Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot – Bonsoir Moreau
Nathan Abshire – Jolie Blond
Clifton Chenier – Don’t Lie to Me
Zydeco, a transliteration in English of ‘zaricô’ (Snapbeans) from the song, “Les haricots sont pas salés”, born in Cajun and Black Creole communities on the prairies of southwest Louisiana in the 1920s, is considered by many, if not most, as the Black Creole music of Louisiana. Zydeco purportedly hails from “Là-là”, a genre of music now defunct, and old south Louisiana jurés. As Cajun French was the french language of the prairies of southwest Louisiana, zydeco was initially sung only in Creole or French. Later, Creole-speaking Black Creoles added a new linguistic element to zydeco music. Today, most of zydeco’s new generation sings in English or Cajun French with a few in Louisiana Creole French.
Usually fast-tempo, and dominated by the button or piano accordion and a form of a washboard known as a rub-board or frottoir, zydeco music was originally created at house dances where the blacks and free people of color of south Louisiana would gather for socializing. As the Creoles further established their communities and worshiped separately as well, the music moved to the Catholic church community center and then later to the rural dance halls and nightclubs. As a result, the music integrated waltzes, shuffles, two-steps, blues, rock and roll, and most dance music forms of the era. Today, the tradition of change and evolution in the music continues always keeping relevant while integrating even more genres like reggae, urban hip-hop, R&B, soul, brass band, ska, rock etc.
Cajun music, an emblematic music of Louisiana, is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada. Cajun music is often mentioned in tandem with the Creole-based, Cajun-influenced zydeco form, both of Acadiana origin. These French Louisiana sounds have influenced American popular music for many decades, especially country music, and have influenced pop culture through mass media. Cajun music, born from ballads, has transformed to dance music – with or without words. The music was essential for small get-togethers on the front porch, an all night house dance known as a “bal de maison”, or a public dance in a dance hall called a fais do-dos. There are several variations of Cajun dance: a Cajun One Step, also called a Cajun Jig, a Cajun Two Step or related Cajun Jitterbug, and a Cajun Waltz. In mild contrast, zydeco dancing is a syncopated two-step or jitterbug. A Cajun dancer will cover the dance floor while the zydeco dancer will primarily dance in a smaller area. Cajun music can be found predominantly at Louisiana festivals and dance halls, in addition to weddings in Acadiana.
Louisiana Creole refers to Americans of various racial descent who are descended from the Colonial French settlers of Louisiana known as French Creole, in addition to African Americans, and Native Americans before it became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase with claim to the Creole culture. Historically, Creole was used in early generations to refer to colonists of French descent who had been born in Louisiana and were thus native to the territory, compared to new immigrants. It then meant exclusively people of European descent. It also was used for black slaves who were born in Louisiana as opposed to those born in West Africa and transported from there.
The transfer of the French colony to the United States in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase and the arrival of Americans from New England and the South ignited an outright cultural war. Some Americans were reportedly shocked by aspects of the cultural and linguistic climate of the newly acquired territory. They pressured the United States’ first Louisiana governor to change it. He swiftly moved to make English the official language. Outraged, Louisiana Créoles in New Orleans allegedly paraded the streets and rejected the Americans’ effort to transform them overnight into Americans. In addition, Louisiana Creoles thought many of the Americans were uncouth, including the many Kentucky traders who regularly visited the city while maneuvering flatboats filled with goods for market. They also resisted American attempts to impose a binary culture splitting the population into black and white. Colonial French and Créole French remained the language of the majority of the population of the state. Among the eighteen governors of Louisiana between 1803-1865, six were Créole and were monolingual speakers of French. When Americans began to arrive in number in Louisiana, locals began identifying themselves overtly as Créoles to distinguish themselves from the “nouveaux-arrivés” Americans.
Creole music from the nineteenth century is represented in Slave Songs of the United States, first published in 1867. The final seven songs in that work are printed with melody along with text in French creole. These and many others were sung at plantations, especially in St. Charles Parish, and at Congo Square in New Orleans.
Jazz, born in New Orleans sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, is the first local Black Creole music to be popularized.