About Zydeco & Cajun music and dancing

How can I learn Zydeco dancing?

Each Allons Danser event begins with a Zydeco beginner lesson. Starting at 7:30 p.m., the one-hour lesson teaches you the basics of Zydeco and, time permitting, an introduction to Cajun Waltz, the two styles most frequently played by the bands who perform at our dances. The lesson is included in the price of admission.

How did Cajun and Zydeco music develop?

Many French-speaking Acadians, expelled by the British from Canada’s maritime provinces in the late eighteenth century, migrated to Louisiana, bringing with them music that had its origins in France. Early balladeers would sing without accompaniment at family gatherings or special occasions. The fiddle often supplied music for dancing. The accordion was incorporated in the 1920s with the introduction of accordions tuned in C and D, matching the “open string” tuning of the fiddlers. The combination produced a sound that carried well during noisy dances. Creoles, the African American descendants of slaves, were developing their own music, and the music of the two cultures influenced one another.

Clifton and Cleveland Chenier, John Hart on sax at Jay's Lounge, Cankton, LA, Mardi Gras 1975.

Clifton and Cleveland Chenier, John Hart on sax at Jay’s Lounge, Cankton, LA, Mardi Gras 1975.

Like the Cajuns, the Creoles had house dances, clearing out all the furniture and bringing in musicians who would play until early in the morning. Washboards played with spoons or bottle openers and triangles provided rhythm. In the 1950s rock ‘n’ roll emerged, and Louisiana musicians with Cajun roots began to adapt, producing their own style of what came to be known later as swamp pop. Zydeco is the most contemporary expression of Creole music.

Born out of a style called “lala”, it is a unique form of Black-Creole music native to Southwest Louisiana. Zydeco bands are characterized by the use of the accordion and “frottoir” (rubboard), electric guitar, and the singing of rhythm, blues and soul in Creole French.

What’s the difference between Cajun and Zydeco music?

Vinesse Lejeune on fiddle, Alphone "Bois Sec" Ardoin on accordion with Canray Fontenot in 1979

Vinesse Lejeune on fiddle, Alphone “Bois Sec” Ardoin on accordion with Canray Fontenot in 1979

Until the end of World War II, there was little difference between Cajun and its close musical cousin, Zydeco. Although some refer to Cajun as the domain of white descendants of the Canadian exiles and Zydeco as that of French-speaking black Creoles, it was an African-American accordion virtuoso named Amedee Ardoin who pioneered the sound we recognize today as Cajun music. Ardoin’s 1930s music with fiddler Dennis McGee has a rhythm similar to that of Boozoo Chavis’ Zydeco recordings from the 1950s. The traditional Cajun sound uses just fiddle, accordion, guitar and triangle. Two-steps and waltzes are the main song styles. Zydeco is distinguished from Cajun by faster, chugging rhythms, the use of a frottoir as a percussion instrument, lack of a fiddle, and a strong rhythm-and-blues influence. Because Zydeco is open to outside influences, many of today’s Zydeco bands perform rock and R&B-oriented music with the accordion as the lead instrument.