ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF CAJUN AND ZYDECO

 

 

Hit the rub board, break out the button accordion, tune up the fiddles and burl up a mess o’ crawfish.  This album was born on the bayou in a way CCR could only imagine.  Cajun and Zydeco music grew up in the isolated swamps of the Mississippi Delta. For centuries, the only way to get to those areas of Louisiana was by boat.  Few outsiders had the need or even the yen to explore this remote area.  Little wonder the music that grew up there sound like nothing else.


Cajun music came originally from an area of Canada called Acadie in the 17th century. The Acadians were French speaking settlers.  When the British took over, they expelled these settlers. The Acadians went down the Mississippi and found a place in the bayous, so remote they figured no one would bother them again.


            "The Acadians chose to move to a part of Louisiana that was more isolated than even New Orleans,” adds Michael Doucet, leader of the band Beausoleil. A musicologist before he became a recording artist, he and his band plays roots Cajun music.  An Acadian himself, he thinks of his sound in the less bastardized terms of Acadian music. “The area was accessible only by water.  At the same time, it was inaccessible if you could not ford the rivers.  The first bridge over the Mississippi was built in the 1920s, so, they were pretty much isolated for about 150 years.  That's how the music matured.”


Even with the mass communication revolution that began the 20th century, Cajun music remained a very local phenomenon.  Early in the 20th Century, few outside of the Acadian community had heard it. Over the course of the last quarter century, however, Cajun music has gone (relatively) mainstream.  Madison Avenue used it to sell heartburn medicine and cars.  Same with its good neighbor, Zydeco.  For a hot minute in the 1980s, Zydeco went worldwide. Artists like Clifton Chenier and Alton Jay “Rockin’ Dopsie” Rubin started the ball rolling as early as the 50s, fusing R&B with the more traditional music. However, it took a record cut on a four-track studio in the garage of the late Rockin’ Sidney Simien, the infectious dance tune “My Toot Toot,” burst Zydeco into mainstream consciousness. Covered by a host of artists, including John Fogerty and Denise LaSalle, it became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and earned Sidney a Grammy and two W. C. Handy awards.  Sidney is represented here by his “Alligator Waltz,” while the unlikely duo of Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw and New Orleans rocker Fats Domino cut Sidney’s big hit in a gumbo of rock, Cajun, funk and Zydeco. 

“Zydeco is the African-American French music nurtured in the bayou,” Doucet explains. “Basically, the difference between Cajun and Zydeco is black and white.  It's just the different names.  Cajun music, or Acadian music, comes from Acadie.  The Acadians, a certain group of people, support it.  Zydeco music, though it does use Acadian songs, is sort of a blend of African music and French music.  The rhythm is the main difference.  And of course proponents like Clifton Chenier added rhythm and blues to it, where the Acadian music of the 30s and 40s and even the 50s came under the influence of the country and western and even swing music. “

Even this is not so clear cut, though. Zydeco artist Boozoo Chavis’s music has a strong country feel.  He uses the same basic two-step and the same instruments -- give or take a tenor sax -- as Chenier, with strong accent on the accordion and rub board. Chavis and his Magic Sounds have a more rustic sound than most Zydeco artists (and even a few contemporary Cajun performers), however.

"Boozoo Chavis is really country,” Doucet intimates. “He wears a cowboy hat and has heavy blues influences.  He plays what's called a melodeon, to be specific.  It's like a diatonic accordion.”

 The influence of Cajun on contemporary country and pop has been very subtle.  “Jolie Blon,” a traditional Acadian song performed her by Vin Bruce, has become a staple for rock and country artists.  Gary US Bonds has done it, as have numerous country performers.  However, contemporary culture has wreaked many changes on Cajun and Zydeco.

These changes are most evident in the music of performers who came up in the wake of Chenier. Stanley "Buckwheat" Doral exemplifies the modern fusion of Zydeco and rock 'n' roll. The accordion and washboard that distinguished Chenier's nuevo Zydeco are part of Dural's music, but so are electric guitar, bass and a killer horn section.  This allows for versions of songs by the Blasters, Bob Dylan, Booker T. & the MGs as well as Chenier.  In effect, he uses Zydeco instruments to play rock and roll with a distinctive N'awleans flavor.  He pays homage to that regional music here with Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya,"  Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas have an even more rocking sound with the help of the sax and Paul Daigle's up-front guitars

This effect is not limited to Zydeco, though.  Wayne Toups has confessed that his main look out is crossing Cajun, this very distinctly regional music, over on it's own terms. On Toups' more recent albums, this meant downplaying the squeezebox in favor of a slick pop-rock band.

Traditional Cajun and Zydeco have very little to do with anything else that comes out of Louisiana (or anywhere else) musically, though. While New Orleans has always been a hotbed of musical styles, Cajun and Zydeco come from another place entirely.

“The Acadian part of Louisiana is in Lafayette Louisiana,” Robbie Robertson once explained.  “It has nothing to do, whatsoever, with New Orleans.  It's a very distinct thing.”

Yet, these tracks have far more in common than just geography and genre. They have strong shared roots, bred in the bayou for centuries, relatively unmarked by the changes that went on outside of the culture. Listening to these songs, you can practically taste the cayenne, I gaw-ran-tee.