Today is International Jazz Day, and while sending a friend recommendations for her listening pleasure, I found my Z – Zydeco music! It’s the instantly recognisable sound of New Orleans, my home while I was studying architecture. It’s impossible to live in New Orleans and not be forever changed by the music, food & art.
What is Zydeco music?
Zydeco is the music of Southwest Louisiana’s Black Creoles, a mixture of African, Afro-Caribbean, Native American and European descent. Sung traditionally in Creole French, English is becoming more popular these days. As of 2007, it even has its own category at the Grammys!
Where does the word Zydeco come from?
One theory is it comes from a contraction of the phrase Les haricots ne sont pas salés, which sounds like “lehz-dee-co nuh sohn pah salay” in the Louisianan French Creole dialect, and means “The snap beans ain’t salty”. Seriously. Another theory is that in the languages of West African slaves, the phonemes za, re and go were frequently associated with dancing and playing music. A little more believable, perhaps?
When did Zydeco music become popular? Is there a ‘parent’ of Zydeco?
Clifton Chenier is widely regarded as the King of Zydeco. He created music in the 1950s which was bluesy, syncopated and very different to the sound of Cajun music. He blazed a trail and made it clear that Zydeco was unique, using piano accordions & modified washboard vests (frottoirs). He also wore a cape & crown during most of his performances! Zydeco music is continuously evolving, showing influences from R&B and even hip-hop, in this century.