Swathed in the romance of pirates, voodoo and Mardi Gras, LOUISIANA is undeniably special. Its history is barely on nodding terms with the view that America was the creation of the Pilgrim Fathers; its way of life is proudly set apart. This is the land of the rural, French-speaking Cajuns (descended from the Acadians, eighteenth-century French-Canadian refugees), who live in the prairies and swamps in the southwest of the state, and the Creoles of jazzy, sassy New Orleans. (The term Creole was originally used to define anyone born in the state to French or Spanish colonists – famed in the nineteenth century for their masked balls, patois and distinct culture – as well as native-born, French-speaking slaves, but has since come to define anyone or anything native to Louisiana, and in particular its black population.) Louisiana’s distinctive, spicy cuisine, festivals, and, above all, its music (jazz, R&B, Cajun, and its bluesy black counterpart, zydeco) draw from all these cultures and more. Oddly enough, northern Louisiana – Protestant Bible Belt country, where old plantation homes stand decaying in vast cottonfields – feels more “Southern” than the marshy bayous, shaded by ancient cypress trees and laced with wispy trails of Spanish moss, of the Catholic south.