The US state of Louisiana is indicative of the nation’s “melting pot” concept, which dictates that people from cultures around the world have come together to form one nation. In Louisiana, today’s residents have French, Spanish, Native American, Cajun, Creole, Italian, and Irish backgrounds just to name a few ethnic and cultural histories. Among the dominant cultures, you’ll find in this state are the Cajun people who came to south Louisiana in the 1700s as Acadians fleeing persecution in Canada. Creole people in the state trace their roots to intermarriage between many of the aforementioned cultures, creating something distinctly Louisianan in the process.
With so many cultures in the state, and so many people in southern Louisiana coming from Cajun and Creole backgrounds, it’s inevitable that these two cultures would come together as people find love that crosses cultural boundaries. Chantelle and Horace Trahan are one such couple who bring together Cajun and Creole roots in one household while spending their days working together. How does this family make it all work so seamlessly?
A Blended Family, in More Ways than One
The term blended family in the United States is typically used to refer to parents who come into a marriage with children from other relationships. Both Chantelle, who is Creole, and Horace, who is Cajun, brought children from other relationships into their marriage when the pair met more than 15 years ago. Chantelle brought her now 14-year-old daughter Leah into her marriage with Horace, while he brought his now 12-year-old son Canaan into the relationship. It was the perfect pairing for this duo, as Chantelle notes:
“We just never were married to their parents, and we have the perfect family because I always wanted a boy. Having just one biological child, a daughter and so Canaan came along, and he’s my boy, and Horace always wanted a girl. So, Leah is there.”
Chantelle and Horace work together as parents at home, but also in their professional lives. Chantelle is a former US Air Force Medical Services Specialist and radio personality in Shreveport, Louisiana. In their new life together though, Chantelle and Horace spend their days operating Cajun Creole Lawn Service which they launched three years ago. In their “free time,” the couple entertain people throughout Louisiana and around the globe with Horace Trahan & the Ossun Express.
Starting a Band
As Chantelle would describe him, Horace is a man of few words but with lots of wisdom. In the 1990s, he started writing and performing his own music. Since 2010, Chantelle has been managing the band Horace Trahan & the Ossun Express. Cajun and Creole are brought together in the music of the group, not just because Chantelle and Horace come from different backgrounds, but so too do the members of the band. As Horace puts it, the members of his band come from varied backgrounds and include:
“On bass guitar, we have James Prejean from Lafayette. On the scrub board and the vocals, my father-in-law, Rodney Bernard. On the drums and the vocals from Austin, my brother-in-law Shane Bernard. On the saxophone, flute, harmonica, and the vocals, from Vatican, Mr. Doug Garb. And on the guitar and the vocals from Opelousas, Louisiana, guitar Gabriel Jr., or Gabriel Perrodin Jr., Better known as Pandy. And together we all make up the Ossun Express. We come from different musical backgrounds. Zydeco, swamp pop, Cajun, Creole, rock, different and we all come together, and that’s what makes the Ossun Express.”
In a quirky twist, Horace comes from a background that doesn’t include much in the way of musical influence, but as you can see from the quote above, Chantelle’s father is a member of the Ossun Express and introduced her to music at a young age. While Chantelle grew up listening to her father perform R&B, swamp pop, and Zydeco, Horace came to music through the records his grandfather would listen to:
“My grandpa did listen to them old time records. The old traditional Cajun French music, and when I was young I didn’t really want to hear that too much. But when Wayne Toups came out, and he was rocking with it, I said, “Cool.” That’s whenever I kept after my daddy, “I want to learn how to play the accordion.” At first, he didn’t want me to, so he said after awhile, he said, “Let’s go see Felix.” And that’s when I fell in love with the old-time music, but I still had all kinds of other music in my head. When I first heard Wayne Toups on that accordion, that made me want to play the accordion.”
Horace picked up the accordion at the age of 15 with the help of a cousin who taught him how to play. For those unfamiliar with the accordion, there are few teenagers who would pick up such an instrument and feel comfortable doing so in front of friends. Because of the kind of person that Horace is though, he wasn’t going to let that bother him.
Blending Cajun and Creole, and Keeping Traditions Alive
Chantelle not only describes her husband as a man of few words but also as a wise man. She refers to him as an “old head.” Through his music, you can hear the very roots of Creole and Cajun culture. Who you are on the outside isn’t as important in these cultures as the type of person you are on the inside. Do you judge others or just love your fellow man? In fact, Chantelle draws comparisons between Horace’s first written song and his views on life:
“I always call him an old head. Feels like he’s been here before and he likes peace. He doesn’t see colour, so the song Keep Walking, the title track of the album, I feel that he’s speaking to people through his music. Keep walking, don’t let them push you down. So, I feel that’s how he really feels in his heart. That he just wants people to see the bigger side. No judging each other, just taking care of one another. We’re all in the same ship and so is his music … Horace’s music, is universal. It speaks a universal language.”
The music from Horace Trahan & the Ossun Express strives to keep Creole and Cajun culture alive and brimming with positivity. His music, he admits, is highly influenced by Cajun and Zydeco, with influences of Creole tunes as well. He plays the accordion because he fell in love with a sound and an instrument uniquely Cajun. It isn’t just the music though that the family uses to keep these cultures alive.
Horace grew up in the Lafayette, Louisiana area. His grandfather spoke French, a language once dominant in Louisiana but now fading out. In fact, his grandfather spoke only French, knew no English, and would send him home if he didn’t speak French in his home. Even the family dog only understood grandpa’s French with no comprehension of commands in English. Chantelle and Horace are keeping these Creole and Cajun roots in the French language alive. Leah and Canaan attend a French Immersion school, and as Horace admits, they have mastered French better than even he.
Today, Chantelle and Horace write songs together for the band. Chantelle manages the band’s tour schedule, which in recent years ranged from Lafayette Parish, New Orleans, and Lake Charles near home to as far away as France and Belgium in the coming months. This couple is on the same page to such a degree that they would offer the same advice to their children and future generations:
Horace ~ “Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged, because if you put something out and it looks like it’s not doing nothing, don’t believe that. Don’t get discouraged. Keep going. You’re writing music, you’re putting music out. Just keep on, keep on, keep on. It takes … You’ve got to keep going. Longevity. Just keep pushing. Don’t give up.”
Chantelle ~ “Do what you love. Work hard at it because there’s only one you and there’s no one else that can do what you do but you and no one can do it like you. So, just be true to yourself. Never give up, never give in and the golden rule in that journey, do unto others as you’d have done unto yourself.”