Zydeco is the dance music of Louisiana's rural Creoles. Sometimes called "la-la music," zydeco gets its name from a colloquial Creole French expression for poverty, which turned up in one of the tradition's earliest recordings. Like the blues, early zydeco offered a way for the rural poor both to express and to escape the hardships of life through music and dance.
The Music: Zydeco
Early zydeco was a blend of Louisiana French accordion music and Afro-Caribbean beats. It sat at the crossroads of Creole, Cajun, gospel and the blues, yet has since evolved to include influences from several other genres. Instrumentation almost always includes an accordion and a frottoir, a washboard worn like a vest. Guitar and drums typically add even more rhythm and syncopation to create a highly danceable mix.
In 1929, Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin made the first recordings of la-la music, laying the groundwork for the genre. In the 1950s, zydeco found its first stars in Boozoo Chavis and Clifton Chenier. Chavis had the first hit with Paper in My Shoe. Chenier recorded several hits as well, earning him the title "King of Zydeco." Other notable Louisiana performers have included Grammy Award winners Rockin' Sidney Simien, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Terrence Simien as well as Rockin' Dopsie, Goldman Thibodeaux, John and Geno Delafose, Sid and Nathan Williams, Beau Jocque and Rosie Ledet.
While zydeco music can be heard around the world, nowhere is it more popular than Louisiana. Here, people carry on the tradition of the trail ride, riding out to the countryside for music, food and dancing. Weekend nights, you'll find live zydeco in just about every town in southwest Louisiana as well as the big cities of Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans. It's also a staple at local festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the annual Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival in Plaisance.