I was lucky enough to get to see Queen Ida and her Bon Temps Zydeco Band about 40 years ago when she was just a stripling in her early 50s. She’s now 93 and still going strong, incredibly. In fact she’s about to go out on tour.
I was a bit late getting into Louisiana’s native music, and it took me a while to work out the difference between cajun (one-steps, two-steps and waltzes) and the livelier zydeco.
Seeing Queen Ida live helped, because Cajun is played by white people and zydeco by Creole people, who are brown, being typically a mix of African-American, Native American and French.
While both feature the accordion as their lead instrument, and both are essentially dance mussic, zydeco bands traditionally tend to be more uptempo with an old fella with a washboard (or ‘veste frottoir’) in the group to give it a percussive edge.
My old friend Steve England introduced me to the music in the 1980s, around the time that zydeco had its 15 minutes of fame in the UK charts with Rockin’ Sidney’s singalong hit My Toot Toot.
That led me to catch Rockin’ Dopsie (no relation) at Dingwalls, and to delve into the roots of zydeco with the discovery of its originator, Clifton Chenier, and newcomers like Boozoo Chavis and Buckwheat Zydeco.
It also led me towards Tejano or conjunto music from the Mexican community in Texas, who also play music with accordion as the main instrument, backed up by at least one fiddle.
I once enjoyed a memorable night in an icehouse (a Mexican dive bar) in a gang neighbourhood of San Antonio, listening to a live conjunto band and meeting many men called Ramon.
But that’s another story.