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Humanities Uniqueness Expressed in Regional Language & Identity: Creole,Cajun & Zydeco Music

“Still stands the forest primeval; but far away from its shadow, Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping. Under the humble walls of the little catholic churchyard, In the heart of the city, they lie, unknown and unnoticed; Daily the tides of life go ebbing and flowing beside them, Thousands of throbbing hearts, where theirs are at rest and forever, Thousands of aching brains, where theirs no longer are busy, Thousands of toiling hands, where theirs have ceased from their labors, Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed their journey!”

-- "Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Roots of Fire Documentary
Roots of Fire Documentary

I grew up in Texas and remember watching Clifton Chenier play Zydeco on TV. Those were the days of three TV networks, the world was a lot smaller then.

This music genre is full of the energy and flavor we find in that area of our nation.

To begin to understand the region we should look briefly at the language and history.

The music of Louisiana has been divided into three regions: rural south Louisiana (Creole Zydeco) Old French (cajun music), New Orleans (Jazz, Blues, R&B Gospel and more) and North Louisiana (mostly country musc).

Cajun French: a Closer Look at the Language

"Cajun French, also known as Louisiana French, is the term used to describe the variety of French spoken in South Louisiana. It originates in the language spoken by the French and Acadian people who settled in Louisiana 400 years ago.

Where does Cajun French come from ? Who are the Acadians? What is Cajun French? Can I understand Cajun French as a French speaker?

To answer those questions we will have to look back in time and understand how the French speakers first arrived in North America :

A little bit of history:

1534: Exploration of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (outlet of the North American Great Lakes) by Jacques Cartier, a French navigator and writer born in Saint Malo, France, in 1491.

Slowly France colonizers arrived in North America and named their new territory: Nouvelle France (New France)

1712: New France consists of 5 colonies: Canada, divided into the districts of Québec, Trois-Rivière and Montréal; Hudson’s Bay; Acadie in the northeast; Plaisance on the island of Newfoundland and Louisiana.

The geographical position of New France led to tensions between France and Great Britain: it prevents the westward expansion of the thirteen British colonies in North America, as well as the connection between these colonies and Rupert’s Land.

1754: France and Great Britain enter into the Seven Years war, a global conflict that spanned the five continents, also known as the France and Indian War.

1763: France is defeated and forced to give up their rights to their colonies in North America as a term of the Treaty of Paris to Great Britain and Spain. Spain acquired Louisiana.

1755 to 1764: During this period called the great deportation, approximately 10,000 Acadians were deported, shipped to several points around the Atlantic. A Large number of them landed in the English colonies, France and the Caribbean.

Acadians exiled in the middle and southern colonies gravitated towards the former French colony of Louisiana, whose new Spanish rulers were sympathetic to Roman Catholics.." from the article: Cajun French: a Closer Look at the Language

What's the Difference Between Cajun and Creole—or Is There One?

"What do we mean when we talk about Cajun Country? The simple answer is that the term is synonymous with Acadiana, a 22-parish region settled in the mid-18th century by exiles from present-day Nova Scotia. About 3,000 Acadians arrived in South Louisiana from 1764 to around 1785, and now, more than 250 years later, their creolized name, Cajun (derived from the French Acadien), can be found everywhere: there’s the Ragin’ Cajuns, the athletic moniker of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). There’s the Cajun Heartland State Fair, held annually (pre-COVID) on the grounds of the Cajundome. And countless small businesses, from Cajun Power to Cajun Fitness, Cajun Broadband, and Cajun Mart, use the term to ground their names in a sense of place.

