(The Dallas Examiner) – Many have heard about the Creole culture of Louisiana, but few may be familiar with a musical genre called zydeco, which evolved from Creole roots in the early 1900s.
The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission hosted a virtual discussion about the evolution of Creole and zydeco culture in Texas and Louisiana, with its development manager Kristy Peloquin on Aug. 31. Texas Folklife’s executive director Dr. Elisha Oliver and Creole zydeco coordinator Shannon Woods helped facilitate the conversation. According to Oliver, Texas Folklife is a nonprofit organization that is “committed to preserving and presenting the diverse cultures, traditional customs and lifeways, and heritage of all communities across the Lonestar state.”
The main speaker was Sean Ardoin, a four-time Grammy Award nominated Creole zydeco music artist. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, on BET’s Comic View and on TV show Queen Sugar.
“Sean represents the roots and the progressive future of Louisiana’s Creole zydeco sound like no other artist,” said Peloquin while introducing him.
Ardoin began by pointing out that zydeco music originated in the area from Interstate 10 to the southern edge of the U.S. – from Lafayette, Louisiana, down to the Gulf of Mexico. It was originally played using only a 3-row/button accordion. Washboards were later added to the music, then the electric guitar. It is said to be similar to blues music, but played with an accordion and sang in Creole French. Beaumont, Louisiana, was a largely popular city for zydeco.
The cultural influence eventually spread into Texas due to Louisianians finding job opportunities across the state border, mainly within the oil industry. Houston became largely saturated with Creole zydeco culture.
Next in the discussion was somewhat of a timeline of the evolution of zydeco. The Ardoin family has a strong legacy in creole Zydeco music. His grandfather played Creole music, or what he called “French music,” beginning in the 1940s. His grandfather raised his father and uncles under a strong musical influence, as well. Sean’s father and uncles went on to form a band called The Ardoin Brothers in the 1960s. During this time, the group was one of very few zydeco bands in existence.
By the 1980s, Ardoin and his brother had taken over the band. Then by the 1990s, a zydeco musician by the name of Beau Jacques had become widely popular within Creole culture and beyond.
“From that point on, every time you’d see a Black man with an accordion, it became zydeco music,” Ardoin said.
Further into the presentation, he described a performance aspect which is widely used within the zydeco community.
“When you talk during a performance, the more people hear your voice and the more people are geared toward you,” Ardoin said.
Zydeco artists oftentimes will talk to the audience along with performing a song to win the crowd over and be more likeable.
Zydeco has undergone a transformation from traditional to contemporary. Today, there are few remaining traditional artists. Ardoin has created a new genre called “Creole rock and soul” in order to be able to expand his musical creativity beyond traditional Zydeco music. This new genre also bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary zydeco. His influence for Creole rock and soul was reggae, hip-hop, R&B, pop and funk music.
Toward the end of the presentation, Sean showed viewers a portion of the music video for one of his recent hits Sun Don’t Shine, which is considered contemporary zydeco. The video is currently streaming on YouTube.