If you’re down on the bayou and you hear the sweet sound of music, there’s a good chance you may by hearing Zydeco! What exactly is Zydeco music? Let’s head to Louisiana to find out!
In the late 1700s, the ports of Louisiana were a melting pot that welcomed settlers from all over the world. Their combined musical heritages gave birth to a unique form of music. Cajun music developed from a mixture of French fiddle music, Irish Celtic fiddle music, German accordion music, Latin rhythms and Appalachian folk music.
In the 1860s, Zydeco was born by combining traditional Cajun music with two new American styles of music: blues and rhythm and blues. As Haitian immigrants came to Louisiana to help harvest sugar cane, they added their own unique Haitian rhythms to the style that would come to be known as Zydeco.
Zydeco is connected most closely to the rural Creole people of southwest Louisiana. The Creole people are descendants of the Haitian, Native American, French and Spanish immigrants who first settled the area.
The Creole people often sang in their own language known as Louisiana Creole French. Their unique “la la” party music evolved into Zydeco over time.
Zydeco music features many different instruments, including accordions, fiddles, triangles and especially washboards or rub-boards called frottoirs. Although similar to Cajun music, Zydeco has a harder, faster sound that features heavy syncopation, which is a rhythmic technique that shifts accents to weak beats.
Zydeco is kind of a funny name, isn’t it? It came about from mispronouncing the beginning of the French phrase: “Les haricots ne sont pas sales.” This phrase means “the snap beans aren’t salty”. People would use this slang expression to mean “I don’t have any spicy news for you.”
The words “les haricots” for “the snap beans” were pronounced as “Zydeco” in the regional dialect. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Singer and accordion player Clifton Chenier is known as the “King of Zydeco.” His bluesy style became popular on regional radio stations and helped Zydeco become popular across the United States.
Today, Zydeco music is still popular, and it continues to accept influence from other popular types of music, such as pop, soul and reggae. Zydeco is considered party music, because it is so lively and fun to dance to. The next time you have a party, consider playing some Zydeco music!