Zydeco: Roots music of southern Louisiana

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If it's the weekend, the sounds of song and dance are resonating out of the large halls and small bars along the bayous of Southwest Louisiana. The dance floors are full of men, women and children grooving to the mix of blues, pop and French music performed by Zydeco musicians. All have one thing on their minds: passing a good time, cher!

As a sweet French waltz begins, dancers sway to the LaLa, or two-step. Without much fanfare, the traditional sounds are tweaked just a bit, and the audience responds with a cry of pleasure. The pace picks up speed and vigor, and it's show time.

Zydeco music is like no other cultural treasure. Originating in the 1700s, the LaLa dance was performed to a blend of accordion, washboard, spoons and anything else that would make noise. Then, as today, the lyrics were sung in Creole French. Dances complete with a buffet dinner were held every Saturday night at one Southwest Louisiana home or another. Today many of the instruments remain the same -- for example, the accordion is still a staple of the Zydeco band. But electric guitars are new additions, along with drums and high tech sound systems, hallmarks of a new vanguard of Zydeco musicians taking the world by storm.

Contrary to popular belief, Zydeco is not of Cajun origin. It is the music of south Louisiana's Creoles, descendants of African-American slaves and early French and Spanish colonists. The music developed in the late 1940s, just after World War II when rhythm and blues and jazz were so popular. The rural Creoles combined their Cajun music with the blues and jazz of urban blacks, creating the rollicking, syncopated sounds we know as Zydeco. Zydeco means "snap bean" in Creole, a southern dialect that blends English and French. The term was a coined by Clifton Chenier, a major name on the local music scene. Learn about the difference between Zydeco and Cajun music at Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point, with an interactive music stage.

"Our music is a way of life," said Lawrence Ardoin, long time Zydeco performer and father of famed Zydeco singer Chris Ardoin.

Today, the influences of the Creole culture are in local African-American communities, where Zydeco has transformed from a traditional heirloom into a mainstream art form. "What makes the new Zydeco so much fun, is that it allows the audiences the chance to let loose," said Lawrence Ardoin. "We've got a double kick on our bass drums, and that adds to the beat. You can move every part of your body to the music."

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Photo courtesy of Monsours Photography
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September 3rd, 2015

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