Cajun-Zydeco. Styles close to my heart! American Roots music at its best (in my opinion). What are these styles? What is the difference between them? These are frequently asked questions. If I could over-simplify it into one sentence, I would say that Cajun is the Folk music counterpart of this culture-rich style and Zydeco is its electric Rock n Roll oriented younger brother!
The best I understand Cajun history: French speaking Europeans immigrated to what today is eastern Canada, in a land they called “Acadia.” These “Acadians” morphed into “Canadians” and as they migrated further south, settled into the Mississippi Delta area around New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, and then further morphed into “Cajuns.” …Acadians… Canadians… (Cajians)… Cajuns… See the thread?
The cool part of this story for us musicians is the culture of this geographical area. New Orleans is one of the world’s busiest shipping ports, and the jobs that this industry creates was probably the primary reason the Acadians migrated there. Shipping ports tend to bring people and goods (and their cultural ideas, interests, and traditions) from all over the world. In the late 1800’s through the mid-1900’s, New Orleans was the epicenter of the American “melting pot” where various cultures met and mixed freely. The French brought their cuisine and Waltzes (and language! with French Creole being more dominant than English in some circles even today). Germans added their accordions. The Irish brought fiddling to the mix. Jamaicans their African influenced drumming. Mexicans came across Texas with their guitars and trumpets. Native American culture played a role too intermarrying with African Americans to make a whole new race, the Krewe Indians, who are the driving force behind Mardi Gras celebrations.
So, educationally, what is so great about Cajun-Zydeco? My own experience was a lesson in humility. As I left the high powered and often virtuosic Jazz Fusion world and began a quest to deepen my musical roots, I became enamored with Zydeco and it’s impossible-to-write rhythmic grooves. As I began performing as a member of “LeeRon Zydeco and the Hot Tamales” it did not take me long to realize that virtuosity was not a highly prized commodity in this style! In general, nobody cared whether I could rip a blazing solo or not! All that really mattered was whether people were boogie-ing on the dance floor! This was a bit of an adjustment for me, but I embraced it, and came to really love just “laying down a good trance-like groove.” Interestingly, I believe that this experience even enriched and matured my Jazz playing too as I honed my ability to play un-fettered by performance worries and the over-thinking potential that every musician must work through and develop within themselves to have true creative authority. Maybe this style will grab ahold of you too?