Sunday, June 22, 2014

Louisiana: The Yankee Chank

Before I tell you what a "Yankee chank" is, I have to tell you what chank is, or more specifically, "chanky chank."

Chanky chank

Back in the day, chanky chank was a derogatory term used to describe Cajun/Creole (and early zydeco) music.  Go here for a thorough explanation in an article, From Chanky-Chank to Yankee Chanks: The Cajun Accordion as Identity Symbol, by Louisiana music ethnomusicologist, Dr. Mark DeWitt. The article is from the book, The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More! edited by Helena Simonette.

Dewey Balfa. Source: Smithsonian Folkways

Chanky chank gained some prestige when: 
In 1964 [Dewey] Balfa and his band were asked to perform as last-minute replacements at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, a premier event in the world of folk music and a top outdoor venue. Friends in Louisiana knew that he would be playing the old-fashioned Cajun music they called "chanky-chank," and suggested that the group would be laughed off the stage. Instead, Balfa received a standing ovation.

Source: Encylopedia

Yankee chank

I'd never heard of chanky chank until I attended the last in a series of discussions about how documentaries have portrayed Cajuns, beginning with The Louisiana StoryDr. Barry Ancelet, a folklorist, facilitated the series. Don't remember how we got on the subject, but we talked about how sometimes transplants to Acadiana are stern arbiters of the right way to dance Cajun or zydeco. (These are referred to generally as dance nazis, who are by no means exclusive to the Cajun and zydeco genres.)

Dr. Ancelet immediately said, "Yankee chanks."

I love this.

Yankee chank refers to people from outside southern Louisiana who play the Cajun and zydeco music, especially accordions. Meant somewhat derisively at first, perhaps, it looks like at least some of the targets of this label have now embraced it with pride. Also, I should note that at the Saturday Cajun jam at Vermilionville, the emcee always introduces and expresses appreciation for visiting musicians from outside Louisiana.

Source: Yankee Chank

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