South Louisiana’s reputation as Cajun Country may seem as natural and inevitable as Spanish moss on a live oak tree, but it's actually a fairly recent phenomenon, the latest twist in a long story about Creole identity and United States race relations. When photographers Douglas Baz and Charles H. Traub spent six months in South Louisiana in the mid-1970s, creating the work now on view in THNOC’s new exhibition Cajun Document, the region was only just beginning to be known as Cajun Country. For two centuries, “Creole” had been the dominant term used to describe the region’s people and culture; Cajuns existed, but prior to the 1960s they did not self-identify as such in large numbers. For Cajuns were—and are—a subset of Louisiana Creoles. Today, common understanding holds that Cajuns are white and Creoles are Black or mixed race; Creoles are from New Orleans, while Cajuns populate the rural parts of South Louisiana. In fact, the two cultures are far more related—historically, geographically, and genealogically—than most people realize..." from the article:

The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana" by Robert Dafford
The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana" by Robert Dafford

Roots of Fire Documentary Film Trailer

Video from Roots of Fire

"Amidst shuttered rural dance clubs and encroaching globalization, five award-winning musicians push against stereotypes of the American South and move the music of their ancestors forward. But their fans are getting older and the language is fading away. Will their efforts be enough to save a dying community? Roots of Fire is a feature documentary directed by Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi. It’s currently on the festival circuit and has premiered at the Oxford Film Festival, the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival and is a Gold Remi Award winner at WorldFest-Houston. Featuring Joel Savoy, Jourdan Thibodeaux, Kristi Guillory, Kelli Jones, and Wilson Savoy, with appearances by Anna Laura Edmiston, Barry Ancelet, Chas Justus, Chris Segura, Chris Stafford, Darrell Toups, Eric Adcock, and Roddie Romero. Featuring musical performances by Anna Laura Edmiston, Bonsoir Catin, Feufollet, Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rôdailleurs, Pine Leaf Boys, Roddie Romero, and T'Monde. This is the trailer for the first feature length documentary of the Roots of Fire project." from video introduction

Feufollet Si T’as Fini Avec Moi at Blackpot Festival

Video from Roots of Fire

"Here’s a song from Feufollet's Halloween performance in 2016, at the Blackpot Festival in Lafayette, Louisiana. We sure had fun filming it. Enjoy this Roots of Fire Digital Extra. ———— Roots of Fire is an in-progress 4K documentary film that explores the challenges facing a new generation of Cajun & Zydeco artists who are developing their own voices, while also preserving their unique culture that stands in contrast to an increasingly generic world. The accompanying digital series features vignettes with a variety of artists, including established stars in Cajun and Zydeco, behind-the-scenes videos, and featurettes, and live songs. Visit for more! Roots of Fire needs your help to keep going! If you like this video please donate to Roots of Fire" from video introduction


"What is zydeco music?

Zydeco music is a type of music that originated in Louisiana. It is a mix of blues, rock, and Cajun music. Zydeco music is typically played on accordions, fiddles, and guitars.

Zydeco music is often danced to. The most popular zydeco dance is the zydeco waltz.' from What Is Zydeco Music

"Zydeco a Pas Sale", Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys

Video from imtfolk

"The Institute of Musical Traditions (IMT) is an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that depends on donations from listeners and viewers like you! You can support at or learn more at! "Zydeco a Pas Sale" performed by Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys ( ) in concert at the Institute of Musical Traditions (, Rockville, Maryland, USA on May 21, 2012. Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys features the accordion mastery and soulful vocals of front man Jeffery Broussard, from the legendary band, Zydeco Force. The band delivers great, pack-the-floor renditions of Creole classics as well as their own brand of contemporary Zydeco. Whether he is playing a festival stage in front of thousands of dancers, a small theater of seated patrons, giving an interview, teaching a lesson or playing at a trailride, his warmth, love of the music, and talent shine. Jeffery Broussard is well, the real deal. Dedicated to preserving and promoting the Creole culture and traditional Zydeco music, Jeffery plays with passion and commitment to carry on his daddy's legacy. Sound: Art Isaacs, Dave Richardson, Dave Eisner, Stuart Barkley Camera: Dick Tufts, Emily Whiting, Ralph Lillie Editing: Ralph Lillie" from video introduction

Zydeco Is Not Cajun Music

Video from HYPSIS09

Zydeco Music Guide: The Origin and Sound of Zydeco

Zydeco is a musical genre that spawned from the unique amalgam of culture in southwest Louisiana.

What Is Zydeco Music?

