(blog) Zydeco in Texas

Until I started interning for Texas Folklife and researching for our annual Big Squeeze accordion program, I had no idea that Texans had any legitimate claim to zydeco as their own musical and cultural tradition. And, after doing research about zydeco in Texas, I also discovered that Houston had one of the most active zydeco communities in the state. An interesting and important contribution to the genre that legitimizes Texas’s claim to zydeco is the addition of the rubboard to the standard instrumentation. The first zydeco rubboard was designed by Clifton Chenier, the "King of Zydeco," in 1946 while he and his brother Cleveland, were working at an oil refinery in Port Arthur TX.

When I started researching zydeco traditions in our state and looking through Texas Folklife’s files, I became interested in what the difference was between cajun, creole and zydeco music, terms which seem to be used interchangeably. The very development of these genres was based upon fusion and grounded in a pidgin language, an auxiliary language used for communication between speakers of different languages. Although it was traditionally heavily influenced by French, as the music has evolved, its French-speaking musicians seem to be diminishing. My impression is that Zydeco is the most progressive and flexible among the three genres because it commonly integrates newer genres such as R&B, soul, brass band, reggae, hip hop, ska, rock, Afro-Caribbean and other styles, in addition to the traditional forms.

The term creole music is often referring to an older style of creole dance music with Afro-Caribbean elements that predates zydeco. Cajun and zydeco developed parallel in the same region of the United States, continuously and extensively borrowing from each other. Each has remained strongly influenced by French creole culture. Over the course of the music’s development, both spread into eastern Texas. Other instruments common in zydeco (besides the rubboard) include the old world accordion, guitar, bass guitar, drums, Cajun fiddle, and occasionally horns and keyboards.

If you’re interested in the Houston zydeco community, check out the Houston Creole Festival on the weekend of January 31st, 2014. We will also be showcasing our Houston Big Squeeze accordionists at this festival on February 1st. There is a link below for general zydeco events, and for fun historical facts there is a link about the double bayou dance hall, one of the oldest pillars of the zydeco community. And if that’s still not enough you can read Texas Zydeco by Roger Wood, which can be purchased in our shop online.


For information on the Big Squeeze contest, please contact our Program & Events Manager, Sarah Rucker at srucker@texasfolklife.org