Friday, February 23, 2018

Information About The History Of Zydeco Music & Seven YouTube Examples Of Zydeco

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information about the history of Zydeco music and showcases seven YouTube examples of Zydeco.

Given in the order of the YouTube examples below, the featured artists in this post are Clifton Chenier, Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco Band, Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi Rollers, Buckwheat Zydeco, Boozoo Chavis, and CJ Chenier.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the originators of Zydeco music, and thanks to the performers who are featured in these embedded videos. Thanks also to all those who quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.
A no longer available version of this post was published in 2012.

From "Cajun and Zydeco Music Traditions" By Barry J. Ancelet
"Cajun music and zydeco are closely related parallel music forms. Cajun music is the music of the white Cajuns of south Louisiana, while zydeco is the music of the black Creoles of the same region. Both share common origins and influences, and there is much overlap in the repertoire and style of each. At the same time, each culture proudly and carefully preserves the identity of its own musical expression.


Zydeco, zarico, zodico, zologo, and even zukey jump represent a few of the spellings used by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, record producers, and filmmakers in their attempts to transcribe the word performers used to describe Louisiana's black French Creole music. The spelling zydeco was the first to appear in print, used by ethnomusicologist MacCormack in the early 1960s. Today it is the most widespread label and most record companies favor it.

Because its language is French or Creole, zydeco tradition has largely remained a mystery to outsiders. Folk spellings and folk etymologist often develop to explain or rationalize words and expressions whose origins or exact meanings have become unclear. Native Louisiana Creoles explain that the word zydeco comes from les haricots after the expression "Les haricots sont pas sale" ("The beans aren't salty"), heard in many of the tradition's songs. However recent studies based on early Louisiana recordings made by Alan and John Lomaz suggests that the term, as well as the tradition, may have African origins. The languages of West African tribes affected by the slave trade provide some clues as to the origins of zydeco. In at least a dozen languages from this culture-area of Africa, the phonemes "za," "re," and "go" are frequently associated with dancing and/or playing music.

In South Louisiana, the meaning of zydeco has expanded (or survived) to refer to dance as a social event and dance styles as well as the music associated with them: Creoles go to a zydeco to dance the zydeco to zydeco music played by zydeco musicians. Used in an expanded way, as a verb, zydeco seems to have other meanings: "Let's zydeco them," or "Let's go zydeco." Community musicians are described as zydeco kings, queens, and princes. Community dance events, which provide the primary opportunity for courtship, are announced as zydecos. The word zydeco also refers to hard times and, by association, to the music that helped to endure them. In black American tradition, this music is called the blues, whether it be a "low-down" blues lament which relieves by purging, or a jumping, juking blues which relieves by distracting. Zydeco's bluesy side is sometimes based on melodies and rhythms of a delta blues tradition. Other times, an interesting confluence of European and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and sources produces haunting songs which function equally well as blues laments and as waltzes."...

From "Archive Files of Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco Musicians Posted between 1999 and 2008" [This link is no longer operable.]
"Both Cajun music and the Creole music that evolved into Zydeco are the products of a combination of influences found only in Southwest Louisiana. According to Alan Lomax in his notes to a CD collection of field recordings in Louisiana that he and his father, John Lomax, completed in the 1930s, "the Cajun and Creole traditions of Southwest Louisiana are unique in the blending of European, African, and Amerindian qualities."

...The music of Creole culture drew on the same French traditions as Cajun music but added to that the influence of African music in the New World–the rhythms of the Caribbean or the soulful melodies of the blues or a combination of these sources and more. The Lomax recordings include examples of jurés, sung dances in a style typical of West Africa and the West Indies in which "melodies are built around a refrain that has a danceable rhythmic shape and that enables the group of singers to make music for collective dancing." "Blues de la prison," another song recorded by the Lomaxes, draws on the style of singing that evolved from West Africa to become American blues.

...Like the Cajuns, the Creoles had house dances, clearing out all the furniture and bringing in musicians who would play until early in the morning. Often, there might be only one musician, like the legendary Amédé Ardoin, who exerted a major influence on the development of both Creole and Cajun music. Ardoin and a number of other Creole musicians would also play at white dances. Eventually, Ardoin became acquainted with the Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. Together, they began to play at dances throughout the region. According to Dennis McGee (as quoted in Ann Savoy's book), "We played in Kaplan, at Bayou Noir, Lake Charles, everywhere. Everybody went crazy when Amédé played. Oh, I loved that little guy's music…. He had a song he'd cry out in–it would make me shake when he'd take to singing it." Most Cajun vocalists also used a high-pitched singing style to match the musical key of the songs and to carry across the dance floor, but few singers could approach the emotional power of Amédé Ardoin.