Zydeco is a style of music from southwest Louisiana that draws from Black American blues, Louisiana French Creole, and Native American musical cultures. Its origins predate the United States as a country, but it evolved into its present form in the 1950s under the influence of Clifton Chenier, who is often called the king of zydeco.

Origin of the Term Zydeco

The term "zydeco" has unclear origins. Some music historians believe it comes from the French phrase "les haricots sont pas salés," which translates to "the snap beans ain't salty.” Functionally, this serves as a figure of speech meaning, "times are tough." When spoken quickly, the French phrase sounds a bit like "zydeco." Other historians believe the word is a variation on the West African word for "music making." This theory was partially embraced by famed twentieth-century music historian Alan Lomax and his son John Lomax. Clifton Chenier, the vocalist and accordionist commonly known as the king of zydeco, also credits himself with inventing the term, citing his 1955 song "Zodico Stomp" and the follow-up "Zydeco Sont Pas Salés." The current spelling of the term was popularized by Houston musicologist Mack McCormick on the 1960 compilation, A Treasury of Field Recordings.." from the article: Zydeco Music Guide: The Origin and Sound of Zydeco

Clifton Chenier "'Zydeco sant pas sale'' 1969

Video from Geert Mook

Clifton Chenier

Creole Accordionist


Clifton Chenier was born June 25, 1925, in Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. His father, Joseph Chenier, was a local musician who played the accordion at home and at dances known as fais dodos. As a child, Clifton worked on a farm outside Opelousas and was interested in music. He learned the basics of accordion playing from his father, and by the time he was 16 years of age, he was playing the accordion, accompanied by his older brother Cleveland, who played the frottoir (washboard or rub-board) with a metal bottle opener. The frottoir was adapted by early African American Creoles as a rhythm instrument.

Clifton and Cleveland began performing at house dances, where the furniture was often moved aside to make room for the dancers. In time, Clifton shifted from the small diatonic accordion he had learned from his father to the larger and more flexible piano accordion. In time, the percussion in Clifton's bands grew more complex, and he added electric guitars, bass, drums, and saxophone to play larger clubs, dance halls, and juke joints between Houston and New Orleans.

As he matured, Clifton developed his own musical style, one that combined elements of traditional French Creole music with the stylization of rhythm and blues. In 1942, Clifton went to Lake Charles to play in the Clarence Garlow Band. Three years later, he married his wife, Margaret, and in 1946 he moved to Houston to work in the postwar boom.

He soon began performing again at area dances with his brother. In 1954, recording scout J. R. Fulbright, a black recording pioneer, spotted the Chenier brothers and asked them to record for his Elko label, which released a 78 rpm recording of "Louisiana Stomp" and "Clifton's Blues." These two tracks are among the earliest recorded examples of what is now known as zydeco.

In 1955, Clifton signed with Specialty Records, and his first release for that label, "Ay 'Tit Fille" ("Hey Little Girl"), was a rhythm and blues hit throughout the South. Chenier capitalized on its success and took his band, the Zydeco Ramblers, on tour. For the next eight years he recorded with several other regional labels. It wasn't until 1963, however, when he recorded with Arhoolie, a California-based label, that he attained national acclaim. Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records heard Clifton play in Houston, and the next day he recorded "Ay Ai Ai" and "Why Did You Go Last Night?" for Arhoolie at a local studio. The following year Chenier recorded his first album, Louisiana Blues %26 Zydeco, and quickly became Arhoolie's top-selling artist.

From the 1960s to about 1980, Clifton toured widely with his Red Hot Louisiana Band, but in his later years he was plagued by diabetes and kidney problems. About his illness, he said, "It's hard to get on the bandstand, playing, and you've got something hurting you. You're pretending to the people, but you're hurting. Sometimes I get tired a little, but I'm a person like this: When I'm playing, I'm playing. Ain't no tired there. One speed, let's go. And when I say goodnight, that's it. Oh yeah, that's it. I'm at the end of the line then."

In 1984, Chenier won a Grammy in the "Ethnic Music" category for his album I'm Here!, recorded on Chicago's Alligator label.' from the article: Clifton Chenier

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