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That Cajun--Beat!

Updated on August 29, 2009

Those French Louisiana sounds have influenced American music for many decades. Cajun music can be harsh and soul warming at the same time.  The accordion was at its center and the fiddle right next to it.  Many songs that became standards in the Cajun music repertoire were first recorded in the period of the 1920s and 30s. 

Cajun music has gone through many changes. All most all music in early Louisiana was probably played on a fiddle. When there were no instruments available the Acadians made music with their voices, sometimes just mimicking instruments and keeping time by stomping their feet and clapping their hands.

The Acadians held (bals de maison) house dances. Everything in the room would be cleared to make room for dancing. The fiddler had to play very loud to be heard above the din and the voices. The fiddle, being versatile yet portable, soon surfaced as the favorite instrument, especially for dancing and that led to twin fiddling, with one fiddle playing the melody and a second one echoing the tune in a lower octave.

Some of the most influential musicians were black Creoles who introduced elements of the blues into the Cajun songs. Soon a distinctive combination style developed, with the accordion and the fiddle taking turns playing the melody. The guitar was added for rhythmic accompaniment and the triangle (ti fer) or a washboard (frottoir) for percussion.

One of the few musical instruments invented in America is the Zydeco Frottoir (Zydeco Rubboard). The washboard and Frottoir are used as a percussion instrument. They are traditionally used in jazz, skiffle, jug bands and old time music. The wash board remained in its wooden frame and is played primarily by tapping, but also scraping the washboard with thimbles. Some of the washboards have straps that are worn around the neck and played on the chest. Some of the (Zydeco rubboards) dispensed the frame and only consist of the metal ribbing that hung around the neck and then some added features like cowbells, cymbals and wooden blocks.

The frottoir is played primarily as a percussion instrument, often in a band with a drummer, while the washboard generally is a replacement for drums. In Zydeco bands, the frottoir is usually played with bottle openers, to make a louder sound.

There are many variations of Cajun Dancing: A Cajun One Step, also called a Cajun Jig, a Cajun Two Step and a Cajun Waltz. Zydeco dancing is a syncopated two-step or jitterbug. The difference being the Cajun dancer will cover the dance floor while the Zydeco dancer will primarily dance in a smaller area.

My Cajun grandparents often told many stories about attending Fais do-do. That is a name for a Cajun dance party. It is a gentle command (go to sleep) that young mothers often said to their crying infants when she wanted the baby to go to sleep fast, so she could join in the dance. Do-do is a shortening of the French verb dormir (to sleep).

I had the privilege of attending a Fais do-do when I lived in Lake Charles La in the early 50's and now I know how wonderful it was for my grandparents. I loved every minute of it---it was a lively time. We danced all night and only stopped long enough to eat that great Cajun food.


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    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      As a current resident of Lake Charles and fathful attendee to the Contraband Festival Cajun music is a must and thriving,Le' Bon ton Roulet;;))

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 7 years ago

      Thanks Michael,don't tell anyone (1) the trick to Cajun food is you never measure the amounts---just pour and it is never the same twice. (2) if it doesn't have GARLIC or HOT SAUCE in it don't put it in your mouth.

      There are no rules and it seems to be working for me--it's got me through 78 years and I have never been to a doctor.

      P.S. add a little glass of red wine to ---you know WASH IT DOWN!

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      I love Cajun music, food, & the culture! i bet you can cook up some good stuff!

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 8 years ago

      Donotfear thanks, yes it is lively beat that makes you want to get up and---move those feet.

    • donotfear profile image

      donotfear 8 years ago from The Boondocks

      I was introduced to Zydeco when I was working in the Katrina Recovery Project. I liked it so much I bought a couple of CDs. Interesting life there in Louisiana land. I'm not far away....

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 8 years ago

      Christa, yes--music is a great way to start each day.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 8 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      Cajun music -- it is so fun! Happy music is always popular in my house.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 8 years ago

      Jerilee, I like that one two but my favorite is (Twist & Shout) by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

      Hey Cris, I bet you would like the (Twist & Shout) one two, it gets my old feet moving.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 8 years ago

      Thanks Nelle, I have been to a lot of party's but never had as much fun as this one.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Great musical heritage Ginn. I think I've only heard of it in movies. Thanks for sharing. The video's cool :D

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Just love Jimmy C. Newman -- my favorite is his "Why I'm Proud to Be a Cajun" Great hub!

    • profile image

      Nelle Hoxie 8 years ago

      Although I love to listen to zydeco music, I never knew what zydeco meant. Thank you for the brief summary. It was very very interesting. You were very lucky to get to go to a Cajun dance party. I bet it was a lot of fun!