Kevin Naquin interview

By Bill Chaisson
Courtesy of Hibernian Weather Channel Productions

In the 19th century a burger living in a provincial city of, say, Bohemia, would have known through the newspapers and through gossip in the music-appreciating community about the enormous talent of Franz Liszt, but he would quite likely have never heard the master actually play. Even in this age of recorded media I find myself, in advance of Kevin Naquin's first appearance in Ithaca, in a position similar to that of a 19th century Bohemian; I have never heard him play, but his reputation proceeds him. And, as we say in the 21st century: the guy is hot.

Kevin Naquin learned to play the accordion at 14, which is somewhat late to pick up a music instrument. But he apparently had innate talent; two years later he put together the first incarnation of his band, the Ossun Playboys, and began to play out around Lafayette, LA, where he lives. Music is apparently in the blood. Naquin is the great-grandson of Hadley Fontenot, the accordionist on the first Balfa Brothers album. His great-grandfather on his father's side was a ballad singer, who accompanied himself on fiddle. He has always been surrounded by Cajun music; even his babysitter played a mean accordion.

Naquin grew up in a French-speaking household, but it was singing the Cajun ballads on stage that has made him focus on becoming fluent in his ancestral language. He is aware that some younger Cajun singers have little or no French and sing the songs phonetically, which makes it difficult to project the meaning. Both he and his wife are working on their French so that they can pass it on to their children.

Maintenance of the Cajun culture is important to Naquin. He and the other members of the band all have other jobs (Naquin is a salesman for the Insurance Australia Group) and the Ossun Playboys are essentially a vehicle for spreading the good word about things Cajun rather than a livelihood that they depend on. Naquin feels that this arrangement allows him to hew more closely to the tradition. When asked if he ever feels drawn to integrate more pop or rock elements into his music, his answer is a emphatic, but polite, "No. Iíve watched other people, like Steve Riley, do it, and that's shown me that you just donít have to do it. Just when you're hot and the crowded is all heated up, you do a rock or pop thing and you lose them." He hastens to add that he has nothing against cross-over music, but he simply doesn't feel the need to "chase audiences", because he's not playing music for a living.

The current line-up of the Ossun Playboys has been together for about two years, since earlier bass and guitar players were replaced by Chevy and Wyatt Foreman. Drummer Dwayne Lavergne and fiddler Louis Dronet have been playing with Naquin for six years now. In 2000 and 2002 the Ossun Playboys swept the Cajun French Music Association awards, walking away with "Band of the Year", "Album of the Year", and "Accordionist of the Year". Dronet was nominated to the "Fiddler of the Year" category in both years. In 2000 Naquin was only 21 years old.

The presence of the electric guitar, bass and drums distinguishes the Ossun Playboys music from that of earlier generations of Cajun players. Naquin asserts that for him "Itís all about dancing" and he plays in a honky-tonk style that shares more with Walter Mouton than with the Balfa Brothers. Although he avoids rock elements in the strict sense, he admits that his music is "more aggressive" than the music of his grandparents' generation. He says that people are delighted to find out that they can do either zydeco or Cajun steps to the his music, which he says "has a 'zyde-Cajun' feel thatís hard to describe".

Last week the Ossun Playboys released their fifth CD, Never Satisfied, while they were on tour in Colorado. It includes five of their own compositions in addition to traditional tunes. Naquin says that it has been well reviewed so far, but, as I said, I haven't heard it yet. You probably haven't either. So, like the 19th century Bohemians, I guess we'll have to hear him when we see him. I bet Liszt would have loved to have been able to sell CDs at his shows.


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