When Steve LaFleur was growing up in Louisiana, Cajun wasn't cool.
During the 1960s and early '70s, the state looked at the French-accent Bayou natives as misfits. They didn't conform to the ideal of English-speaking Americans.
"It was uncool to speak French in the playgrounds, and the state of Louisiana put a big drive on in the schools to Americanize those Cajuns," said LaFleur, singer and guitar player with the Cajun-rock band Mamou. "Cajun music was always around me. I'd hear it at weddings. It was something I always liked, but it just wasn't cool to play."
Nevertheless, LaFleur and the three other members of Mamou found their way back to the rhythms of the peppy, folksy Cajun music, albeit with a heavy dose of rock music. They'll be playing Friday and Saturday in Lawrence at the Jazzhaus, 926 Mass.
IN A telephone interview from his home in Mamou, La., LaFleur said the band came together about five years ago. The current group includes fiddler and accordian player Jonno Frishberg, bassist Joe Fontenot and percussionist Kevin Sonnier. LaFleur said the band went through a number of changes, both in personnel and in style.
"We've been through three different lineups," LaFleur said. "When we started, we took some of the traditional Cajun waltzes and gave them a rock beat. Now we're taking some rock songs and giving them a Cajun beat."
LaFleur also has the band play a number of original songs, many dealing with growing up in the Mississippi Bayou.
"They're songs about living here; songs about things we see in Mamou," he said.
All the band members have played both in Cajun and in rock bands. LaFleur himself charged into the punk movement in the late 1970s.
"I've been playing in rock bands since I was a teen-ager," he said. "Rock was a cool thing to do; Cajun really wasn't a cool thing for the younger people."
Later on, he packed his bags and headed to New York to make it in the music scene there. Far from the Mississippi Delta, he said it dawned on him that Cajun could be cool after all.
"It wasn't until I got to New York that I came back to Cajun," he said. "I'd be playing in New Wave bands and people would come up to me and say I had an accent, they'd say `You're not Cajun, are you?' And I'd say yeah, and they'd think that was cool. So I started coming back to Cajun then."
NOW THE band follows an extensive touring schedule, primarily in the Midwest. They also recently released an album called "Mamou," now up for a re-release on MCA Records. They also played on the soundtrack of the coming film "Scorchers."
But their unusual sound makes them something of a novelty in the Louisiana music scene, he said.
"There are a lot of Cajun bands here, but they're mostly more traditional," he said. "The irony is we probably play more outside the area than around here. Most of the clubs want pretty traditional music, or they want new wave. We probably play more in St. Louis than in Lafayette."