Skip to content


June 13, 2010

June 11th marked the start of the Creole Tomato and Zydeco Music Festivals in New Orleans.  Some of the members of our group went down to the French Quarter to spend the afternoon at the festival.  There were stands selling all sorts of New Orleans dishes like crawfish, gumbo, alligator sausage, and catfish.  Of course, they were selling Creole tomatoes and Abita beer, and there was plenty of Zydeco music.  I thought I would give everyone a breakdown on Zydeco music, and why it remains important enough in Louisiana culture to create an entire festival in its name.

According to Louisiana State University at Eunice, Zydeco grew out of Cajun and Creole music, blending European, African, and American Indian styles, creating a unique genre of music reflecting the southwestern Louisiana way of life.  Arcadians came to Louisiana from Nova Scotia in 1764, bringing with them French music which slowly blended with their new American culture.  European tunes were changed to reflect new experiences and stories of Louisiana life, and clapping or stomping often accompanied a capella songs to keep rhythm for dancing.

Zydeco Creole Musicians from 1930’s Era. Photo: Library of Congress

In the 19th century, African rhythms, blues, and Native American styles began mixing with Arcadian music and European fiddle tunes to create a blend of styles and a new type of music, Cajun, emerged.  Although the accordion became popular in the late 1800’s, it was not incorporated into Cajun music until 1925, when a new accordion tuned in the same key as the fiddle was created.  Accordions have the loud sound necessary for southern dance halls so it quickly became popular in Cajun music.  The fiddle has a much wider note range than the accordion; so many old melodies had to be translated or were lost.

As Cajun music developed throughout southwestern Louisiana, African American decedents of slaves were creating their own style of music.  Both Cajun and African American cultures influenced one another, and their histories are complicatedly intertwined.  African American history in Louisiana was very complex as there were free blacks of considerable wealth dating back before the Civil War, impoverished slaves freed after the war but unable to gain prominence, and mixed race groups whose ancestry dated back to French and Spanish rule over the area.  These groups lived in southwest Louisiana together, creating the origins of Creole music.

Sunpie and the Lousiana Sunspots. Photo: Natalie Mello

Creole included the same influences in its creation as Cajun music but combined African, Caribbean, and Indian music as well.  Most often, songs were still written and sung in French.  Washboards, triangles, spoons, and bottle openers were added to the instrument mix.  Washboards were invented with shoulder straps for added ease when playing long hot nights with the band, and bottle openers were scraped across them to keep rhythm.  When southwestern Creole music blended with blues styles in the mid 20th century, the new music acquired the name Zydeco.  Blues music influenced the addition of saxophones, guitars, drums, and brass instruments in the new Zydeco style.  The term Zydeco comes most likely from the French phrase meaning “The snap beans”.

Louisiana has a rich history filled with a mix of unique features found no where else in the world.  We have said many times that we feel like New Orleans could be its own country because it has enough culture and quirky things about it to make a name for itself as an entire nation.  The music culture is evident every day as we see jazz bands in every bar and recording studios just down the street from our house.  Zydeco is part of the state’s history and proves to be a huge part of New Orleans past, present, and future.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: