Barry Ancelet starts his excellent article on Cajun and zydeco with an important — perhaps pivotal — point: The two are different, though deeply related.
He writes that Cajun music belongs to the white Cajuns of south Louisiana. Zydeco is the music of the black Creoles of the same region. They overlap, he says, in repertoire and style but remain distinct. “At the same time, each culture proudly and carefully preserves the identity of its own musical expression,” he writes.
The Creoles sang the western French folk songs that the Acadians brought when they were exhiled from Nova Scotia during the middle part of the 18th century. Contributions were made by Native Americans (a wailing and terraced singing style), Black Creoles (rhythms, percussive techniques, blues and improvised singing) and the Spanish (guitar and songs), Ancelet writes. Later influences were from as far away as Austria: Jewish merchants brought accordions.
Razzoos also provides a definition of zydeco, though one that is far less technical than Ancelet’s. The French Creoles, the site says, blend blues, R&B, reggae and soul. The most popular venues initially were house parties, which meant that the music was upbeat, bluesy and danceable.
Ancelet writes that the name zydeco is one of several that at various times have been used to identify Black French Creole music. Earlier names were zarico, zodico, zologo and zukey. It has remaind a mysterious music to outsiders, he writes, because the lyrics are in French and Creole. Indeed, it is a language of its own. Some of the words and phrases remain hidden and are the subject of study. In the late 1920s, he wrote, Amédé Ardoin became the first zydeco artist recorded.
Razzoos lists important zydeco artists and heir most famous songs, courtesy of a DJ from Baton Rouge. The big stars — most with great names — are Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Sidney, Morris Francis, Fernest Arceneau, Beau Jocque, Clifton Chenier, John Delafose, Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin’, Rosie Ledet, Nathan and he Zydeco Chachas, Willis Frudhomme, Donna Angelle, Leo Thomas (how did that name sneak in here?), Queen Ida, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Buckwheat Zydeco, Zydeco Force, Step Rideau and C.J. Chenier and Leroy Thomas.
Above is a Cajun Country Revival playing “You Won’t be Satisfied.” Below is Ardoin performing “Les Blues de Voyage.”