...The Lafayette-based organization C.R.E.O.L.E, Inc. defines Creoles “as individuals of African descent whose cultural roots have been influenced by other cultures such as French, Spanish, and/or Indian. These individuals have traveled through the centuries carrying their oral history, art forms, culinary skills, religious beliefs and kaleidoscope culture.” The Louisiana Creole Heritage Center defines Creoles as “people of mixed French, African, Spanish, and Native American ancestry, most of who reside in or have familial ties to Louisiana." Using either definition, Zydeco is “Creole music,” created and performed by Creoles. However, in the way the term is widely used today specifically in reference to music, “Creole” usually describes music performed by Creoles in the Creole language, in the old style that includes the fiddle as part of the instrumentation, a music known in an earlier era as “la-la music.” In interviews, Canray Fontenot and Bois Sec Ardoin both referred to their music as “Creole music." Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco, sang many of his songs in Creole, including some classic Zydeco songs performed with his uncle Morris Chenier on fiddle, and many Zydeco bands include music from the older Creole tradition as part of their repertoire, so, in practice, the terminology used to describe Creole music in Southwest Louisiana can be applied in a variety of ways. In the case of the group the Creole Zydeco Farmers, "Creole" might refer to music, language, culture, and ethnic background all at the same time. The key point is that both the older style la-la music and today's Zydeco are products of the Creole people of Southwest Louisiana and their rich culture.

...Everyone agrees that the name Zydeco is derived from the phrase "les haricots sont pas salés": the snapbeans are not salty. Tisserand and Ben Sandmel both discuss the history of the word Zydeco and its variants like zordico. Barry Ancelet has an essay on the term in Creoles of Color of the Gulf South. For most listeners of Zydeco, however, the musical meaning is captured in Clifton Chenier's signature song, "Zydeco Sont Pas Salé," recorded in 1965 at the Gold Star studio in Houston."...

With the exception of Example #1, these examples are given in chronological order based on their publishing date.

Example #1: Zydeco Sont Pas Sale [1965 sound file]

Clifton Chenier - Topic, Published on Nov 6, 2014

Provided to YouTube by Warner Music Group

Zydeco Sont Pas Sale · Clifton Chenier

The Best Of Clifton Chenier

℗ 2003 Arhoolie Productions Inc.

Example #2: Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco Band - Rosa Majeur

sexmex5, Published on Apr 6, 2008

Example #3: Beau Jocque

zydecodave1, Published on Sep 24, 2010

The great Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi Rollers doing the "Beau Jocque Boogie" from the Robert Mugge film "True Believers." Maybe someday we'll all be lucky enough to see the movie that this clip came from, "The Kingdom of Zydeco."

Example #4: Buckwheat Zydeco - Hey Ma Petit Fille

John Hulme, Published on Oct 3, 2010

Buckwheat Zydeco - Hey Ma Petit Fille I'm Going Now - from the Montreux Jazz Festival 1989

Example #5: Paper in my Shoe - Boozoo Chavis (Live)

Eric Cajundelyon, Published on Aug 23, 2011

1988 Live version of "Paper in my shoe" or "J'ai un papier dans mon soulier" in Louisiana French Cajun/Creole language with the long time Boozoo Bass player, Classie Ballou Jr... ...Wilson Anthony "Boozoo" Chavis from Lake Charles, LA .(1930-2001) was a zydeco musician - music created by French speaking Creoles of South-West Louisiana. He was active from 1954 until his death during which time he largely sang and played the accordion. Chavis was also a prolific writer of zydeco songs. Many of his songs have become standards of the zydeco repertoire, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their generally idiosyncratic and quirky construction and subject matter. "If it's wrong, do it wrong, with me," he would tell his band. "If I'm wrong, you wrong, too!" Boozoo was crowned "The King of Zydeco" in New Orleans in the 1990s. His son Charles was a member of his band at the time.

Example #6: Clifton Chenier - Rare Video Clip

Michael Hébert Music, Published on Mar 31, 2016

Example #7: CJ Chenier "Bon Ton Roulet" On Tour Preview - May 26, 2016 Episode

whyyphila, Published on May 24, 2016

Clayton Joseph Chenier, the son of the great "King of Zydeco", Clifton Chenier of Texas, first performed with his famous father and the legendary Red Hot Louisiana band in 1987. Chenier now extending his father's legacy as band leader, commands the accordion performing a variety of zydeco, Cajun and creole music. In this episode, we explore the unique Louisiana culture, and its rich musical history.

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