Zydeco or Cajun?

Think of New Orleans and you think of Jazz, or at least that’s the prevailing wisdom. When I think of visiting New Orleans I tend to think of it being another opportunity to enjoy both Zydeco & Cajun music – but what are they exactly, and what is the difference between them?

In simple terms, you might describe both as being typical Louisiana folk music. Cajun is has its’ roots with white people, Zydeco with black people. That’s a loose generalisation (many bands tend to be mixed race) but it’s a reasonably good starting point for understanding the difference.


French settlers in Acadia, Nova Scotia were expelled by the British in 1755 and moved South, ending up in Louisiana and bringing their traditional folk music with them. Over time they mixed and married with local ethnic groups and the music evolved to include new styles and influences. Modern Cajun musical instruments include the Button Accordion, fiddle, triangle, guitar, bass & drums. Cajun music is characterised by a waltz/two step rhythm and is dance music. The popularity of the accordion was originally because it could be heard over the sound of the dancers’ footsteps! Listen to Jesse Lege and try not to at least tap your feet.


This is the blues and dance music of Louisiana Creoles, the French-speaking blacks of the prairies of south-central and southwest Louisiana. It has been leavened with rhythm, blues and jazz and is increasingly performed in English, instead of in its original Creole dialect. Modern Zydeco instruments include the Button or Piano accordion and a rubboard or frottoir (originally a domestic washboard, now made of corrugated metal worn like a vest). The frottoir is scratched usually with spoons and used to provide rhythm. You’ll also find guitar, electric bass and drums. I once saw Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers live in New Orleans. I heard them from outside, pulled in to listen and left 3 hours later. Listen to Dwayne wringing sounds from his accordion like water from damp clothes!

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