PORT ALLEN, LA (WAFB) - The Cajun accordion, with its lively wail, is a sound that is as uniquely Louisiana as sausage jambalaya or seafood gumbo and for one Port Allen family, the love affair with that sound began in, of all places, the northern slope of an Alaskan oil field.
It was more than 20 years ago, on his first trip away from his home in Eunice, LA, that Jesse Brown first learned that not everyone spoke French or listened to Cajun musicians like Wayne Toups and Steve Riley. Growing up in the heart of Cajun country, Brown said he took it for granted.
"I have precious memories of being a 4- or 5-year-old kid sitting on the porch, eating ice cream and my paw-paw playing on his Sidney Brown accordion," Brown said. "Playing these old waltzes or lively Cajun two-steps."
It would be almost 15 years before a young Brown would realize how much those songs meant to him. As an 18-year-old working in Alaska's booming oil industry, Brown vowed to learn to play. After all, the accordion is more than tradition; it is in his blood. Brown's great-great uncle, Sidney Brown, was a cabinet builder and accordion player. He was also the first Louisianian to build an accordion. Before that, the uniquely Cajun sound had to be imported…from Germany.
As World War II raged in Europe, it became almost impossible to get accordion parts, much less entire accordions from Germany. One day, a curious Sidney dismantled his own accordion while trying to repair it. The word soon spread that Sidney could repair broken squeeze boxes and eventually, he began building them from scratch. Today, Jesse carries on Sidney's tradition, crafting custom accordions in a small Cajun Cabin behind his home. He calls them Choupique Accordions.
"It's the worst fish that you could ever imagine, the choupique," Brown added.
Unlike its muddy-tasting namesake, a Choupique Accordion is a thing of beauty - from the box to the buttons to the 96 reeds mounted in every instrument, all built by hand. It's a labor intensive process that can take up to 200 man-hours - cutting, sanding, gluing and tuning. But, no Choupique is ready for delivery until Jesse plays it with his family.
You may think this is about keeping the Brown family heritage alive, but Jesse sees it differently.
"This is great music. This is the greatest music that I could ever play," he explained.
And, why not? That chanky-chank sound runs in his blood.
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