There used to be a time when the music of the Black Creoles (in the Louisiana acceptance of the word, which, in French, actually means a White born in a colony overseas) and of the White Cajuns was almost similar. When the first Black artists from Acadiana were recorded, in the late 20’s / early 30’s, fiddler Douglas Bellard or accordionist Amédée Ardoin played the same type of music as Angelais LeJeune or Amédée Breaux, although it was called juré instead of Cajun. Then, both types of music were influenced by outside forms (hillbilly and western swing for the Whites, blues and rhythm and blues for the Blacks) and influenced one another as well. The instruments changed too, the piano accordion was often favoured by Black players rather than the diatonic accordion (melodeon) or button accordion, typical of Cajun music. The use of frottoir (rubboard, scrub-board) became more and more common for Creole bands. And Cajun music and zydeco went their separate ways. But the name zydeco is more recent than you’d expect.
In the early 60’s, such music was still known as French music, Push & pull, French la la, Accordion dance music. Then it became known as zydeco (also rendered zarico, zodico, zordico, and zologo), a corruption of the French word les haricots, meaning beans, used in the common Creole expression "Les haricots sont pas salés" (The beans aren’t salty, which meant they were too poor to buy salt pork to season their beans).
The first time such a word appeared in a song title was in 1949, when Texan bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded his Zolo go for the Folk Star label. The same year, what is generally regarded as the first proto-zydeco recording, Clarence Garlow’s hit Bon ton roulet, was issued on Macy’s in Texas. The first modern zydeco recording is considered to be Boozoo Chavis’ Paper in my shoe in 1954. But it was Clifton Chénier who definitely put zydeco on the musical map, becoming its first major star, with early hits like Les haricots sont pas salés, before Rockin’ Sidney (the very first singer I ever interviewed, back in August 1972, in Eddie Shuler’s Lake Charles studio) spread it all around the world in 1984 with My Toot Toot. Since then zydeco or zydecajun has become a synonym of party music and bands have appeared almost everywhere but, only a few have made it in the country where there should be a greater interest in them, because of the language, France.
Zydeco has evolved considerably over the decades, not always for the better, and now draws on musical currents such as soul, disco, rap, hip hop and even reggae. It is also increasingly performed in English, instead of in its original Creole dialect, which I regret a lot.
BMZ hails from the West Coast, where the flux of Black Creoles ended its trail during their non-stop migration for better jobs (“Go West young man!” as John Soule, not Horace Greeley said) and where there has been a long tradition of Louisiana inspired music. What is interesting with them is that they have succeeded in mixing modern sounds with hardcore zydeco without spoiling it.
This is their 4th album, aptly titled Straight from the heart, as they show you can live on the wrong coast (Pacific, not on the Gulf of Mexico) and be able to catch the spirit of the various musical styles of the bayous and their influences all rolled into one: a steady, danceable beat (Zydeco Rumble, Silly Puddin’, Zydeco Boogaloo), a skilful accordion (Mustang Sally), some French flair and lyrics (C’est pas la peine brailler, Cherokee Waltz, Ah ya ya), a good measure of New Orleans / Caribbean / swamp pop sound mixed with a bit of soul (Put a Hump in your Back, Down in Louisiana, Tonight is the Night, Oh what a Price, Iko Iko, Hello Josephine, Brown Eyed Girl, Lake Charles Connection) and a pinch of good old rock’n’roll with the only cover I know (I haven’t heard Geno Delafose’s version) of French Rockin’ Boogie, penned by the late Shirley Bergeron, the first Cajun artist I ever met, in August 1972, which fastens the circle with Rockin’ Sidney.
Guys, this is a wonderful tribute to the music of South Louisiana!
Contributor to : Le Cri du Coyote, Jukebox Magazine, Rock’n’roll Revue, Sur la Route de Memphis, Country Music Attitude and Blues Magazine
Author of : Le sud de la Louisiane, Kalohé (1999), Les musiques de la Louisiane du sud, Le Cri du Coyote (1998)