‘Roots of Fire’ Offers an Expansive Look at Why Cajun Music Matters

Forrest Hartman



Roots of Fire

Directors: Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremy Lavoi

Availability: Now playing in select theaters

Critical rating: 3 stars out of 4


Cajun music may not have the following of more popular American genres, but it has an infectious, earthy sound capable of transporting even those who don’t understand the lyrics (most often in French) to a heightened emotional state. As storied musician Jourdan Thibodeaux is quick to note in the documentary Roots of Fire, the music is also deeply rooted in Acadian culture.  


In the film, Thibodeaux repeatedly states, “You’re either living your culture, or you’re killing your culture,” encouraging other Louisiana Cajuns to keep their traditions alive. This theme runs throughout Roots of Fire, a music documentary punctuated by outstanding outtakes from concerts but, ultimately, more interested in meditating on the difficulty keeping tradition alive in a nation that – increasingly – seems bent on homogeny.



America, thanks in large part to its economic strength, has an outsize voice in worldwide pop culture, making it easy for subcultures and aging traditions to get swept into its melting pot. Thibodeaux and others make a compelling case for preserving our individual cultures, and filmmakers Abby Berendt Lavoi (director/producer), husband Jeremy Lavoi (director/producer) and Stephen Thorpe (sound producer) foster the conversation with gorgeous cinematography and a soundtrack that is always sharp and compelling.


Roots of Fire will not make anyone an expert in Cajun music. Its mission is not to recount the history of the genre in painstaking detail, so anyone looking for that approach could be disappointed. That said, there are references to the history, all presented by a group of contemporary musicians who play traditional songs, but also drive the genre forward. In fact, the documentary has a wonderful section where Grammy nominee Kelli Jones (sometimes credited as K.C. Jones) says she isn’t interested in rehashing the past. Rather, she prefers to build on Cajun traditions, moving the music into the 21st century.



Anyone who has studied art and culture at even an elementary level understands that evolution is constant, and Jones and others demonstrate that – both sonically and intellectually – today’s Cajun music isn’t your grandpa’s … but it relies on the same root system, thus the film title.  Other musicians featured in Roots of Fire include Grammy-winning brothers Wilson and Joel Savoy and Grammy nominee Kristi Guillory. Each adds interesting thoughts to the cultural conversation -- as well as astonishing performance snippets that Thorpe captured with aplomb.


Clocking in at just 84 minutes, Roots of Fire is not the definitive film on Cajun music, nor do I believe it was meant to be. Rather, it’s an excellent entry point for anyone looking to learn more about the vibrant Cajun culture and the stunning music at its core.


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman is Highbrow Magazine’s chief film critic.


For Highbrow Magazine


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