If it's July, it must be Zydeco Music!! Portland is known for it's 5 day 4th of July Weekend Blues Festival. It always has a full list of very talented music artists. We always seem to be drawn to The Zyedeco Swamp Romp Stage where the mostly New Orleans based Zydeco bands are featured. Today was no exception and we were not disappointed. First off the weather is wonderful here---warm and clear. No chance of rain at all. We spent the evening watching 3 different groups strut their stuff. My favorites were "T" Broussard & the Zyedeco Steppers and Curley Taylor & Zyedeco Trouble groups.
If you haven't experienced Zydeco you are in for a treat. It's origins are French Creole. The term Zydeco stems from the Cajun expression, les haricots, meaning "snap beans aren't salty," which, was the Cajuns' way of saying, "we're so poor, we can't even afford meat in our stew. Les haricot became Zydeco, and then it just became 'are you going Zydeco' - are you going to party? That's the most widely accepted origin of the term."
Purists tend to distinguish Zydeco from Cajun music, although there is a difference. Where Cajun music incorporates primarily Celtic, French, African, and German influences, Zydeco is more of an R&B, Caribbean, Black music. Cajun music would probably be your waltzes and two steps, and Zydeco is more of a shuffle and R&B groove, or even a boogaloo, or a Bo Diddley beat. I think the term Zydeco is evolving more than the term Cajun is. Cajun is more of a purist music, where Zydeco might be a mulatto music or something that's constantly evolving. Today not all modern Cajun music is sung in French. In earlier years, the fiddle was the predominant instrument, but gradually the accordion has come to share the limelight. Some would tell you that cajun music is dance music with or without words. With its heavy syncopation, it would be easy to make that claim. However, so much of the culture is is expressed in the lyrics that one cannot separate them from the music. But, no doubt about it, Cajun music was created for a party either a small get-together or a foot-stomping crowd intent on having a good time.
In the past 4 years, the festival has featured a number of different bands that all are a little bit different. But of course, you cannot think of Zydeco as merely polka-like. I have seen all kinds of styles--tonight a group played it like rock, another song sounded like rap music. I like it best when the lead plays the squeeze box and sings well. Not all of them do both. Some of the leads are just singers, not muscians.
In the early 1950's Zydeco gradually developed from the music of the Creoles in southwest and south central Louisiana. At at earlier period, Creole and Cajun music were quite similar but after World War II, Creole music took off into another direction, incorporating elements of the blues and rock and roll. The accordian replaced the fiddle and electric instruments, drums, and corragated metal washboard (called a 'frottior') were added.
Everytime I watch these groups I get very distracted by the dancers from Portland. There are probably over 50 dancers from various Swing Dance groups, who spend the day equally competiting for audience attention dancing. They are really fun to watch. The cajun dance is usually a two-step or a waltz, while Zeydeco, is a syncopated two-step. A cajun will cover the dance floor while the Zydeco will do all his dancing in one spot.
It takes me back to my dancing days in Seattle. Right out of college, I took classes with the Experimental College at the UW. Had a blast. At one point, I was asked to be the instuctor's partner. We even danced on TV. Can't remember, it must of been "Am Northwest." I remember that I got my hair cut for the program and the beautician basically sheered me saying "no one should have all that hair." My hair was so thin I was almost bald. Bad hair several months... About that time, a friend of mine from college introduced me to her brother, Rowe, who liked to dance, and soon we were dance partners. We danced most weekends for free with very great big bands at the Seattle Center. It was really fun and we became rather good dancers. Alas, I haven't danced like that for a long time. I usually sit watching them wishing I was dancing with them!!