Play That Zydeco Again

Play that what? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, thank you for visiting today’s bonus post, which comes a part of my month-long celebration of the upcoming release of my new sports romance novel, Ice Gladiators. Ice Gladiators is being released on 02/15/20. I’ll link details at the bottom of this page. I’m so thrilled about sharing Ice Gladiators that I’m writing posts on anything related to the story, and you guessed it. Music is in the story. And since this is Creole Bayou, where everything Creole, Cajun, and Louisiana are on tap, and Ice Gladiators is set in Louisiana, there’s no better music than to talk about than zydeco. Anyone who’s ever walked in the French Quarter knows music is big in Louisiana. And anyone who has ever attended a sporting event knows how the important role music plays there as well. Therefore, this topic as a bonus post had to happen.

Okay, let’s start with a discussion about the name: Zydeco ( ̍zī·də·ˌkō). Most cultural anthropologists and Louisiana historians agree that the name originates from the French term les haricots, which when spoken phonetically sounds similar to zydeco. Some variations of zydeco are zologo, zodico, zordico, and zarico. Les haricots translate to mean “beans.” However, there are other theories floating out there, one being that it originates from the African language word zari. Zari means dance. I will stick with this one since it is the most accepted But what do beans have to do with music one may wonder. The popular answer to this question is that the name derives from “Les haricots sont pas sale.”

Les haricots sont pas salés is a common Creole phrase that translates to, “The snap beans aren’t salty.” The expression is used to express hard economic and financial times. This stemmed from the practice using salted meat to season many Creole dishes. During the era that zydeco music was first played and became popular, times were hard for many Creoles. Their day consisted of long hours of manual labor (e.g., working in cotton or sugarcane fields). There were times when many Creoles could not afford to buy salted meat; hence, their food was less seasoned or not seasoned. Common themes of much zydeco music are ill-fated love, injustice, loneliness, being poor, and death (a.k.a., hard times, just like the expression). Additionally, many Creole songs used this phrase as part of the lyrics. Zydeco was feel-good dance music that lyrically expressed what people felt at the time while allowing them a temporary mode of escape through dance.

Zydeco is characterized by the “typical” flow of rhythm or music that is interrupted by displaced accents or beats. The origins of zydeco can be traced to what is known as jure music—an a cappella (originally in Creole dialect), hand-clapping, foot-stomping religious music that black field hands sang to give thanks and pray. This largely was because the black field hands did not own and/or could not afford instruments. Furthermore, if they did own instruments, it would have been inconvenient for them to have them in the fields. Eventually, jure songs were converted and transformed to have secular subjects, and this became known as la musique creole or LaLa. Amédé Ardoin (03/11/1898 – 11/03/1942) is credited with having made the first recordings of zydeco in 1928. (Note, there is some discrepancy about the year of his recording. What in Creole culture isn’t disputed? Some experts say the year was 1929. I don’t know because I wasn’t born, and I found two very good sources, both in disagreement. Therefore, I will say, the first recording was either in 1928 or 1929. If any reader discovers a definitive answer, please write it in the comments below with the link.) One of his most popular songs is titled, Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone. As an aside, a life-sized statue of Amédé Ardoin is erected at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center.

In the earliest forms, zydeco mainly was musicians playing washboards and accordions. It expanded to include pianos, guitars, basses, drums, fiddles/violins, and vest frottoirs. A vest frottoir, also called rubboards, is a type of American invented percussion instrument constructed of compressed, crenelated stainless steel that is worn over the shoulders and extends downs the abdomen. The wearer plays it by stroking spoons or bottle opens on the ridges. The French word frottoir translates to mean “friction strip.” Today, Zydeco is a lively, syncopated dance music genre that blends jazz, blues, spiritual/gospel, and R&B.

So, how does a person dance to zydeco music? The simple answer is, however you like. There is no set rule of how one is supposed to dance to a specific song or type of music. People in love can be seen slow-dancing, barely swaying side-to-side in the middle of a mosh pit to angry metal music. Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my gist. Interestingly, traditionally zydeco dancing is similar to an in-place, side-to-side swing dance. The footwork is done in an eight-count and would look similar to the following: slow (step pause)/ quick (step)/ quick (step), slow (step pause)/ quick (step)/ quick(step). Of course, there are variations of this, but this is the basic. Most people agree that zydeco invokes a feeling that innately goads a person on how to move or dance to it. Honestly, as long as a person is having fun and not getting into anyone else’s space (unless invited), it does not matter how he/she dances to the beat.

The most common dancer attire for zydeco is jeans/denim and cowboy boots. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule. What is a hard and fast rule is that whatever clothing worn should be comfortable and allow one to move freely and unrestrictedly. It also should be lightweight to avoid becoming overheated. This includes shoes. Nothing will ruin an evening faster than having shoes pinch your feet all night or rub blisters.

By now, you may have noticed that I keep using the term Creole and not Cajun. That is because zydeco is not Cajun in origin. On the contrary, it is indigenous to the Creoles of Louisiana. In previous posts, I’ve discussed the difference between Creole and Cajun; therefore, I won’t discuss it again here other than to say the two are not the same. If you’re interested in more on the differences between the two cultures, visit The Difference Between Creole & Cajun, Creole FAQ, Cane River Culture, and Say What? Creole Language. These are just a few of the posts I’ve made covering the subject. Browse around the bayou to find a lot more.

Additionally, I have also written a post on zydeco music previously. While some of the information is the same here (history can’t be rewritten, at least, not with conviction by sane and rational people with a moral core), my previous post only gave a short overview. However, in that previous post, I did list some of the most popular musicians who play zydeco, and it is fitting that I list them here as well. I did update this list; so, it’s not exactly the same. (Disclaimer, I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any person, product, or brands listed herein.) This list is created for informational purposes only and not exhaustive. However, it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to hear some authentic zydeco. Most of the musicians listed have sites where their music can be downloaded. They are listed in no particular order. I’ve included their links whenever possible.

That wraps up this post for today. Do you enjoy zydeco music? Who is your favorite zydeco musician? Have you ever been zydeco dancing? If yes, what was your experience? What is your favorite type of music? Tell me your opinions below. Also, if you would like to read more posts of this nature, leave a comment.

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