Cajun music is the product of creolization, like most other features of Louisiana French culture. The Cajun sounds are a blend of German, Spanish, Scottish, Irish, Anglo-American, Afro-Caribbean and American Indian influences with a base of western French and French Acadian folk tradition. They are most noted for their up-beat tempos, cheerful lyrics and peculiar dance rhythms. While there is no comparison to the sounds of good Cajun music, some say it reminds them of Bluegrass with a French accent, while others claim it is more like European folk music. Most Cajun music purists would agree that you must see as well as hear Cajun music performed to appreciate its richness. Most people cannot keep from dancing to the Cajun waltz and two-step rhythms when they hear the hand-clapping, foot-stomping sound in its happiest, rapid-tempo forms.
The traditional Cajun instruments were the fiddle and triangle. The Acadians who arrived in Louisiana possessed no instruments, but the knowledge of such came with them. They soon learned to make their own instruments from household items like spoons, washboards and clacking sticks for percussion. No one knows exactly where the tunes for Cajun music came from because the traditional music was not written. Each musician played the tune as he wished adding words here, deleting others there.
The first Cajun record to hit the market was "Allons à Lafayette" (Let's Go to Lafayette) in 1928. The record by Joseph Falcon of Rayne, became a regional hit. Afterwards, a continual stream of records by Cajun artists were released.
Music is an integral part of the Cajun way of life. This is evidenced by the many festivals held in the region with entertainment provided by Cajun bands. While Cajun music at one time was confined to South Louisiana, today it has gained recognition not only in the United States and Canada, but also in Europe. Cajun music has become so popular that the President of the United States was requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the U.S. to observe the month of August as "Cajun Music Month."
Zydeco (pronounced Zah-dee-ko) is the most contemporary expression of black Creole music. Zydeco, born out of a music called "lala", is a unique form of Black-Creole music native to Southwest Louisiana. The music is said to have originated from many sources, but the influence of the blues and soul music is most significant in its development. The word "Zydeco" has also been translated to mean "snap bean."
The Zydeco tradition of music was built by musicians with little or no formal training who improvised the music of their generation out of the ones that came before them. Zydeco music was born in exile of ancient traditions which found themselves displaced in a New World where elder ways did not stand in the way of new combinations.
Zydeco bands are characterized fundamentally by the use of the "frottoir" (metal washboard) played with thimbles, spoons or bottle openers; and the use of the accordion and the singing of rhythm, blues and soul in Creole French.
It was not long ago that Zydeco was stereotyped as a music for rural folk. At present, there is an informal circuit of devotees to the Zydeco culture residing in New Orleans, Lake Charles, Houston, Port Arthur, Beaumont and Los Angeles who are helping to keep the Zydeco tradition alive. Zydeco musicians travel monthly to these cities to satisfy the appetite of these former Acadiana residents for the music, dance and spirit of the Zydeco tradition. The fear of Zydeco music dying out prompted a small group of concerned citizens to organize different festivals to keep up the tradition.
There are several successful popular Cajun and Zydeco bands which reflect original, modern artistic and commercial tastes: Terrence Simien, Beausoleil, C.J. Chenier, Zachary Richard and Wayne Toups are potent draws in Lafayette and elsewhere, and their contributions are widely acknowledged if not always rewarded. There are also many young, new bands keeping Cajun and Zydeco traditions alive as well as perpetuating their evolution.