Bayou Seco

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Ken Kep­peler and Jeanie McLerie — bet­ter known as the band Bayou Seco — once played “La Mar­cha,” the tra­di­tional New Mex­ico wed­ding dance, at a wed­ding in China. They have also played the song at gigs in France and the United King­dom, where mu­si­cians who play tra­di­tional mu­sic are of­ten ea­ger to add the tune, along with other songs from New Mex­ico, to their reper­toire. The cou­ple have made it their mis­sion to pre­serve New Mex­ico’s tra­di­tional mu­sic — not just by record­ing it, but by learn­ing it, teach­ing it, and sup­port­ing and pro­mot­ing the old­timers who con­tinue to play the waltzes, cor­ri­dos, rancheras, polkas, and hua­pan­gos they heard as chil­dren. Among the many lo­cal le­gends with whom Bayou Seco has played, and who are among their close friends, are An­to­nia Apo­daca, Al­fredo Vigil, and Cle­ofes Or­tiz, all fix­tures of the norteño mu­sic scene.

Kep­peler plays fid­dle, gui­tar, ac­cor­dion, banjo, and har­mon­ica, and is also a vi­olin maker. McLerie plays the fid­dle and gui­tar. (She has given fid­dle les­sons to chil­dren for 30 years, fo­cus­ing on an eclec­tic ar­ray of fid­dle styles and mu­si­cal sources.) They both sing. McLerie lived in Paris in the 1960s and played mu­sic with her then-part­ner, Sandy Dar­ling­ton. Kep­peler served in Viet­nam and got in­volved in the anti-war move­ment be­fore head­ing to Ger­many, where he earned enough play­ing in a string band to spend 1977 hitch­hik­ing around the United States, pick­ing up new fid­dle skills and mak­ing friends. He met McLerie in Louisiana in 1978, and the two al­most im­me­di­ately be­gan play­ing mu­sic to­gether. They came to New Mex­ico in 1980 for McLerie’s health — she has asthma — and lived in Albuquerque un­til 1996, when they moved to Sil­ver City.

Bayou Seco per­forms at fes­ti­vals, schools, farm­ers mar­kets, mu­se­ums, wed­dings, and other venues. The mu­si­cians have com­bined their love for the Ca­jun mu­sic they played in Louisiana with tra­di­tional South­west­ern mu­sic, a hy­brid they call “chi­legumbo.” Their stage pres­ence is open and joy­ful. Buskers at heart, they per­form ev­ery song as if their din­ner that night de­pends on in­spir­ing enough passersby to toss cash into their in­stru­ment cases. They bring the same en­thu­si­asm to “catch­ing” songs, as the prac­tice of learn­ing and pre­serv­ing tra­di­tional mu­sic is of­ten called, in their work in ru­ral New Mex­ico as well as their cur­rent projects at the To­hono O’Od­ham Na­tion in south­west­ern Ari­zona. Bayou Seco trav­els there reg­u­larly to per­form dance and wed­ding mu­sic, which the duo learned from the peo­ple of the Gu Achi district of the reser­va­tion.

“Sim­ply put, no­body else in the his­tory of our great state has done so much for the mu­sic and got­ten so lit­tle per­sonal gain,” said Rus Brad­burd of New Mex­ico State Univer­sity. “In a world over­run with smart phones, iPads, iTunes, and tech­nol­ogy gone wild, Kep­peler and McLerie have pushed in the other di­rec­tion. To them, the old­est magic is the best kind — the mu­sic that gets you danc­ing, the love of tra­di­tion, the re­spect for roots and older peo­ple.” — Jen­nifer Levin

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