In Red Now and Laters, there are several references to zydeco, a type of music descended from Louisiana Creoles.
The commonly accepted explanation for the word "zydeco" is that it comes from the old Creole adage, "Les haricots ne sont pas sales," meaning literally "the beans aren't salty," a lamentation that times are hard when you can't even have salt for your beans. The saying can be found in many Creole songs, and when pronounced in Louisiana Creole sounds like,"leh-zy-deco nuh sonh par salay" It officially began to be called zydeco when Creole musician Clifton Chenier defined his own music as such.
Chenier (pronounced shen-eer to rhyme with veneer) identified with the blues over traditional French music, adopting the keyboard accordion instead of the commonly used Cajun accordion (aka squeezebox) that uses buttons in place of keys. Widely referred to as the "King of Zydeco," Chenier is credited as being the progenitor of the genre, and with inventing the musical instrument, the vest frottoir (a redesign of the traditional corrugated tin washboard so that is could be worn hanging from the shoulders). The vest frottoir is considered a staple in zydeco music.
Zydeco markedly differs from Cajun music (with which it is often conflated or confused) in that Cajun utilizes the fiddle heavily, while zydeco's distinctive sound comes from the accordion, accompanied by the frottoir. Many contemporary zydeco bands do incorporate the fiddle, but the accordion remains the star. Zydeco is intended to be dance music; the songs are upbeat and lively. Lyrics are sung in both French and English, though the latter is the predominant language in most contemporary zydeco.
Zydeco is popular in the south, most notably in the urban centers of Lafayette, Louisiana and Houston; Opelousas, Louisiana (the birthplace of Clifton Chenier) holds the unofficial title of "Zydeco Capital of the World."
To enjoy a lively performance of zydeco by Clifton Chenier, please see video below. You can also see the vest frottoir in action (fast-foward to 1:00) performed by a musician on the right.
This article was originally published in May 2014, and has been updated for the
March 2015 paperback release.
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