"Z" Is For Zydeco - Our Last Alphabe Thursday Post, July 15, 2010
Beau Soleil - Zydeco Gris Gris
I visited New Orleans for the first time after I had applied for nursing school at Charity Hospital. My mother couldn't understand why I didn't want to attend the perfectly good school run by the Sisters of Mercy less than a mile from our home in Columbus, Georgia - or, more than likely she knew why I wanted to go away to school in "the city that care forgot." At any rate, the only school of nursing to which I applied was Charity so I was thrilled when that acceptance letter came. Dutifully, my mother drove me the 350 miles to take a look around as part of our summer vacation before my September admission date in 1965. New Orleans was so exciting, compared to Columbus, Georgia and I loved the French Quarter and I had grown up on Dixieland jazz, my mother's favorite.
New to me, when I started school at Charity, was zydeco music - but with classmates from places like New Iberia, Opelousas, Abbeville, Lafayette, and the like, I soon became very familiar with it.
Zydeco music came to us from the black creoles of southwest Louisiana, of mixed African, Afro-Caribbean, Native American and European descent. The people of this region spoke French, for the most part, and lived in rural areas. Its 19th century beginnings are a form of folk music. Zydeco is still evolving but it takes its beginnings from the "la la" music of the Cajuns and Creoles, blues, and, over the years, has incorporated soul, hip hop and reggae.
Its name is derived from the colloquial French translation of ""Les haricots sont pas sales", meaning "the snap beans aren't salty" - or, in essence, that times are difficult. The typical musical instruments are accordion, a modified washboard called a frottoir, electric guitar, bass and drums, with fiddles, keyboards and horns adding to the mix. It is usually very lively music and it is hard to stay sitting when it is playing! One just has to get up and dance.
Clifton Chenier, a native of Opelousas, Louisiana, born in 1925 was the king of zydeco music. As a young musician, he considered himself a blues artist but he was the first to ever record zydeco music and he had an incredible way of blending blues with traditional Creole music. He died in 1987.
Clifton Chenier - Bon Ton Roulet
Queen Ida, born in Lake Charles, LA in 1929 is the first female accordian player to ever lead a zydeco band. Her music is an ecletic mix of Caribbean, blues and Cajun. Queen Ida and her family moved to San Francisco when she was eighteen so the Bay area has been fortunate to have her play often out here in gigs and festivals.
Whenever I hear zydeco music, it makes me think of a Cajun phrase I learned during my six years of living in New Orleans - "Laissez les bons temps rouler." Let the good times roll
Queen Ida - Jambalaya