrase also means “go to sleep.”
“There would be a ‘cry room’ at the old dances, and they’d put their babies there and they would to go to sleep. So you could go to a dance and have the children sleeping in the next room.”
Fais Do Do: Louisiana Lullabies, then, “is about sound,” says Savoy. “Put it on in your babies’ room and walk away and they’ll fall asleep. It’s very gentle, with no hard edges to it. It’s not a party record—and the size is just right for children’s hands!”
The CD/booklet set is a release on Joel Savoy’s Valcour Records and is available at the company’s website as well as the Magnolia Sisters’ site.
Meanwhile, Savoy is putting the finishing touches on a solo album.