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Origines Des Musique: Zydeco
The king of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, resonates in my laptop and I am transcended to the land of Creoles living in 19th century Louisiana. Not that I understand much of the French language, but the upbeat heavy base music helps me match the tapping of my finger with the raindrops falling on my rooftop.

This musical form has a heavy influence of the ‘vest frottoir’ (washboard/rub board) invented by the king of Zydeco himself. Not only this, this folk music also uses other instruments like the piano, accordion, fiddles, horns, drums, electric guitar, bass guitar and, of course, the vocals. This form of world music is quite dynamic with a mixture of various genres like the blues, brass band, ska, R&B, hip-hop, waltzes, shuffles, two-steps, rock and roll and many more. Zydeco’s main influence originates from Cajun music, a symbolic musical form of Louisiana. Sung in a mixture of African, Afro-Caribbean, Native American and even the European influences, though all-originating from South Louisiana primarily, the songs narrate the singers’ socio-economic and political status.

The term ‘Zydeco’ originates from the West African word ‘Zari’ which means ‘dance’, synonymous to the reaction of the listener of this musical form. This genre is said to have been further popularised and understood subsequent to the song Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés by Chenier himself, which refers to the economic status of the singer explaining how difficult it is for him to even afford salt pork to season his beans ~ as salt pork and beans were the least priced edible products during that time span.

World War II left many economically strained and some of the most affected were the Zydeco singers, the French speaking coloured people in Louisiana. This community of people prior to the war lived in small close-knit societies without any supervision of formal government. However, in spite of possessing their own formal government, this community had a set of rules which were to be followed ~ ‘The Code Noir’ ~ mainly addressing of living together peacefully, freely and also believing in the prosperity of their community and right to education. Hence, this conduct was popularly known as Les Gens Libres de Couleur, which translated in English language means ‘Free Men of Colour’.

However, many things changed after the war and forced many of this community to migrate to places which would provide better living conditions and better economic status, though with the price of being labelled as part of one group and their freedom being violated. This left the community frustrated and angry ~ in a way, giving birth to this genre of music as a medium of expression.

However, the journey of this musical form does not cease with the cessation of the World War. Another reason for creating this form was for a completely different purpose: social unison. During the 19th century, Zydeco was sung only within the four walls of a home, during their family gatherings and this later progressed between similar coloured, free people but for a different reason and that was social gathering. This form was also sung in churches, as they were very religious. As time passed, this musical form gained more and more popularity, and soon Zydeco was heard at nightclubs and dance rural halls; it later had a dance form under the same form known as the ‘new salsa’.

You can read the rest of our feature Origines Des Musique: Zydeco in the June 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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Origines Des Musique: Zydeco
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