Can This Cajun-Punk Musician Protect His Culture From Climate Change?

Cajun-Punk musician Louis Michot is on a mission to protect his culture from climate change.

Climate Change, Climate Crisis

9/19/2021 11:57:00 PM

Cajun-Punk musician Louis Michot is on a mission to protect his culture from climate change .

Louis Michot on the mutual aid efforts after Hurricane Ida , his plans to distribute solar power, and why some people would rather die than move away

made landfall in Louisiana as Lost Bayou Ramblers played their first big show after an 18-month pandemic hiatus. For the past two weeks, Louis and Andre have been organizing mutual-aid missions, filling their tour van with emergency supplies to bring to musicians and others who live in the little fishing villages along the Louisiana coast that people there refer to, collectively, as “down the bayou.” In Lafourche Parish alone, the storm left 14,000 people homeless, and across the state more than 167,000 homes remained without electricity late last week.

This week, Tropical Storm Nicholas is forecast to drop as much as 10 inches of rain on those same communities. Michot’s next plan, in the works now, is to equip old houses that survived the storm with solar panels and batteries.I talked with him recently about his mutual aid efforts, whether the culture down the bayou can change with the climate, and why some people would rather die than move away. As we spoke, via Zoom, he sipped on a glass of cherry bounce, made with cherries he harvested from the native

merisetrees behind his house. He was sitting in the houseboat, docked in his yard, that serves as his studio. If a flood comes, he told me, his family could float to safety.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.Did Ida come to Arnaudville?

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No. But I was scared. The day before the storm came, we had our first fly-out gig since Covid started. I drove myself to Houston, flew to the gig in Denver, left at 3 in the morning, and I got back home for noon. I didn’t want to leave my family alone if the hurricane hit. But luckily – for me – Ida veered east.

What was the impetus for you to start doing mutual aid?When I got back from Denver, I was seeing all these people on Twitter like, “I’m in LaPlace, we’re on the roof, I can’t find my grandma, here’s my address.” Posting addresses on Twitter — I’m getting chills just thinking about it. I wanted to go help out.

Meanwhile, I called A. J. Rodrigue, he is a DJ who goes by Boudin Man, lives in downtown Houma. His dad started Houma Records and produced 45. [rpm] records out of their living room; he spent the category 4 storm in the same house, and he just had a quadruple bypass two months ago. He said, “I’m all right, I just need a tarp on my roof.”

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Then I talked to my buddy Roland Cheramie, an accordion player in [the town of] Golden Meadow. We met Roland years ago playing in this little bar down the bayou that was half a bait store with fishing tackle on the stage. They call it “La Butte des Couquilles.” Roland’s just been a super inspirational person over the years because he speaks beautiful French and he has all these awesome stories, including stories of Hank Williams. In the song “Jambalaya,” when Hank Williams sings, “my Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh, my oh, son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou” – Yvonne was Roland’s great aunt. I called him, and he was like, “Well, a tree fell through my house, and my mama’s house is completely gone.”

So here I am, a musician who’s been out of work mostly, pulling every diverse skill, trade, job, record label and everything I have together to make it for the last 20 months. My brother Andre has been building accordions to get by. We don’t have much to give financially, but we have time and skills. It just hit me, and I did it right then: I posted on social media with my record label, Nouveau Electric, I said, I’m going to mobilize, going to help some people out, here’s my Venmo if you want to donate. And within the first few hours I had $3,000. By the time 24 hours rolled around, we had $10,000.

Then I called some friends and we went to every store up here and got everything we could. Within 36 hours of starting the fundraiser, we were on site in Houma with four trucks and trailers.Louis MichotJoseph VidrineWhat kind of stuff did you bring?We filled every gas can we could find. I brought stacks of 2x4s. I got a bunch of tarps. We had rolls of roof rap, nails, screws, paper towels, water, diapers, tampons, band-aids, acetaminophen. I mean, people need basic things. My friend Brandon, he goes by B-Boy, has a barbecue business – Brandon’s Backyard Barbecue. He came too and brought pork steaks and boudin and rabbit bacon, which is one of his specialties. It’s actually a bacon-wrapped carrot. We went straight to AJ’s house in downtown Houma, started tarping his roof, while B-Boy lit the pit.

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The first lady that pulled up, she asked, “What are y’all doing?” And I said, “What do you need? Do you need some water? Do you need some gas?” And she just started crying. She said, “I’m trying to take care of my mama, and she can’t eat canned food because of the salt and her legs will swell up, and we need water,” and she just started crying. We loaded her up, gave her some gas, gave her some barbecue. It just went on like that all day.

And this whole time I have people messaging me, texting me, from all walks of life. All day and night. A guy texted me, “I have 190 gallons of gas. I’m driving down from Arkansas, where can I go?” I said, “Go to LaPlace.” I just sent $1,000 to a person on Instagram who was organizing a similar mutual aid team in LaPlace. All this communicating, sending money to people I’ve never met.

How did you feel being down there?I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a little bit nervous because, for one, Covid. It’s probably some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country in south Louisiana. For two, power lines. Definitely I felt anxious, but also excited and given a purpose, because I can’t do my normal purpose, which is music.

Why do you think that comparatively so few people in Louisiana are getting vaccinated?We are a very conservative state that has always put our faith into oil and gas. Oil and gas is how so many of our people went from poor Cajuns and Creoles to wealthy Americans. If we were to accept that science is correct and vaccines work, we would also have to accept that

climate changeis real. And we would have to move away from oil and gas. I think it’s totally connected. We can’t go all in on believing in science, because then we would have to rearrange our whole thinking.But don’t people down the bayou know better than anybody that seas are rising and the storms are coming more often?

They also know more than anybody how oil and gas has fueled their economy.Of course, everyone knows by now that yes, oil and gas are the ones that carved up our beautiful wetlands, and are contributing to climate change, and have polluted the air and the water, and all that. But still, it’s like, do you want to make a dollar today or — there’s no alternative. There’s no like, “Look, come work installing solar.”

Solar energy has become central to your vision. How did that happen?The day after we got back from Houma, I was talking to Monique Verdin, who is an Indigenous Houma artist from down the road in St. Bernard Parish. She works withAnother Gulf is Possible

, and we were talking about hurricane relief. She said, “If we’re not getting solar panels and batteries to these people, especially the Indigenous tribal communities, then what are we doing? We can band-aid it, but it’s going to come right off, and happen again.”

I thought, that is exactly right. Because here we are – you have this funny feeling, I’m filling people’s cars with gas! So I thought wow, let me see if I can put CRIA on that.What is CRIA?Cultural Research Institute of Acadiana. I founded it to start a seed bank to save seeds that people had been keeping in their families for multiple generations. A lot of times people didn’t have anyone who was interested in keeping the seeds going, but it’s so tied to our history: the okra,

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