Creole and Cajun music draw from similar influences of French, German, Native American, and Spanish music with the Creole adding the rhythm and accompaniment of the Caribbean and Africa. Creole and Cajun developed together and drew from each other, blurring the lines. The most common differentiation between the two is that, in the early days, Cajun was performed by whites, and Creole was performed by African Americans. By the 1960s, the two forms had combined so much as to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. The term Creole, as it applies to music, is nearly extinct, as younger generations tend to use the term Zydeco. Cajun tends to sound more like early country, with the use of steel guitar and acoustic guitar along with the older traditional instruments - fiddle, triangle and accordeon. One of the most influential Cajun singers is DL Menard, who has been called the Cajun Hank Williams. Cajun music is typically a waltz or two step.Creole is very similar to Cajun in substance and lyrics, but the rhythms tend to be more pronounced, and vocals are more blues influenced.
In southwestern Louisiana in the 1800s, the fiddle was the most popular Cajun instrument and the music still carried clear influences from the Poiteu region of France and the Scottish/Canadian influences of their earlier homeland. In the late 19th century German immigrants spreading outward from central and eastern Texas and New Orleans soon brought the accordion as well. African American farmhands at the time sang a rhythmic type of work song called juré, which mixed with Cajun folk music to form la la, a central component of Creole music. La la was primarily rural, played at parties also known as la las, and found in towns in the prairie regions like Mamou, Eunice and Opelousas.
In 1901, oil was discovered at Jennings and immigration boomed. Many of the newcomers were white businessmen from outside of Louisiana who attempted to force the Cajuns and other minorities to adopt the dominant American cultural forms, even outlawing the use of the French language in 1916. Despite the law, many Cajuns still spoke French at home, and musical performances were in French. Even today, some of the current older generation is more comfortable speaking French, though they are bilingual.
Commercial recording of Cajun music began in 1928. These early songs were mixtures of la la, contredanses, reels and jigs and other folk influences from black, white and Native American traditions. In the late 1930s and 1940s, country music became the dominant influence on Cajun music, and bass and steel guitars were used. Modern Cajun music has begun taking on the influence of jazz and modern country music, resulting in a more polished sound.
A performance by Dewey Balfa, Gladius Thibodeaux, and Vinesse LeJeune at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival was one major reason behind a "revival' of interest in traditional Cajun music in the mid 1960s. In 1968, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana or CODOFIL was founded. In 1974, CODOFIL started an annual festival that came to be known as Festival Acadiens. It is still held in Lafayette.
A new respect for Cajun culture developed in the 1990s. Children like young phenom Hunter Hayes got into the music again, inspiring everyone. The most well known Cajun band outside of Louisiana is probably grammy winners Beausoleil, who have joined many country artists in the studio, and served as an inspiration to the Mary Chapin Carpenter hit, Down At the Twist and Shout.
Recommended Listening: Cajun; D.L. Menard (The Back Door) Belton Richard Un Autre Soir D'ennui) Jimmy C. Newman (Lache Pas La Patate) Iry LeJune (Evangeline Special) Wayne Toups (Johnny Can't Dance) The Savoy Family Band (Savoy Family Album)
Creole musicians were inspired by the blues and jazz to update la la with wild R&B rhythms, thus forming zydeco.
Zydeco's rural beginnings and the prevailing economic conditions at its inception are reflected in the song titles, lyrics, and bluesy vocals. Zydeco's most visible feature is the vest frottoir, also known as the rubboard or washboard. Originating in Africa, the vest frottoir was re-introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s. In 1954, Boozoo Chavis recorded "Paper in My Shoe". This is considered to be the first modern zydeco recording, though the term "zydeco" was not in use yet (see 1954 in music). After Chavis left the music business, Clifton Chenier became the first major zydeco star and also led to the invention of the word zydeco in 1965. One of his hits was "Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés" (The Snap Beans Aren't Salty) and he said that "Zydeco" was a corruption of les haricots. This may have been his little joke as the term (along with variants such as "zodico") was used earlier to refer to African dance-forms. Zydeco sounds more like gospel or R&B, with artists adopting a James Brown kind of persona, and instrumentation involving accordeon and rubboard washboard along with electrical instruments (guitar and bass), keyboards, drumkit and horns, and are well suited to the jitterbug.
(danze) la la, contredanses, reels and jigs
(solisti) D.L. Menard, Belton Richard, Jimmy C. Newman, Iry LeJune, Wayne Toups
(gruppi) The Savoy Family Band
(cordofoni) fiddle bass and steel guitars