Cajun, Créole & Zydeco

Cajun, Créole and Zydeco are part of Opelousas’ rich cultural fabric.  Cajuns and Creoles are ethnic groups of people and their culture.  Zydeco, on the other hand, is a music genre rooted in the rural communities of Southwest Louisiana.

Cajuns and Créoles

“Cajun” is the name used to describe a native Louisianian who is a descendant of the French-speaking Acadians that were exiled by the British from Nova Scotia, Canada, in the mid-1700s and settled in South Louisiana.  Although the Acadians kept to themselves for most of the eighteenth century, they eventually intermingled with settlers already in Louisiana and cross-culturally pollinated with the Native Americans, French, Spanish, German, Italians as well as Anglo-Americans, and created what is referred to as a “Cajun.”  Today, Acadiana, the twenty-two parish region of South and Southwest Louisiana, is home to the majority of Louisiana’s Cajuns and their unique culture.  Cajuns of notoriety include Chef Paul Prudhomme and Cajun fiddler Hadley Castille, both of Opelousas, and Zachary Richard, Cajun singer, songwriter and Cajun culture expert.

To learn more, visit the Acadians.

“Créole” derives from the Spanish word, “criollo” (a child born in the colony).  Creoles were the descendants of the early French and Spanish colonist of Louisiana.  The term was used exclusively for French and Spanish descent to separate them from their forefathers that came from the “Old World.”  Most Creoles lived in New Orleans, along the banks of the Cane River in Natchitoches, and at the Opelousas Post (present day Opelousas and other parts of St. Landry and Lafayette parishes), and were considered to be both wealthy and sophisticated.  In the nineteenth century, the word “Creole” had also become associated with people of mixed heritage.  “Creoles of Color” refers to descendants of French and Spanish colonists that intermingled with the Native Americans, Haitians and Africans.  Famous Creoles include the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, a French Creole, and Amédé Ardoin, a Creole of Color, who made the first audio recording of Zydeco music. 

To learn more about the Creole culture of Louisiana, visit French Créoles.

Cajun and Zydeco Music

Cajun music traces its roots back to the traditional Acadian folk songs and hymns from Old Acadie in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada.  Traditional Acadian songs were often ballads, telling a story or celebrated an event.  These traditions were brought to Louisiana where French, Spanish and even Native American and Anglo-American melodies were massaged into the sounds developing what we call Cajun music.  Cajun music owes its popularity to St. Landry Parish native, Dennis McGee.  McGee was a Cajun musician that is credited with bringing the traditional songs from the 1800s back to the forefront of Cajun culture.

There are several types of Cajun music.  Traditional Cajun music consists of musical instruments such as the accordion, triangle and fiddle, and is danced to with a waltz or a two-step.  Dance hall Cajun adds the sounds of the drum and guitar to its songs, whereas Cajun music with the steel guitar, keyboard and washboard added is considered Contemporary Cajun music.  Cajun music has influenced Rhythm & Blues, Country, Swamp Pop and even Rock ‘n Roll.  In fact, Swamp Pop music pioneer Rod Bernard is from Opelousas. 

Zydeco music fuses old Creole tunes and rhythms with blues and soul.  This uniquely different sound was born right here in Opelousas

Although Amédé Ardoin made the first-ever audio recording of Zydeco music, it was not until Opelousas native Clifton Chenier, known as the King of Zydeco, arrived on the musical scene that Zydeco became a household name.  Because of Chenier’s talents, he won a Grammy Award in 1983, and put Opelousas on the map as the Zydeco Capital of the World

“Zydeco Music is a unique form of musical expression that originated in rural southwest Louisiana. Locally known as “la la” music, Zydeco music was formed and forged in a time best forgotten–a time when African-Americans had to struggle in the fields from sunup to sundown as sharecroppers so that their children might reap a better life. It was these backbreaking hard times that help to define one of the most vibrant and successful musical traditions in the world. The phrase “Zydeco sont pas sale’” means “The snapbeans are not Salty” in Creole French, and the music draws upon French, Creole, West African, Cajun, Caribbean, and R & B musical traditions. Zydeco Music is characterized by the use of the accordion, spoons, scrubboard, fiddle and triangle.

(Printed with permission by ZydecoOnline)

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